From the outset of Project Unbolt, a key goal was to produce a manual for other newsrooms to follow.
As I prepare to leave Digital First Media (tomorrow will be my last day), here is that manual, my recommendations for newsrooms to unbolt from the processes and culture of print. Our work on the project has not been as extensive as I had hoped, but I think we have produced a valid plan for accelerating the digital transformation of newsrooms. I hope my colleagues will continue the work and continue blogging about it.
Thanks to the editors and staffs of the four pilot newsrooms of Project Unbolt: the New Haven Register, Berkshire Eagle, News-Herald and El Paso Times. I applaud their willingness to change and experiment during a time of upheaval in our company and the industry.
Most of the manual is in earlier blog posts published here and elsewhere during the project. This post will summarize the important steps you need to take to transform your newsroom, with links to posts that elaborate on each of those points (some links appearing more than once because they relate to multiple points):
The unbolted newsroom
Several posts cover overall newsroom unbolting issues:
Getting your newsroom started
First you should conduct a newsroom assessment to help you set priorities for your transformation:
Then you need some good newsroom conversations about where you’re going and what that means for individual staff members:
Cover events and breaking news live
Live coverage provides depth, immediacy and interactivity for the digital audience. You should always cover breaking stories as they unfold. If you’re sending a journalist to cover an event, you should provide live coverage unless you have a compelling reason not to.
More on live coverage:
Project Unbolt posts:
Unbolt enterprise from the Sunday story
The traditional practice of planning enterprise stories for the Sunday newspaper doesn’t work for digital coverage. In unbolting, you need to plan enterprise stories for digital platforms, planning publication at the best time for the digital community and planning digital coverage elements from the first. You can still publish the story on Sunday in print, but that may be several days after it publishes online.
More on unbolted enterprise:
Cover routine daily news as it unfolds
The morning-newspaper routine of having reporters start work in the late morning or even early afternoon, then work all day on stories they turn in sometime in the evening. That doesn’t work for the digital audience, which is most engaged during the workday. More on routine daily coverage:
Focus on mobile success
An unbolted newsroom makes a priority of pursuing mobile opportunities:
Project Unbolt posts:
Daily planning meetings need to focus on digital platforms, rather than the next morning’s newspaper:
News budgets need to reflect and guide digital planning, too:
Leading the unbolted newsroom
Much of my series last year on advice for Digital First editors also relates to unbolting your newsroom, though we weren’t using that term yet. (The post linked above has a list of other posts at the end.) Some that I think are most essential to unbolting:
Editing remains important in the unbolted newsroom, but newsrooms today don’t have as many editors as we used to. We need strong editing standards, starting with reporters doing a better job editing their own work.
I didn’t work on the project long enough to fully develop metrics for all the changes involved in unbolting. But here are some suggestions and observations on the topic:
Project Unbolt posts:
How the Berkshire Eagle is unbolting
The Berkshire Eagle’s Unbolt Master Plan gives a good model for a newsroom to follow in planning your unbolting work:
Working Digital First
In many ways, Project Unbolt continues the transformation I outlined in a 2011-2 series of posts on how Digital First journalists should think and work. I include those posts here because they address some important issues we didn’t get to in my short time on Project Unbolt:
Continuing Project Unbolt
Project Unbolt doesn’t stop with my departure from Digital First Media (tomorrow is my last day). CEO John Paton has said the work should continue. I encourage the pilot newsrooms to continue both working to unbolt and sharing their stories, either in guest posts in my blog or somewhere else (I’ll link to their posts here if they blog elsewhere). I encourage other newsrooms to start working on the steps outlined here. I welcome their guest posts as well, or encourage them to share their lessons elsewhere.
As for non-DFM newsrooms interested in unbolting from the culture and processes of print, I welcome your guest posts as you follow the recommendations here or develop your own recommendations. And if you’d like my help in unbolting, you can reach me at stephenbuttry (at) gmail (dot) com.