A survey of Digital First Media editorial leaders identified impediments our newsrooms face in pursuing digital success.
The results, illustrated above, weren’t surprising: Many of our newsrooms have outdated equipment (updating it has been a high priority, but it takes time). Newsroom staffs have shrunk the past few years in our companies, as they have in other companies relying on declining print revenues. Training is a high priority as well.
As our CEO John Paton wrote in publishing this word cloud, “Still much to do.”
The survey underscored the urgency of our existing priorities. It reminded me that I probably need to blog and train more on the issue of time management (if only I could find the time).
I agree that all the huge words above are significant obstacles for Digital First journalists. But I tell the newsroom leaders who cited them (and the staff members who certainly would echo them) that these can’t be excuses for not achieving digital success. (I was pleased by the first comment on John’s blog post, from Tom Skoch, editor of the Morning Journal in Lorain, Ohio: “Obstacles fuel our imagination and breed innovation.”)
Here’s what I know: Our success will rest not in our ability to remove obstacles, but in our ability to overcome them.
Most people who succeed at innovation faced all the major obstacles cited above:
Equipment. It’s true that some of our newsrooms have appallingly outdated equipment. (Digital First Media is running two formerly bankrupt newspaper companies, and companies burdened by debt cut back on capital investments.) But even after we update equipment in every newsroom, someone’s going to come out with a new tool our journalists don’t have yet. We need better technology, but we have a lot of journalists doing amazing things with the technology we have (so others need to develop their own workarounds while we’re working to update their equipment). The classic stories of success in the digital marketplace are stories of inventors working in their own garages, making their own tools that changed the world.
Staff. I’ve been in this business 40 years and every newsroom I ever worked in thought it needed more staff. But small organizations can be more nimble sometimes than large ones. Many of the best innovations we see today come from entrepreneurs working on their own or in teams of two or three. And here’s a fact: We can’t grow staffs until the staffs we have help us reach the crossover point where our digital revenue growth starts exceeding our print decline. I look forward to growing our staffs someday, but larger staffs will be a sign of our success, not the cause of it.
Time. The day is only 24 hours long for the successful innovator, just as it is for the bitter failure. One of them spends that time overcoming obstacles (well, with some eating, sleeping and family time, too, we hope) and the other spends the time complaining about obstacles.
Training. This has been a passion of mine for the past 15 years. I have led about 50 workshops and webinars for my Digital First colleagues since last June and other colleagues have provided still more. And we’re planning more. But, as I wrote recently, journalists need to take responsibility for their own growth and learn some new skills on their own. The need for training never ends. I’ve attended more seminars and workshops than I can count and I still need more training. That’s a career-long process, not a goal you can ever check off.
Those are all genuine impediments that our editorial leaders identified. We will succeed as a Digital First business based on how well our company leaders work to address those challenges and how well our staffs take responsibility for overcoming them.
At the risk of sucking up, I’ll close by echoing the boss’s closing words: “We’ll get this done.”
Update: Great comment by John Robinson on Facebook after I posted this link: “Opportunities.”