News Leadership 3.0

May 07, 2009

The 4th C: Culture

In a guest post, Steve Buttry discusses what C3, his Complete Community Connection news model, will mean for the culture of his organization

Steve Buttry, information content conductor for The Gazette Company in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, recently released his “Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection,” and wrote a couple of good blog posts (here and here) about his ambitious plan for revolutionizing his news organization. I asked Steve to write an additional piece for this blog with a focus on what attitudes would need to change for his organization to be successful. As a longtime student of newsroom culture, I think it’s important for newsroom leaders to develop culture change strategies that are in step with their content change strategies. Here’s what Steve had to say:

By Steve Buttry
A newsroom leader’s most important job today is changing a culture you love.
I love working in newsrooms. I love the energy, the fun, the humor, the skepticism. They are my favorite places to work. And they need to change.
As I outlined in my Blueprint for the Complete Community Connection, newspaper companies need a thorough change in our relationship with the community and in how we operate.
For most of my career in newsrooms, most of my colleagues were oblivious to most of the business considerations that paid our paychecks. We just wanted to do great journalism: tell stories, cover the news, uphold the honor of the First Amendment.
We can do all that. And we must. But we also have to lead a transformation of our companies and our industry, starting in the newsroom. In the C3 blueprint, I tackle several issues that traditionally haven’t been newsroom concerns:
Revenue. Journalists have enjoyed our insulation from the actual generation of the revenue that supports our work. I am not suggesting we jeopardize our integrity by actually selling ads or dealing with advertisers, but we have to advocate and work to achieve a new revenue approach to support journalism. The failure of our leaders and advertising colleagues to develop a new business model has caused too much harm to journalism. Waiting for someone else to innovate hasn’t worked. We can and must engage in the how of revenue generation, even if we have to keep our distance from the who.
Evergreen information. Our business model for decades has focused on providing timely information for our community. We need to continue that, but also become the place where the community turns for timeless information. We can add value to our work by using our archives to provide context and by developing community content that remains useful and brings people back again and again to a helpful community resource.
Personal news. From my first days in a newsroom, as a high school student covering sports in Shenandoah, Iowa, the jading process began as I scorned the “locals” that the Evening Sentinel published about people who were visiting, ill or retiring, and the formulaic announcements of engagements. But as an adult, I know that the personal events that barely make the newspapers, if at all, are big news in people’s lives. As I look back on recent years in my family, the huge events are a son’s wedding or graduation or a nephew’s illness. The C3 blueprint calls on us to provide personal-content platforms where people can turn these life milestones into the big news that they truly are.
Achieving success in these new pursuits (especially in a time of staff reductions) will require several changes in how newsrooms traditionally operate:
* We need to engage the community and let people tell more stories themselves. Where our reporting amounts mostly to gathering quotes from officials and participants, we should provide platforms where those people can tell those stories directly to the community. This will allow us to spend more of our resources telling the stories that officials don’t want us to tell.
* We need to separate content from products, at least in our minds and probably in our organizations. If you speak of stories in terms of inches, you are thinking of stories through the frame of the print product.
* We need to provide links to helpful information that adds depth and context, even if we didn’t publish it. News sites have been reluctant to send users away from our sites, as if that would somehow keep them captive. Google developed the most successful business in the history of the Internet by sending people away. We need to do the same. As Jeff Jarvis says: “Cover what you do best and link to the rest.”
When I was the editor of the Minot (N.D.) Daily News in the early 1990s, my attention focused heavily on the next edition of the paper or the next Sunday’s paper. I always knew what stories the staff was working on and what stories would be on Page One. When I came to Cedar Rapids last year as editor of The Gazette, I fell into the same pattern as a historic flood in my first week overwhelmed our city. I quickly learned that my staff could handle the biggest disaster in our state’s history. So I stepped back to let others handle the day-to-day challenges of covering the news.
My job was changing the culture and helping us find a prosperous future. I started the staff liveblogging events ranging from Black Friday shopping to federal trials to Hawkeye football. We began thinking about telling the story as it unfolded, rather than simply taking notes and telling it later.
I pushed my staff to use Twitter to connect with the community, gather news, write tighter and promote our content. We started engaging routinely with the community.
As the pace of change accelerated, we changed my title (to information content conductor), in part to reflect new realities and in part to underscore to the staff that all our jobs will fundamentally change.
We have a long way to go. And I think our staff will enjoy working in whatever our newsroom becomes. Much as we loved what was, we know we need to reach what will be if we want to continue having fun in this business. 

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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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