News Leadership 3.0

December 16, 2008

Tampa’s audience editors

Teaching vs. telling: Tribune reorganization uses key questions to guide new jobs

When Janet Coats, the executive editor of The Tampa Tribune, announced plans to appoint “audience editors,” I was intrigued by the role as a potential way to put users and readers at the front end of the news process - where they belong. In essence, the audience editors are newsroom floor managers with a key improvement: They keep pace with platforms and how people use them, knowledge that informs communication with the staff and decisions about what the newsroom covers and how it covers it.

When Coats first described the audience editor plan last summer, I wrote that I especially liked the promising idea of formalizing an audience focus and the fact that the audience editors had authority to shift resources to back up that focus. (Note: While Tampa is aggressively merging separate print, broadcast and online newsrooms, Tribune officials have dismissed a recent rumor that the print newspaper was going to cease publication.)

As with all organizational departures, I wondered how Coats and other senior editors would determine how the jobs would work in a newsroom that produces content for broadcast, online and print and is working to join together separate newsrooms that used to produce for a single platform. As much as the jobs may hold interest for other newsrooms, I think the process of defining the jobs will be useful in thinking about how to implement newsroom change.

As the audience editors took up their jobs in November, Coats explained in an interview that the Tribune’s six editors—two from broadcast background, two from online, and two from print—had worked together to define the jobs. Instead of issuing detailed instructions, Coats handed the editors Tampa’s six goals for their new role, each with a series of questions to help them frame their discussions. Here is the full list of the audience editor goals and questions.

Examples of the goals and questions Tampa considered:

(GOAL:) Audience advocacy. The AEs (Audience Editors) lead the newsroom in thinking about how best to serve the audience. The AEs have a deep knowledge of our audience metrics and research across all platforms, and they use that knowledge to guide them in setting priorities for story coverage. They educate and inform the rest of the newsroom about what works for the audience, and they track which stories are moving audience within the news cycle.

(QUESTIONS:) How will you educate yourselves about audience metrics? What tracking/reporting systems will you put in place to educate and guide the newsroom about audience on all platforms?

—-

(GOAL:) Promoting interactivity. The AEs understand that the core of the news mission is to create content readers can interact with. The AEs identify stories with high potential for interaction, be it through user comments, databases, the potential for user-generated content or by appealing to highly motivated niche audiences. The AEs work with the content circles and the finishing group to apply the best interactive strategies to the stories they have identified as having high audience interest.

(QUESTIONS:) What systems will you use to identify stories with high potential for audience interaction? How will you recognize stories that are generating interaction and shift resources/focus? What methods will you use to build on successful instances of interaction, to create models that can be replicated?

Guided by questions like these, the new audience editors met over a period of a couple of weeks before settling into their jobs right after the November election.  Coats said changes already are apparent: “They’re teaching each other a lot. They’re incredible model for newsroom, for asking about what you don’t know and teaching your neighbor,” Coats said. “They’ve already done a lot to change sense of urgency. The room is more energized earlier in the day…. and we’re starting see a difference in the way reporters plan their work, a more deliberate, thoughtful approach because they know they’ve got to post first thing in the morning.”

This process illustrates the difference between teaching and telling. Most newsroom leaders are well schooled in the process of telling. Whether its directing troops on a breaking story or mediating newsroom turf wars, senior editors become well schooled in giving orders that quickly remove an obstacle. Sort of like snipping apart a tangle, rather than slowly teasing out the knots.

The lessons here are many for newsroom leaders who want to change newsroom culture and attitudes. Tampa offers a process that may work for other change intiatives in other newsrooms. The key is to build a mission and launch a process that allows key staff members—and eventually the rest of the newsroom—some space to learn and develop a game plan they own.

Has a question process worked for you in making newsroom change? Could it help you going foward? Please share your thoughts in the comments.

December 08, 2008

Our new leadership report is out today!

KDMC offers a collection of tips, tools and takeaways from seminar experts for newsroom leaders in the digital age

The Leadership Conference is a highlight of Knight Digital Media Center’s annual training calendar. Newsroom leaders come to the center to hear from experts in digital media, innovation and newsroom change. They return to their newsrooms with strategies and ideas for moving online.

