News Leadership 3.0

April 09, 2008

Training for change: Donít forget the leadership

- Changing news environment raises the bar for newsroom leadership
- The Des Moines Register responds with a Leadership Institute
Are top editors in your newsroom meeting today’s leadership challenges? How can you help them?

In my work advising newsrooms over the past few years, I’ve been struck by the need for significant changes in leadership attitudes and styles of top news executives and newsroom managers. Amid the challenges and excitement of making sure their staffs learn new skills and new ways of thinking about their mission and their audiences, newsroom leaders often have to learn new skills and attitudes as well.

In the assembly-line world of the daily newspaper, the traditional top-down organizational model for the newsroom worked pretty well. But in a digital environment that requires collaboration and seeks constant adaptation and innovation, the cohesiveness of the top editors and their ability to communicate a shared vision consistently becomes a force in pushing the organization forward.

Jill Geisler at the Poynter Institute says a key role of a leader is to “Communicate a unifying vision for the team, but also deliver it personally to individuals, framed so they can clearly see and feel it. Use every opportunity to reinforce your message so it becomes part of the daily language and life of the organization.”

To do that most effectively, the leadership team has to be on message, not walking and talking in lock step, but showing how all the parts of the newsroom fit into a whole that shares values and wants to move in the same direction.

Carolyn Washburn, editor of the The Des Moines Register, is addressing the need for her editors to become change leaders with a Leadership Institute.

The Register was one of the first newspapers to convert to the Gannett Information Center model, which means everyone has print and online responsibilities. By early 2007, the newsroom had been reorganized.

“We had put new structure, new staff and lots of new tools in place - video gear, databases, etc. I decided that the next step was to more fully develop the editors as leaders. We would only be successful with new tools and structure if our editors fully engaged as continuous learners, as innovators, as strong managers and as leaders. We needed their leadership and smarts and creativity to DO something with all of that new stuff. Some of them already got that; others were good assembly line editors but not stepping up as leaders.”

With $25,000 from her publisher and the help of a consulting professor from nearby Drake University, Washburn put together a six-month training program that she describes as “a wonderful balance of practical and inspiring.” Washburn enrolled 18 people—about a dozen top editors from the newsroom and colleagues from other departments who work closely with the newsroom.

The program addressed topics including leadership and management (and the difference between the two), when to draw on different leadership styles, negotiating and holding staff accountable, dealing with conflict. You can read a summary of the curriculum, created by Dr. Tom Westbrook, of Learn Associates and a professor at Drake University, here.
The program wrapped up in March, and Washburn is seeing results.

“It has been excellent, giving everyone common vocabulary, prompting discussions about our personal and organizational values, learning to identify how “ready” our folks are to take on different kinds of work and how to manage to their level of readiness, how to lead for accountability,’’ Washburn said in an e-mail.

What a great list of competencies for today’s newsroom leaders (whatever their formal rank). I especially like the idea of instruction in how to assess and manage the readiness of the staff.

Of course, it doesn’t all end with one training program, even one as ambitious as Washburn’s. Washburn is already planning a similar program for the next tier of editors in her newsroom and looking for ways to keep the recently trained leadership group talking - and learning.

Are your expectations changing for your newsroom leaders? How? And how are you helping them learn to change?
Resources: Poynter’s Geisler effectively summarizes the role of the leader in a change environment in the handout “Rules of Change.” If you are thinking about new ways to understand the dynamic role of leadership in your newsroom, it’s a good place to start.

April 08, 2008

Credibility study: It’s the engagement, stupid

- A new survey of editors and readers explores credibility of online news
- The public says personal viewpoints from journalists online are beneficial

How is your organization balancing traditional journalism values with new audience expectations?

A new survey on the credibility of online news brings into focus some old school vs new school tensions that news executives, other journalists—and the people who rely on them for news—face.

“The Online Credibility Gap,” sponsored by the Reynolds Journalism Institute and the Associated Press Managing Editors, was released Tuesday via a Poynter News University Webinar. For all the details, read the full report package here.

This morning, I sat in on a Webinar exploring the survey hosted by Poynter’s NewsU and led by by John Bartosek, editor of The Palm Beach Post and chairman of APME’s Credibility Committee.

One top takeaway was the finding that a half the 161 readers surveyed thought it would be beneficial to have “journalists joining the conversation online and giving personal views.” In contrast, only about one fourth of the 1,200 editors surveyed felt that way, and nearly 60 percent thought it would be harmful. I suspect some of the editors on the “harmful” side had visions as they answered that question of journalists ranting and taking sides. My mental response to that thought was “Still?”

I think the public answer is less about wanting opinions and more about wanting engagement and transparency to be part of the information package. Years ago (pre digital revolution), as ombudsman at The Oregonian, I spoke or e-mailed with thousands of readers and worked on a newspaper credibility project. Even then it was clear that the same people who might distrust the motives of journalists they had never met were perfectly willing to trust a journalist they met or spoke with on the telephone. The Web has increased both the expectation—and the opportunity—to engage more fully. I would like to see some comments on how newsrooms are meeting this challenge.

In his NewsU presentation, Bartosek some practical steps editors may want to consider:
—Does your news organization have a clear policy for making online corrections and is it applied consistently?
—Do staff and readers understand the terms and conditions of using the Web site, particularly as it pertains to standards for comments? Do users know that they can report offensive or inappropriate comments and that the site will take action to remove them?

The survey also points to a divide between online news users and editors about whether anonymous comments should be allowed. More on that soon.

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/Boston.com, 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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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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