News Leadership 3.0

July 18, 2008

Low hanging harvest:  Just do it

@ Leadership conference:
Editors identify changes
they can make quickly

Thursday was less about expert presentations and a lot more about planning by editors participating in the Knight Leadership conference. In one exercise, we asked editors to brainstorm “low-hanging fruit,” or changes they could make fairly quickly and easily in their newsrooms. Some are pretty ambitious and I think that demonstrates how energized these editors are feeling after an infusion of tools and expertise.

Here’s a sampling:
Develop headline writing optimized for search.
Do a Google content search for our market, link to it and use as content guide
Reward section editors for growing page views of sections to which they are assigned
Identify audiences we’re not reaching. Set up site and see if can capture them (test sites on Ning)
Study - full of examples of things to do to increase people’s relationships with each other
Analyze our metrics and share them - make sure we have the right ones
Explore creating evergreen sites
Get more info about community foundation money for coverage
Implement visual designation of breaking news box most viewed by users.
Add supplemental links in and out, embed more links
Explore Facebook and myspace groups to disseminate news, getting story ideas
Template beyond slide shows - interactives, timelines that can be reused
Create a small business directory
Establish metrics for audience, traffic and revenue
Build a simple,  effective product development process
Organize around franchise products
Hire community interface managers
Develop specific training to support tactics
Seek appropriate content and technology partners
Establish accountability and incentives
Describe new roles and hire for them
Use Eyetrack
Create a product development team
Create individual performance expectations for section editors to help drive traffic pages on their site.
Monetize video content as wholesale commodity
Re-evaluate use of multimedia and use more smartly
Launch fast and fix on the fly, build speed into new idea generation process
Rebuild from blank sheet newsroom structure, rethink idea of management
Develop coherent strategy for mobile
Focus on the change agents in the room, reward and promote and empower
Spend less time focusing only on print—especially in senior management

As you check out their lists, I hope you’ll be making your own. What’s on your list? Please share ideas in the comments.

July 14, 2008

Tools and tactics for newsroom leaders

This week, Knight Center brings together
newsroom leaders and digital experts
Watch for our live blog here

I am heading to Los Angeles this week to help out with Knight Digital Media Center’s annual Leadership Conference, “Transforming News Organizations for the Digital Now.’’ The top editor and the top online editor from each of 12 traditionally print organizations get together Tuesday-Friday with experts in digital journalism, technology and innovation. We hope each team will leave with a plan of next steps to take their organizations forward online.

I will blog sessions each day to share the expertise in the room with editors who are transforming their newsrooms.

Here is the agenda for the conference. Presenters and panelists include: Vin Crosbie, Dana Chinn, Steve Yelvington, Naura Paul, Ashley Wells, Mary Lou Fulton, Rich Gordon, Stacy Lynch, Bill Gannon, and Dan Gillmor. Vivian Vahlberg of Media Management Center is the facilitator.
Here is the report from last year’s conference.

June 17, 2008

Vaulting into video

In Newark, a television vacuum offers
the newspaper a video opportunity

“What do you think, can a newspaper newsroom produce quality web TV?” That’s a question posed by John Hassell on his exploding newsroom blog. And Hassell and his colleagues at The Star-Ledger and in Newark are about to find out.

The Star-Ledger newsroom recently launched an aggressive strategy to grow audience with news and enterprise video.

“We want to produce great video journalism in New Jersey and to showcase local video of all sorts, whether it’s produced by our staff or not. New Jersey has been traditionally under served by the local network TV outlets in New York and Philadelphia, and that presents an incredible opportunity to build audience and revenue around video content,” Hassell says.

To get started, the newsroom invested in HDV cameras and intensive boot camp training for 20 veejays in May. Within the first few days of training, participants were producing video and Hassell says the quality is improving all the time.

“We believe quality is key when you’re talking about telling stories with video. Our newly trained veejays are still cutting their teeth, but the level of their work is already quite high and rising every week. The visuals should be compelling, the writing taut and the arc of story clearly drawn. Storytelling is really at the heart of what we’re doing, and we feel we bring a lot to the table. All of that said, there is also plenty of room for short clips where production and storytelling values give way to the simple act of witnessing something newsworthy, fascinating or just plain weird.”

The training also attempted to address and help avoid post-production logjams that many newsrooms have experienced in the rush to video.

Hassell explains in an interview with “Newspapers & Technology:”

“The class teaches students how to bridge the gap between gathering news intended for both video and print distribution, Hassell said.

‘What a lot of people do is when they first get a video camera and are sent out to shoot video they come back with a lot of video and that creates an inefficient post-production result because you get back and have three hours of footage that you have to watch and edit,’ said Hassell. ‘We are teaching people how to think about what they need to shoot for the story they want to tell so that the process of producing video stories’ becomes more efficient.’‘

The newsroom also shifted three print-oriented journalists to manage the new video enterprise: AME/Video, with overall responsibility for video efforts; Video Enterprise Editor, with a mandate to keep the standards high; and a new veejay who becomes a full-time producer and host of the daily noon web cast that launches next month.

