Archive for the ‘Advice for new Digital First editors’ Category

You can’t get scooped because competition gets tipped to a story when you tweet about it. Your tweets already scooped the competition.

A Digital First engagement editor who’s been teaching colleagues how to use Twitter got these questions from a veteran reporter:

Thank you for helping me understand Twitter and how to use it. What I don’t get is: If we tweet where we are and what we’re doing, how do we keep the competition from making a few phone calls on a story we sat through a meeting to sift out and develop? Or they’re not at the fire, but I’m tweeting and now they know.

And if I give results on Twitter, why would they buy a paper to see the results of the game?

I thought Twitter was to draw readers to our paper. So this is a struggle.

This is classic print-centric thinking. The newspaper has an early print deadline so “they’ve been scooped a lot,” the engagement editor told me. In this kind of thinking, scoops are based on who has the print story first.

That’s not how Digital First journalists and newsrooms think. If we had the story first, we had the scoop. And you have the story first if you have it on Twitter and/or on your website.  (more…)


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This continues my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

Jack Warner, photo linked from Wikimedia

Word has reached me that you are having fun on the set. This must stop.

When Mimi was reading Lauren Bacall’s autobiography, Lauren Bacall By Myself, she laughed and read the passage above aloud when the actor told about a telegram studio chief Jack Warner sent to the set of The African Queen with the message above. Warner sounded like too many editors I have known who embrace the serious side of the news business but forget about the value of fun.

A newsroom should be a fun place. The editor should be tolerant (even encouraging) of harmless fun and should sometimes be a leader of newsroom fun.

Some ways to foster fun in your newsroom (your mileage may vary; adapt your approach to your own sense of humor, your own creativity, and to your newsroom’s culture and needs):

Food is fun. No editor should overlook the role of food in newsroom morale. Whether you pop from the newsroom budget or your own pocket, occasionally pass the hat or organize a holiday potluck, your newsroom should enjoy food together. Buy pizza or sandwiches for election night (of course) and occasionally for a lunchtime workshop or a brownbag discussion of an important issue in journalism or whatever is on your staff’s minds. Buy farewell cakes for departing staff members. A measure of camaraderie in your newsroom will be the people who bring their own baking or other cooking into the newsroom, or those who stop on the way to work or over the lunch hour to buy a box of donuts or cookies. (more…)

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This continues my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

A common challenge for new editors is leading staff members who are older and more experienced than you. Sometimes a lot older.

Digital First CEO John Paton has said we’re going to “put the digital people in charge.” Digital people aren’t always young and print people aren’t always old, but sometimes that means an editor will be leading people as old as his or her parents. Or older.

And that’s not strictly a phenomenon of digital journalism. I was 24 when I became an assistant city editor at the Des Moines Register, supervising veterans such as Nick Lamberto and Otto Knauth, both of whom were older than my parents. The young editor getting a leadership opportunity has always been tested and evaluated by veteran journalists.

The best ways for a young leader to earn respect from older journalists are to show respect and to do good work. But these specific tips can also help:

Make learning two-way. Your digital skills are an important part of why you are getting your leadership opportunity. You need to teach and coach colleagues in their use of digital tools and techniques. But recognize that you have much to learn from them. When their work impresses you, ask questions about what they did and how. This helps you in two ways: You show respect to them at the same time that you learn from them and become a better journalist. (more…)

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This continues my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

One of an editor’s most important jobs is developing other leaders in your newsroom. A top editor should:

Understand your staff’s aspirations. Except at the largest newsrooms, an editor should take the time to learn what everyone on your staff wants from their careers. Not everyone wants to be an editor, but if someone wants to be an editor (and shows potential), you should know that and watch for opportunities to develop and show their leadership skills. On a bigger staff, you should know the aspirations of your mid-level editors, and perhaps a few other stars, and expect the mid-level managers to know the aspirations of their staffs. You can’t always control whether you hang onto your best people, but your odds are better if you know what they want from their careers and are helping them pursue those goals.

Provide opportunities. Weekend or holiday editing slots or late-night and early-morning shifts give some budding staff members their shots at running the show (as I did on Sundays as a young assistant city editor at the Des Moines Register). Give some authority (and some clear guidance) to potential leaders and see how they perform in these positions.

