This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms. Some of the advice might be good for veteran editors, too, and for editors in other companies.
Chances are that your newsroom culture needs some disruption. Even in Digital First Media, where our digital urgency has been coming from the top for at least a year and a half (longer in former Journal Register newsrooms), the print roots are deep and strong. And we still are publishing newspapers, so we can’t entirely throw out the print deadlines and other considerations that drive the culture.
The editor needs to aggressively lead the transformation to Digital First priorities and culture. In your words and actions, you need to show that your newsroom’s top priority is covering your community digitally, with print production being something that flows from that.
You lead the disruption in a variety of ways: Stress the digital aspects of stories as you and your staff plan news coverage. Move working shifts so more people are working during the community’s workday when digital traffic is strongest, rather than in the evening, on the morning newspaper’s work cycle. Some people will still need to cover night meetings or sporting events and you still need to produce that morning paper, so this will work differently with each newsroom. And, as part of your digital focus, you need to be aware that tablet use and Facebook engagement are strong in the evening.
Look for ways where your staff’s work is print-focused and consider whether you can shift that focus entirely in a particular area to a digital pursuit. Or perhaps in some areas you’ll just add digital elements to that aspect of work.
If the print production duties for your newsroom shift to a regional hub, use that time of change to accelerate the digital-first change in your newsroom. If you’re having just a single late-afternoon meeting to plan the print edition, maybe you shift to a morning meeting to plan the day’s news coverage. (More on meetings in a future post in this series.) You shoot to publish all stories online during the morning or afternoon, unless you are covering evening events. And maybe just one or two editors make the decisions to communicate to the production hub about which stories are page-one stories and other decisions on play.
“We’ve always done it that way” isn’t an acceptable explanation for doing anything in your newsroom. Be ready to challenge anything and everything in how your newsroom operates. Make sure that every step your staff takes is justified by your current needs and priorities.
Don’t disrupt simply to cause upheaval. Disruption can cause distractions from daily tasks, so disruption itself is not the goal here. Disruption also distresses staff members who are working hard, so you need to seek way to ease the distress without changing your priorities.
Still, you need a newsroom with a relentless Digital First focus, and organizations don’t change that dramatically without disruption.
You also need to praise and reward staff members who make it through the disruption to reflect and pursue your new priorities. Watch for more on praise in the next post in this series.
— Vince Carey (@vincecarey) May 2, 2013
— Brian wheeler (@brianwheel) May 2, 2013
— Peter Lauria (@peterlauria3) May 2, 2013
— Steve Buttry (@stevebuttry) May 2, 2013
— Mathew Ingram (@mathewi) May 2, 2013
— Vince Carey (@vincecarey) May 2, 2013
— andrea gillhoolley (@AGillhoolley) May 2, 2013
.@stevebuttry Shift your assignment process from daily story meetings to hourly huddles. Emphasize the river instead of the curated lineup.
— David Skok (@dskok) May 2, 2013
— Lexy Cruz (@lexybcruz) May 2, 2013
Jill Geisler’s What Great Bosses Know about Changing a Culture
Earlier posts with advice for editors
Here are topics I am planning on covering in this series (the order is tentative). What other topics should I cover?
- Accuracy and accountability
- Standing up for your staff
- The power of questions
- Respecting authorship
- Face-to-face communication
- Personal life
- Time management
- Developing new leaders
- The editor’s blog
- Role models
The posts probably will run daily Monday-Friday for the next few weeks. If you’re another Digital First editor (or a leader or former leader in another organization) and would like to propose a guest post as part of the series, email me at sbuttry (at) digitalfirstmedia (dot) com and we’ll discuss. I’m not interested in a post of general leadership tips. I’d rather have a post on a particular leadership topic. I will invite a few editors I respect to write posts.