News Leadership 3.0

October 21, 2008

Dance of change

Online journalists offer ideas to fuel
culture change in the newsroom
What are your steps to transformation?

The Carnival of Journalism—a loose consortium of online journalists who blog about a common topic each month—is taking up this important question:
“What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization?”

Change, like innovation, often is imagined as a big, sweeping wave that washes over the room and carries everyone along. Far from it. Change is mostly made up of small steps by individuals. The small steps create critical mass within the organization and tip it towards a different future.

I offer three small ideas that could lead to something big:

1. Move some furniture.
You may not be able to remodel your newsroom right now, and that’s fine. But consider moving a few curmudgeons closer to the cutting edge. In the name of efficiency, you may be tempted to put your most Web receptive reporters within shouting distance of the 24/7 news desk. Why not move a few of the least-receptive closer as well? They either will either catch on  and post more often—maybe even multmedia—or they’ll feel uncomfortable, which is a step in the right direction. That’s just one example. Look for ways to put unlike folks together and then encourage conversation. If you’re ready for a bigger move, put your online desk in the middle of the newsroom, as the Miami Herald and St. Louis Post-Dispatch have done.

2. Cancel a few meetings. The meeting schedule in many newsrooms still reflects the print newspaper—and the all-important daily news meetings may well be sending the wrong message to a newsroom that needs to move online. When senior editors convene the desks and spend much of their time talking about Page One and print section covers, it’s time to re-invent the schedule. Imagine the meetings your newsroom needs—and doesn’t—to be an online news provider. Implement that schedule and add short, light attendance print-focused sessions around it. While you’re at it, gather any online news meetings in front of a big monitor on the newsroom wall and leave off posting print tear sheets for a while. (Adding the monitor prompted big changes in the news meeting conversation at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution a couple of years ago.) You don’t want to abandon print. But the best way to let the online discussion flourish is to minimize the print conversation until new priorities take hold.

3. Reward people who try something new. Stop noticing mistakes for while and focus your newsroom on fresh approaches. Talk about them this way: “Let’s pretend we love this story and talk about why we love it.” (Inexact quote from Roy Peter Clark, who was talking about storytelling.) Lead your newsroom in thinking about why something new is good and build from there. Make it a weekly contest: The person who comes up with the best new practice and the person who makes the best suggestion for improving it wins the editor’s parking space for a day.

Will Sullivan at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch launched the change question this month with his own list of 10 steps. He’s also rounded up ideas from others here. Their practicality and simplicity resonate with me. I think they are particularly instructive for newsroom leaders because they come mostly from folks in the digital trenches inside and outside newsrooms.

What steps has your newsroom taken toward change?
Please share ideas in the comments.



I think 3. - not for trying, but for doing. Trying isnt enough.

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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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