Evolution in the modern newsroom: 7 tips on driving change management in your editorial teams

To evolve newsrooms, you'll need to integrate people, culture, tools and workflow. Here's how.

(This post is adapted from a presentation that I delivered at the WAN-IFRA Publish Asia conference in Bangkok this week around change management in newsrooms.)

Only a year ago, you would have heard newsroom executives on stage complaining about the decline in print revenue as advetisers follow audiences online.

But there’s been a big change of late. Much of the agenda at this conference is dedicated to understanding new editorial tools, data analytics and selling to advertisers. Google is also a sponsor of this conference, providing support and training to journalists.

There’s reason for optimism: We now have great tools and solutions - but most importantly, the desire for change.

Perhaps the biggest challenge for newsrooms today is keeping up with the speed of change.

In January this year, Edelman, Newswhip and Muck Rack put out a study of U.S. journalists. They surveyed 250 working journos and this is what they found:

· More than 75 percent said they feel the pressure to think about the story’s potential to get shared on social networks.

· To make their stories more shareable, journos are producing their stories with five key ingredients: video/images, brevity, localization, a more human voice and a proximity to trending topics. Nearly three-quarters of them are creating videos to accompany their stories.

When asked about the key trends affecting the profession this year, this is what the journalists identified:

  1. More mobile-friendly content
  2. Faster turnaround times
  3. More original videos
  4. Smaller newsroom staff
  5. Continued influence of social media

The first point around the shift to mobile-friendly content was also reiterated in a study published by the Pew Research Center this week. Its key finding was that 39 of the top 50 digital news websites in the U.S. have more traffic to their sites and associated applications coming from mobile devices than from desktop computers.

More than ever, newsrooms need the right pieces in place to ride the digital shift. At Splice, we’ve observed that the most effective newsrooms will get these four things right: people, culture, tools and workflow. Simply put, it’s about getting the right soft skills and hard skills in place.

Here are some ideas on how to get the basics right in making change happen and sustaining it:

 

1. You’re providing a service. Serve the audience.

Here’s an important lesson from the tech industry: You’re providing a service to users. So look beyond the audience as readers, viewers or listeners.

Appreciate the fact that these users have a new habit in the way they consume content. Realize that you not only have to provide the right content for your users, you also need to provide it when they want it - and in the formats that they prefer. As an industry, we would have been faster in following the audience to mobile if we were thinking of them as users and not passive receptors of our content.

So make it your core mission as a newsroom leader to understand how users are experiencing your brand.

 

2. Build a culture of iteration.

One of the biggest differences between traditional and online newsrooms is the notion of a “completed” product - e.g. A physical newspaper, a magazine, a newscast on TV. In digital, it’s the opposite: The story, coverage or product are never finished. There should be no expectation of completion.

This is the lesson: Good enough is often good enough. This will require us to shift our views on professionalism. A shaky video for example, shouldn’t be ignored if it tells the story. Remember that our users have different expectations of “good enough”. While we hold on to our craft and protect what we consider acceptable standards, our consumers have gone out to produce their own content, their way, with or without our endorsement.

Also, done is better than perfect. Do not try to boil the ocean. There is neither enough time nor resources. Be “directionally correct” - it’s always better to act first and adjust later.

So if something doesn’t work, reward the effort and move on.

 

3. Think about how you’re promoting change.

Set the expectation that things change and find ways to reward the willing. Roles, plans, workflows will constantly change as the model evolves. Remember, directionally correct is more important than the path it takes to get there.

How do you make sure something doesn’t happen again? Conversely, how do you repeat something good? Find easy wins to galvanize the team and set expectations. Training is the lifeblood of the modern newsroom - it sends the message that development is continuous and change is constant.

 

4. The future of your newsroom and the industry is written in code.

The future of your business depends greatly on the ability of your journalists to work with developers. So look for ways to help you team understand the way products are made. Don’t read this to mean that you should create a team of coders; teaching someone to cook is different from training a potential Michelin-star chef. Understanding coding simply opens the door to further ideas on how to serve the user.

So look for ways to fund basic coding workshops for your journalists. Put together a steering committee to promote this and here’s an idea: Perhaps run a lunch-time session with editorial developers so you hear what excites them.

 

5. Embrace social media.

Really. It’s where you discover, create and amplify. It’s a newswire, a CMS, a distribution platform and a way to reach both sources as well as your users. (I found it surprising that at this newsroom conference of editorial leaders, only a handful of people were tweeting with the conference hashtag).

Encourage the use and experimentation of social media platforms. It’s the only way you’ll understand how to craft content for each of them. Again, reward the willing.

 

6. Follow your news instincts, but allow data and analytics to guide you.

Too many discussions around analytics are taken in binary terms - yes or no to the use of data in editorial decisions. Allow your news judgment and experience to stimulate your ideas, but fuel and shape it with analytics. You’ll never fully understand the impact of your story until you frame it with data. So let the numbers inform you on what to publish, how and when.

 

7. And here’s a final tip: Know you’re not alone in this journey.

There’s a community of editors, developers, entrepreneurs and users that cares deeply about this journey. Reach out and collaborate.


Alan Soon is the Founder & CEO, The Splice Newsroom, a consultancy to help transform newsrooms / Ex-Yahoo Managing Editor for India & Southeast Asia / ONA Singapore Co-Founder. You can reach him at alansoon@thesplicenewsroom.com.

Co-Founder, CEO of The Splice Newsroom. Covering the business of media transformation in Asia. Follow Alan Soon on Twitter.

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