News Leadership 3.0

September 04, 2008

Steps toward change

News organizations often find
culture at odds with innovation
Is your newsroom culture changing?

Here is a list of steps for making your organization more adaptive and innovative. It’s based on reporting by Lauren Hertel of the University of Florida from KDMC’s 2007 leadership conference, on my reporting from the 2008 conference and on work I did for “News, Improved: How America’s Newsrooms Are Learning to Change.” It’s an open list. I hope you’ll add your change strategies in the comments.

Steps to organizational change
Culture change is a key challenge for news executives. In conference discussions, these steps emerged as integral l to bringing change to traditional organizations.
1. Communication is critical to culture change. Unless leaders are clear and consistent in their message, the staff will be slow to come on board. Write a short elevator pitch spelling out two or three significant goals, make sure all senior editors are repeating it - several times a day.
2. Change will only come from the bottom up. Command-and-control hierarchical systems of management have worked well for getting the daily paper out on time, but executive pronouncements do little to build long term change. The old structure burdens top editors with making too many small decisions instead of working on long term strategy. Perhaps more significantly, it discourages initiative - and possible innovation - from the ranks.
3. Newsrooms must spread ownership of the Web site. Many organizations depend on a small cadre of web workers to maintain their websites and it seems more efficient in the short term.  But to build a Web culture, job assignments must give everyone a stake in the web.
4. Leaders must empower experimentation. In perfection-oriented news organizations, top executives must make it safe for staff to try new things, including some that fail. Editors must create teams focused on innovation that offer protection from daily production needs for creative groups.
5. Training is not option. Doing new things in new ways requires learning at all levels of the organization. But training must be strategic and reflect the needs and goals of the organization. It should include skills training as well as knowledge about how people use media and media business literacy.
6. Accountability is critical. From top editor and senior managers on down, each staff member must understand her role in meeting new goals and see rewards for effort and consequences for not trying.
7. Scaling newsroom projects is more efficient. Everything from multimedia to database creation must be planned for scalability, because one-shot projects waste precious resources without providing enough utility for readers.
8. Outsourcing is a viable option. Every new tool does not have to be developed in the news organization.  In fact, many off-the-shelf tools are perfectly suited to newsroom tasks and are inexpensive to use.
9. Staying competitive requires better coordination between the newsroom and advertising department. Innovation from the newsroom innovation is meaningless unless the other side of the building can sell it.
10. Look outside industry for inspiration. For too long newspapers have looked at each other for innovation.  It is time for fresh ideas, and many of them can be found in government, Silicon Valley, universities and other places.


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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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