News Leadership 3.0

November 17, 2009

Culture change 101

For news executives who find their staffs are still resistant new ideas and practices, here are three steps to start making change

I’ve been interested to learn in recent conversations with editors that at least some of the change-resistance that plagued many newsrooms a decade ago seems to have survived in today’s industry tumult. The topic came up again in questions Monday when I was on a panel at the ASNE Ethics and Values Forum at the Reynolds Journalism Institute, where I am a fellow this year.

Here are three tips I gave editors seeking change:
1. Keep your list of goals and priorities short, perhaps three or four items. Longer lists tend to translate into “everything is a priority,” which in effect means “nothing is a priority.” Once you’ve got your goals, use them to prioritize and explain what you want your staff to do. If you want something done that doesn’t really serve the goals, then don’t ask for it. Example: You personally would like to see more stories about the city council. But your priority is for your organization is to cover more non-institutional news. So stop asking questions about what the city council did.
2. Assume that people who resist change are doing so because they are afraid of the unknown. That’s often true. Even if it isn’t (and someone is just plain stubborn), you’ll get better results than if you go head to head. If people are afraid, a little empathy and some training that allows them to try the new thing in a safe zone, will help.
3. Keep the discussion of new practices and ideas very specific. Journalists often veer into abstract either-or debates about change. These seldom go anywhere.  Remember when newsrooms used to debate whether the Web would cheapen their journalism? A better discussion is how a specific story was (or wasn’t) well told on the Web.

Culture change takes time, often years. These tips will get your organization started. What are your tips for fostering culture change?


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

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