News Leadership 3.0

April 19, 2011

When digital innovation is paramount, what does a publisher need from the newsroom?

Matt DeRienzo is a publisher who is trying to innovate in a very traditional and historically change-averse field - newspapers. So I asked him what he needed from the newsrooms he oversees to implement the “digital first” strategy of the Journal Register Company. Here’s his five-point wish list:

Matt DeRienzo has been publisher of the Register-Citizen in Torrington, Conn., for several years and innovations there include the Register-Citizen’s Newsroom Cafe. Earlier this year he got expanded responsibilities as publisher of Journal Register Company’s Central Connecticut Properties. He has also worked as a journalist and newspaper editor.

Newsrooms generally have looked to their publishers for two things: Provide money and stay out of the way. So I laughed after I asked Matt, on Twitter, what he needs from the newsroom and he had this response: ” Hmmm. Very interesting question. Usually it’s asked the other way around.”

We followed up with a telephone interview, and here’s what Matt said:

1. Consider the big picture.
The big picture is that newspapers need to “get the print monkey off our back” to make it into the future. “If you can get that, everything else will fall into place.”
This includes rethinking print deadlines and production schedules so that they are not driving news gathering. While print revenue remains significant, the growth is in digital and that’s where the journalists need to be. JRC properties are growing audience and revenue, in part by persuading advertisers that they “will miss the audience if they’re not online.” (My note: Journalists will miss the audience too.)

2. Step back and give new initiatives a fresh eye.
When company leaders push for new forms of community engagement, like the Newsroom Cafe, journalists may be quick with a “gut reaction is that we’ve blurred the line of the SPJ code of ethics.” Instead, DeRienzo asks that journalists look at these moves and ask: “Does this improve journalism and does this mesh with our core values?” (My note: Isn’t community engagement the point of journalism? And is it time to revise the SPJ code?) Update: Here’s a post from Steve Buttry on the SPJ code (HT Matt DeRienzo)

3. Take advantage of training

Journalists in the Register-Citizen’s 18-person newsroom have access to free classes and Webinars on blogging, social media and other topics. But not everyone participates, DeRienzo said.
At times, “it’s like pulling teeth to get someone who sits five or six feet away to go.” (My note: Journalists who do not learn will not adapt. If you are lucky enough to have training, take advantage. At the same time, training providers need to be constantly assessing whether their training is relevant and connect the dots so potential participants understand why it’s relevant. Training must be more than information; make it a safe place to test new skills and practices.)

4. Use the tools
Journalists must “recognize that a Flip camera or a Twitter account is like yesterday’s notebook,” DeRienzo said. “If you’re not using the tools, you are putting your self at a disadvantage ... and you’re not serving your community.” (My note: A good routine is to try out at least one new tool - hardware or software each week - and take time to learn the ones that will help you do your job. Also, ask others their favorite tools and how they use them.)

5. Be passionate about storytelling
“I’m looking for good old fashioned passion for a good story. Getting the story and telling it in the best way possible. It is essential for success.” (My note: Yes!)

Great list. What would you add?

The News Leadership 3.0 blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.


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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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