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.