News Leadership 3.0

September 09, 2008

Training for change

Small newspaper drives change
with training, leading by example

I’m doing a presentation on culture change for the Southern Newspaper Publishers Association next week. Since most of the people in the audience will be publishers of small news organizations, I asked a couple of small newspaper editors to discuss their successful strategies for culture change. I’m posting responses today and Thursday.

Ken Tuck is the managing editor of The Dothan Eagle in Dothan, Alabama. Tuck’s newsroom participated in Tomorrow’s Workforce, which I directed, in 2004-2006 and saw rapid growth in Web traffic and even some print circulation growth during that time.

This is an edited Q&A with Tuck:
Q. Describe the culture change that has taken place in your newsroom in the past few years?
A. The Dothan Eagle newsroom has totally transformed into a will-skilled multimedia newsroom. There were some challenges to this transition, but the newsroom totally bought into the idea three years ago. It has paid off in a good working environment, increased circulation and increased page views and unique visitors.

Q. Please list two or three factors that helped you change the culture of your newsroom?
A. Training was a big key. We used in-house training. That was a big hit and a morale booster because it showed the staff we were so confident in their abilities that we asked them to train others. We also sent staff members off to training. They brought what they learned back and shared it with the rest of the newsroom. The key to training was not just training editors, but providing training for every position in the newsroom.
Another key was leading by example. When the staff saw the top editors running out the door to shoot video, they knew it was important. Seeing top editors learn how to edit video showed them how important multimedia was to this newsroom.

Q. What results has culture change produced?
A. It produced unmatched coverage of our region. We don’t have any competition in print, but we blow away all broadcast media with coverage of our region. The fact that we are No. 4 in the nation in circulation growth for the past 12 months, and that our Web site is growing faster than any other in our company, is quantifiable proof that our culture change has produced excellent results.
Q. What advice would you give to editors who find their staffs are reluctant to try new practices and adapt to digital journalism?
A. Lead by example. Once you do, they will see that it’s important and the way we do journalism now. Provide training for them. That will also show them how important it is. If staffers still don’t want to change, then it’s time to let them go and recruit journalist who are.

Training. Leading by example. Two components of a successful culture change regimen.


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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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