News Leadership 3.0

July 31, 2008

Saddled with silos

BlogHer story highlights limits
of traditional newsroom structure

Amy Gahran has been looking at The New York Times decision to cover the annual BlogHer conference in the Styles section rather than in the main news or technology pages. Some see a glass ceiling in a decision not to cover a major confab of a dynamic organization in the news pages. It’s a fair question, and Gahran has rounded up the details on Poynter’s E-Media Tidbits here and here.

Gahran’s second post gives some insight into the Times’ decision that bears attention from anyone running a newsroom, especially a large one with departments that operate as silos. At The Times, Gahran reports, this is how the decision played out: A freelance writer pitched the story to the Styles editors because she knows them (doesn’t know news side folks). No editor in Styles thought to explore whether the story might better fit in another section. Since the story was for Styles, the writer included lots of “girly” detail, including crowded restrooms, lactation rooms and child care.

In the comments, I gave my take on what this story process says about the organization and how it can limit the best stories:

—Organizational silos inhibit sharing and the development of the best possible ideas. The Times, like most large newsrooms, is not exempt. This is usually a failing of leadership to define the mission in a dynamic and expansive way—instead of letting it be defined by default as getting “our” section out.

—The story destination usually sets the story frame. Every writer (and editor) has a conception (right or wrong) of what a particular newspaper section wants. So a story destined for a section that focuses on lifestyles (and beauty and fashion, etc.) is more likely to pull on details that might be interesting in a different context but end up trivializing the story at hand.

In the old, newspaper-only world, the silo mentality drove production but inhibited creativity. As traditional news organizations struggle to succeed online, structures that reinforce silos make even less sense. The Web is about networks and links rather than sections and silos. How newsrooms organize themselves will play a role in how well they adapt. If you were starting from scratch to build and online newsroom that produced a print newspaper, what would it look like?


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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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