News Leadership 3.0

April 14, 2008

In the Either/Or newsroom, why not Both?

Journalists tend to see mutually exclusive alternatives
An Either/Or mentality limits choices and impedes creativity
How do you challenge this attitude?

One common newsroom approach that blocks change is Either/Or framing.

John Robinson pointed to (and challenged) a classic example of journalism Either/Or think: The notion that journalists sacrifice credibility to meet the expectations of their online audiences.

I’m not here to revive that shopworn premise. Thankfully, many news organizations have moved on. But I think it stands as a clear example of the way Either/Or thinking holds back journalists and news organizations.

The workforce culture gurus call this “oppositional’’ thinking. It’s the tendency to see two ideas as being in conflict or mutually exclusive rather than approaching them as being potentially compatible.

So it’s EITHER credibility OR satisfying readers but never BOTH. It’s EITHER an offensive, anonymous free-for-all in reader comments OR it’s no comments allowed at all. It’s EITHER “Do it the way we’ve always done it” OR “Get complaints from readers.” EITHER journalists OR bloggers. That the last one raged long after journalists were blogging and bloggers were creating journalism is testament to the power of oppositional thinking.

The problem is that this way of thinking swiftly closes the door on alternative possibilities just when journalists and their newsrooms need to be more open to them.

As I said in a comment to Robinson: As long as journalists think they have to sacrifice credibility to meet reader expectations, they will not embrace abundant opportunities to do both.

Even worse, in the Either/Or universe, one of the two alternatives usually feels more familiar and comfortable to the journalists (Be credible. Keep offensive comments out.). The old is always going to feel more familiar than the new, so the decision between two alternatives usually favors the tried and true.

How do you encourage your colleagues to move smartly from Either/Or to Both?

I’d start by borrowing from Bob Steele at Poynter, who advises journalists to avoid making important ethical decisions when they’ve only considered two alternatives. Editors who consistently ask for and offer multiple alternatives can change Either/Or mindsets that are limiting their newsrooms.

What Either/Or examples have you seen? What alternatives have you found? I would love to see comments that explore other newsroom examples of this mindset and tips how you’ve led your staff past it.

April 13, 2008

Links: NAA-ASNE convention presentations

Presentations look at Web tactics and audience development

ASNE and NAA are posting slides from presentations at their joint Capital Conference (Sunday through Wednesday in D.C.).
Link to the main directory here.
Two Sunday presentations caught my eye:
- David Stoeffler has a good basic overview of online tactices in “Dynamic Web Strategies for Small Newspapers.”
- A panel including Gannett’s Jennifer Carroll, Placeblogger founder Lisa Williams and Media Management Center’s Mike Smith, explores “Building Audience in a Fragmented Media World.

April 13, 2008

Newsroom change: Forget the crowd, find the change agent(s)

One editor’s advice: Focus on early adopters and watch the crowd follow
Who are the early adopters in your newsroom and how are you cultivating them?

Ryan Sholin has terrific advice for pushing change in the newsroom: Don’t waste your time trying to change the whole newsroom at once. Cultivate the early adopters.

I’ve seen this approach work in newsroom after newsroom, as Tim Porter and I described in “News, Improved.” Once the early adopters go to work, the discussion can move from the abstract (and fear-inducing) notions of change to concrete examples of new forms of journalism. Conversely, I have been in many newsrooms where executives thought that merely telling their staffs en masse to change meant they would. That’s a formula for frustration.

As Sholin says: “.. you can’t mandate mindset.  But you can grow culture.”

What approach has worked for your newsroom? Do you have a way to identify and foster early adopters?


April 07, 2008

A new venue for digital news leadership

- Leadership and newsroom culture can drive change - or impede it
- Top editors learn how to drive innovation in their newsrooms
Are you finding ways to make your news organization more creative and nimble? Tell us how.

Welcome to News Leadership 3.0, a place where newsroom leaders discuss the challenges and opportunities of transforming their news organizations and their staffs into adaptive, multi-platform engines of journalism and information.

This blog will focus on the leadership, newsroom culture and ways of organizing newsrooms to create engaging and relevant journalism across multiple platforms. We’ll report on the opportunities and challenges that newsroom executives and online news leaders face as they chart new strategies and foster innovation in a digital news era.

In the newsroom, what are newsroom leaders doing to increase awareness, change attitudes, articulate the vision and prepare people to implement it? What tools and expertise do leaders themselves need to become effective change agents? What new structures and processes are helping newsrooms become more productive and more creative? How are leaders encouraging their staffs to adopt and adapt to new technologies for gathering and distributing news? How are they navigating a growing range of demands in print and multimedia against a backdrop of flat or declining resources?

This blog and these areas of focus are in response to discussions with 20 top editors and online news leaders from 10 major regional metro newspapers who participated in the KDMC’s inaugural Leadership Conference: “Transforming News Organizations for the Digital Future” in January 2007.

Like their peers around the country, these editors were asking their newsrooms to embrace a 24/7 news cycle, to learn new skills, to adopt new attitudes and to find ways to balance the demands of print and online.

The goal of the conference was to give the editors both innovative and practical ideas for changing the culture and the operational focus of their newsrooms to embrace change in the new media landscape.

Now, a year later, we’re seeing tremendous gains of those news organizations and many others as well as their paths forward in 2008. We hope this conversation benefits other newsroom leaders struggling to make sure journalism and good journalists survive what is no longer the Digital Future, but the Digital Now.

If the forecasters are right, 2008 may be more difficult on the legacy news business than the year before. Still, news leaders we heard from recently emphasized a sense of progress, a sense that there is work to be done and it’s doable. 

For example, John Yemma at The Boston Globe/, has a long list of accomplishments as well as a long list of challenges ahead. His comment typified an attitude that has come through in follow up conversations:

“While new media have disrupted the traditional newspaper business as nothing before, causing major restructuring, downsizing, and scrambling on our part, we have also been given the tools to enter media we have not been dominant in before—broadcasting, for instance, via web video and podcasting. We still have a critical mass of journalistic resources ... and we can establish our brand in new media as we have in print by following the same standards but using different story-telling techniques. I don’t just say that, I’m convinced of that. And while I know there is nervousness over the future, I also think that our staff—and journalists everywhere—have moved well beyond denial and are just asking for the right tools and training to do what they do in new media. That is what I am working toward.”

John Yemma’s comments suggest a guiding tone for this space: Let’s be practical. Let’s be optimistic. And let’s get on with it.

After all, pessimism has no future. Even in these challenging times, optimism just might.

So tell us your stories. That is what this space is for: Your successes, your challenges, your ideas and your questions for fellow editors who are transforming their newsrooms and their journalism.

Coming up: Later this week, a look at a leadership initiative at The Des Moines Register.

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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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