You can link to a recent progress report on the effort by Hassell here and to one example of a new veejay’s work here.

Hassell says it’s too early to tell whether the video strategy is paying off.

“We’ll judge ourselves on the quality of our work, the traffic it generates, the revenue it produces and the extent to which we can build and nurture a network of New Jerseyans who are making and sharing video. It’s early to judge the results, because we only recently launched a video platform at, but the viewership trends and number of user submissions are encouraging.”


June 02, 2008

Newsroom confidential:  The reality of frontline editors

The job of the assigning editor
goes well beyond dealing with stories

Rupert Murdoch says a “ridiculous” number of editors—8.3 to be astonishingly (or perhaps facetiously) exact—deal with an average story in The Wall Street Journal. I’m not sure what “deal with” means. Counting a couple of assignment editors (one launches the story, another plays cleanup later in the day), a copy editor and a slot, multimedia editors, and perhaps someone who posts to the Web, it’s easy to see how the number who briefly touch a story could add up. On the other hand, if 8.3 editors are routinely revising and tweaking a single story, that does indeed seem like a lot.

It is true that newspapers by tradition have let too many editors massage too many stories too much, often to with little or no improvement. I am big on the idea that a good line editor (a job I had for about 25 years) approaches every story with a skeptical eye and aggressively challenges facts, omissions and underlying assumptions. But I think editors sometimes try to put their own stamp on the story or there is perfectionist editing by committee—and that can spell death to any personality and creativity the writer has brought to the piece. The unintended message to writers is that they should give up taking chances or figure out a way to avoid editing. I once consulted at a well-respected metro newspaper where several writers told me they tried to avoid pitching their stories for the front page because the “serial editing” of these stories was such a hassle for them and damaging to their stories.

What a message. “Don’t try.”  A good editor must always be ready to pull a story back from a precipice. But she also must encourage the reporter or photojournalist to step to the edge of the cliff and look up, down and sideways.

Murdoch’s editor-to-story ratio tells only part of the story. A sad reality of newsrooms is how little time many line editors actually get to spend on editing. So the more important issue for newsrooms in transition (and I am thinking more about the many local newsrooms that are crossing the digital divide than the few national ones like WSJ) is to fully understand the wide-ranging and powerful role assigning editors can play in fostering change and innovation as they work 14-hour days six days a week, decide what gets covered and what gets left out, deploy and coach the staff, field calls from readers, learn about audience and multimedia, tend to administrative details such as scheduling, foster creativity, put out the daily fires of poor planning or interpersonal disagreements, attend overly long daily and weekly meetings, encourage young journalists, keep the newsroom trains running on time, counsel colleagues in crisis, and, yes, edit stories.

In “News, Improved: How America’s Newsrooms Are Learning to Change,” we devoted a full chapter to the job of the frontline editor and, in particular, to this editor’s role as the guardian of newsroom culture. We wrote:

“This editor touches virtually everything and everyone in the newsroom, and that touch can push change forward or hold it back.
More than anyone else, these editors translate their understanding of a newsroom’s mission into its daily work. They can foster honest give-and-take. They can open the door to culture change and creative risk. They can be evangelists for staff development and drive newsroom goals into the news itself, into both print and online. Or not.”

A complicated role continues to change and deepen and that translates into a steep learning curve for many editors from a print background.

“In the old culture, editors trimmed stories, editors held stories and editors exercised something called ‘news judgment’. In the new culture, we need editors who can enhance stories, editors who can speed stories along and editors who can present readers with a wide variety of choices,” says Bob Rose, deputy managing editor for presentation and online at the St. Louis Post Dispatch. “It’s too early to say whether the new job is more demanding. It’s worth acknowledging that both types of editing require a great amount of skill. It’s also worth noting that those skill sets don’t necessarily transfer over.”

Steven A. Smith, editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, Wash., says he is searching for ways to help editors in his fast-evolving newsroom because they are critical to the newsrooms ability to deliver news in multiple ways.

“The burden of the cultural transition falls mostly on the editors, particularly the line editors,” Smith says. While reporters and photographers learn to use new technology to cover the news, the demands on editors are more challenging. “The editors have to be constantly thinking about how this content may play across platforms.”

This is a moving target. But for now, perhaps, the best strategy is to encourage frontline editors to tinker (in the traditional sense of editing) less, less, less and experiment, learn and grow more.

I think that’s a more productive approach than Murdoch’s editor-to-story ratio. You tell me. How are you helping frontline editors in your newsroom learn, cope and grow? Please add your thoughts in comments.



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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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