Free tips for successful newsrooms

The journalism carnival is back in town and, as has become the tradition, the ringmaster suggests a topic. This month Will Sullivan posed this question

What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization? (Yes, we’d all like to swing in our newsroom, lay some boot heels on chests, hoist the black flag and change everything by the end of business on Monday — but the reality is, that ain’t happening unless you have a couple buckets of cash to buy a paper of your choice and a rusty sabre.) So what are some realistic, real-world examples of free (or cheap) ways you can help fuel change at your newsroom.

It’s a good question and already the tips are rolling in.

I suppose one of the down sides of going late on a post is that many of the best things have already been said.

A lot of the posters have picked up on the idea of failure; not being afraid to try things that end up not working. Permission to fail is something I’ve talked about before and increasingly I think it’s a lesson that the media is not willing to learn. Is it a climate of fear or a slavish devotion to the daily stat that means everything has to win? Are they more afraid of risk than failure? Whatever it is it seems we are still in an industry that is on course to consume itself as it swaps innovation for a wait till someone else does it attitude.

But hold on Andy. Stop having a go and give us some tips.

Kit loans

Before I get too far on my more structural high horse tip wise I wanted to suggest a really practical one based on my particualr area of interest, multimedia.

How about a subsidised scheme for reporters/journalists/photographers to buy kit. OK, it isn’t free but I’m not talking big cameras. Make it a  choice of dictaphone or digital stills camera.  Offer a loan towards the price of purchase and a payback through salary but make it clear that the kit is theirs not property of the company. Putting a stills camera in the hands of reporter or a dictaphone in a photographers pocket will up the multimedia stuff you get. This stuff is journo kit 101 now. Any indivdual journo knows that they should have this stuff but don’t expect them to buy it and subsidise your operation. Meet them half way.

Then give them some time to play on this kit – maybe snappers showing journos how to frame a shot in return for interview tips. In fact give them playtime full stop.

Playtime

I’ve said this over and over again , make some time, even if it’s just an hour a week for your staff to play. Try the web, join a club, anything that gets them out of the run of the daily grind and in a different mindset. But one thing I would add is that this is not just the responsibility of the management to make the space. Individuals have to use the time to play, not to go home early.

That attitude adjustment is an important one because everyone involved in large media organsiations needs to realize that whilst the value of the large brand is going down the value of the individual journalist is on the increase – sorry, have you seen audience/circulation figures lately. Giving time for journalists to invest in their identity is staff development and an investment that will pay you back. The only thing that will happen if you don’t is that they will go elsewhere and take all their personal brand equity with them.

And if all of that sounds a little esoteric, not the real world tips that Will was asking for, then I present my evidence in the form of the bloggers in the Carnival but better still look beyond to the Twitterverse and social networks. Here in the UK you can look at  Jo Geary, Alison Gow, Sarah Hartley, Dave Berman, Louise Bolton and there are loads more (can’t include you all).

These are all individuals passionate about journalism and what that means. So much so that they stay in industry and innovate. But they do that by teaching themselves, putting themselves out there and learning new stuff everyday. What’s the best they can hope to get for their effort? Copied.

It may be the sincerest form of flattery but it ain’t a business strategy.

Giving a little space for more people like them to find their feet does work. Just ask them how much more they would be doing with even a bit more headspace.

Take a risk

Whilst I’m in a tip mood try this one which involves a risk. I’m not going to explain myself on this. I just wonder whether anyone else will think that this might work:

  • Start some communitity forums, then leave them alone for 6 months. No rules, no moderation. Get journos to participate but as punters. Be there but don’t control. See what you have after 6 months.

6 thoughts on “Free tips for successful newsrooms”

  1. Andy: Great suggestions, especially about subsidizing multimedia kits. I’ve been preaching celebrating failororethan a decade and no one will listen. But your’re right that as long as managers refuse to do it, they will stifle innovation. Same with personal trademarks of journalists. That ensures out future. We should do it no matter what. What we are seeing is a power shft from the content pubishers to the content producers. Publishing is becoming easy. Finding information you can trust will be left to the personal trademarks that individual professionals can establish. You can see that with the audiences being built by people who know how to use blogs and Twitter and other social networks. That’s where the audience is moving. Spot-on post.

  2. Thanks Ron

    If I’m honest the idea of kit loans was inspired by my University who offer a loan (paid back in the salary) towards a bike. They use it to encourage people to be more green and healthy. The loan is interest free and large enough to be worthwhile for people. It strikes me as a win/win. We have a big issue with parking and when people suggest the bike, without the loan, that can seem a bit like saying “you sort our crappy parking problem for us”. At least the loan it feels like a team effort. (almost :) )

    In terms of the personal brand I agree wholeheartedly with your view that the power is shifting from the content publishers to the content producers. There is still a big risk for individual journos to solo. But the behavior of the big orgs is almost forcing that hand.

  3. I’m just sitting here looking through links to my site and rediscovered your post that mentions all those dreams that I had back then. Shall I tell you what really happens if you are the big corporation that does not let your team have headspace? What happens if you take your talent and crush it in a vice of isolation? At what point do your stars fade and die if you keep them in a box and dont let them sparkle? I’m still doing bits and bobs. they dont get webspace on the corporations dime and they certainly don’t get recognised. The machine makes one weary and saps the spirit by constant negativity.
    I still do it and I do it right. I don’t have the oportunity to take it forwards at this time but my brain still works and I’m not done yet. Give me an inch and I will give you much more than a mile.

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