News Leadership 3.0

January 16, 2012

From outside the newsroom, former insiders offer perspective

Two top editors who left their newspapers last year capture reflections on what editors might have done differently years ago to push bolder change in their newsrooms - and might still do.

Thoughtful posts by Melanie Sill and John Robinson could prove highly instructive for editors who are still leading traditional newsrooms through the digital transition.

Sill, former editor of The Sacramento Bee, engaged the discussion with “Take it from former editors: Newspapers need bolder change.

“The biggest threats to newspapers aren’t just their familiar revenue problems and ever-proliferating competitors, but also the opportunity costs of failing to innovate more boldly—to be transformative, not incremental, in moving forward,” Sill writes.

She continues:

I’ve spoken with eight or 10 former top editors in the course of the last few months, some retired and others working in new jobs in media. From each I heard a version of the same regrets: looking back, they wished they’d pushed harder, focused more on the world outside newsrooms and responded more boldly to the opportunities and challenges of digital shift.

Thing is, there’s still plenty of time. We’re not at the end of change, we’re in the midst of it. Even for print newspapers, there’s plenty of upside (and plenty of audience)—not for a shrunken version of the newspaper format of 1992 to be valuable in 2012, but for contemporary approaches to print to serve readers well as part of a menu of options in the digital era.

Robinson, former editor of the News & Record in Greensboro, N.C., picks up the thread in “Newspapers: Looking back to move forward

Robinson asked several North Carolina editors these questions: What if you could go back to 2004 with the budget, resources and FTEs you had then, but knowing what you know now? What would you do with the additional people and money? What would you do differently?

He found three major themes:

1. A smokin’ hot active digital presence.
2. Reorganized coverage.
3. Idea incubator.

Be sure to read Sill‘s and Robinson‘s posts in full.

I couldn’t agree more with their key points. In particular, I think editors in newsrooms need to recognize the culture problem - Something that seems bold in the confines of the newsroom is probably far from bold in the digital world where more and more people engage with news and information. It falls to the leader of the newsroom to push aggressively for bold action - or get out of the way.

Here is my recent contribution on the topic of newsroom leadership - “New practices shape transformative news leadership in the digital age

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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