Today, KDMC is pleased to release a report compiled from the July 2008 Leadership Conference and an earlier leadership gathering in 2007. The report is organized as a series of lists and bullet points—tools, takeaways, quotes and action steps, for example—designed to spark new thinking among newsroom leaders and link them to resources that will help them develop their ideas.

I hope you’ll take a look at the KDMC Leadership Report. Here’s a sampling:

From Takeaways:

Stacy Lynch, a consultant and project manager for the Media Management Center, warns traditional news organizations against “the sucking sound of print” as they transition to online while attempting to maintain the newspaper.

“Print will take over every ounce of energy you have,” Lynch said.  The brutal truth is there’s nothing in print that has no value. Everything has a little bit a value. Every cut hurts. You just have to figure out what hurts less.”

From Tools:

Key performance indicators provide more meaningful information on site traffic than simple counts of visits or visitors. Dana Chinn, a faculty member at the USC Annenberg School of Journalism, details KPIs and their uses:

Often, that KPI is not a simple number such as time on site or unique monthly visitors. Instead, the most meaningful information may be from a ratio or comparison of two different numbers.

From Culture changers:

Change will only come from the bottom up. Command-and-control hierarchical systems of management have worked well for getting the daily paper out on time, but executive pronouncements do little to build long term change. The old structure burdens top editors with making too many small decisions instead of working on long term strategy. Perhaps more significantly, it discourages initiative - and possible innovation - from the ranks.

Also see Quotes, Reading, Action Steps

We envision a report that can grow and evolve as the challenges of newsroom leadership change. Please add your ideas in the comments.

October 31, 2008

Weekend reading

Links: How to be a multimedia journalist, “Stuff Journalists Like,” “Eye-popping interactives”

Alfred Hermida offers his advice and links to resources on “How to be a multimedia journalist.”

Mark Luckie at 10,000 Words has “7 Eye-popping interactives (and 3 ways to create one)

Difficult week? Check out the very funny “Stuff Journalists Like” site. (Thanks to Digidave for the pointer.)

September 09, 2008

Training for change

Small newspaper drives change
with training, leading by example

I’m doing a presentation on culture change for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association next week. Since most of the people in the audience will be publishers of small news organizations, I asked a couple of small newspaper editors to discuss their successful strategies for culture change. I’m posting responses today and Thursday.

Ken Tuck is the managing editor of The Dothan Eagle in Dothan, Alabama. Tuck’s newsroom participated in Tomorrow’s Workforce, which I directed, in 2004-2006 and saw rapid growth in Web traffic and even some print circulation growth during that time.

This is an edited Q&A with Tuck:
Q. Describe the culture change that has taken place in your newsroom in the past few years?
A. The Dothan Eagle newsroom has totally transformed into a will-skilled multimedia newsroom. There were some challenges to this transition, but the newsroom totally bought into the idea three years ago. It has paid off in a good working environment, increased circulation and increased page views and unique visitors.

Q. Please list two or three factors that helped you change the culture of your newsroom?
A. Training was a big key. We used in-house training. That was a big hit and a morale booster because it showed the staff we were so confident in their abilities that we asked them to train others. We also sent staff members off to training. They brought what they learned back and shared it with the rest of the newsroom. The key to training was not just training editors, but providing training for every position in the newsroom.
Another key was leading by example. When the staff saw the top editors running out the door to shoot video, they knew it was important. Seeing top editors learn how to edit video showed them how important multimedia was to this newsroom.

Q. What results has culture change produced?
A. It produced unmatched coverage of our region. We don’t have any competition in print, but we blow away all broadcast media with coverage of our region. The fact that we are No. 4 in the nation in circulation growth for the past 12 months, and that our Web site is growing faster than any other in our company, is quantifiable proof that our culture change has produced excellent results.
Q. What advice would you give to editors who find their staffs are reluctant to try new practices and adapt to digital journalism?
A. Lead by example. Once you do, they will see that it’s important and the way we do journalism now. Provide training for them. That will also show them how important it is. If staffers still don’t want to change, then it’s time to let them go and recruit journalist who are.

Training. Leading by example. Two components of a successful culture change regimen.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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