Know when to let others lead. Some big news stories require all hands on deck and require leadership from the top. But sometimes a top leader can show leadership by stepping back and letting the budding leaders lead. You put people in key leadership positions to do a particular job. Remember to let them do that job.

I remember hearing Libby Averyt, then the editor of the Corpus Christi Caller-Times, describe her staff’s coverage of the big national story that broke in their back yard when Vice President Dick Cheney shot a hunting buddy in the face by accident. That broke on a weekend and Libby checked in by phone but resisted the urge to bigfoot the weekend editor by rushing in to run the show. If someone’s not getting the job done, you can often direct from home. Or you might need to come in if someone’s in over his head (then follow up with some coaching). (more…)

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Jim VandeHei, mug shot linked from Politico

Jim VandeHei, CEO of Politico, told his staff in a memo Monday about the culture he wants in the organization.

I won’t go into detail about the specific points in the memo, except to say that I largely agree with what he wrote. But my point here is to say that you should write something like that for your newsroom.

If you’re an employee, you can agree or disagree with Jim about the culture he wants for Politico, and you can debate how well the organization achieves the culture. But you understand the culture he wants. You want the same sort of clarity in your organization about what the boss wants.

Maybe you shouldn’t write about culture. Maybe you should write about workflow or ethics or your vision for the future of your organization. But you should write. (more…)

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This post continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

A newsroom’s success is a blend of teamwork and individual excellence, so an editor must foster and reward both.

Here are important ways to encourage teamwork on your staff:

Pair staff members strategically. Keep staff members’ strengths and weaknesses in mind as you pair them on assignments that require more than one person. My editors at the Omaha World-Herald often paired me with less experienced reporters so they would learn from me (I learned from them, too, and I’m sure that happens even more today when you might pair a veteran with great journalism experience with a less-experienced reporter with strong digital skills).

Acknowledge the staff members’ skills as you’re discussing plans for their work together. For a quick story, you might divide the labor according to their strengths: This reporter will search social media for sources because social media is a strength of hers and that reporter is going to check with his excellent sources in law enforcement. But sometimes, especially for a longer-term story, you will want to be clear that you want them to work together in an aspect of the story, to ensure that the reporters learn from each other, rather than just leaning on each other. Specify that they work together on the data analysis, rather than letting the data expert handle that herself. Or they should work together on the video instead of giving that to the video whiz to handle the video himself. (more…)

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This post continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

Earlier this month I finished a chore that was a lot of work and worth every minute: Planning and emceeing a program to recognize the best work of 2012 by Digital First Media journalists.

Kudos to CEO John Paton and Editor in Chief Jim Brady for spending the money to give cash prizes and plaques to the DFMie winners and for bringing them from across the country to Denver for the awards program.

If you’re a local DFM editor (or an editor in another company), you may not have the money to do an awards program at the newsroom level, but at least you won’t have travel costs. And you should try to put a local recognition program into your budget. All the DFM senior publishers were at the DFMies and commented on what a great program it was. Maybe they’ll fight to get some local recognition in your budget. But they won’t do that unless you ask. One of my rules of journalism and life is “never say no for someone else.” So don’t say no for your publisher. Ask for a recognition program for your newsroom.

And if the publisher says no, recognize excellence in a way that’s cheap or free.

We do the DFMies monthly and annually to recognize the best work companywide with cash awards. While the cash is important, and adds meaning to the recognition, I believe the recognition is more important than the cash. If you can’t get cash for the awards, get the newsroom involved in brainstorming another meaningful way to recognize excellence: Maybe a traveling trophy (it could be serious or silly) that sits on the winner’s desk for a month or a quarter until the next winner is chosen. Maybe lunch with the editor. Maybe a paid day off. (more…)

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I am pleased that Tim McGuire has offered a contribution to my series on advice for new Digital First editors.

Tim spent 11 years as editor of the Minneapolis Star Tribune and is now a professor at the Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University.

Tim has blogged about what he wishes he had done differently as an editor. I encourage you to read his full post, but here’s the core of his advice:

I lost personal control of my calendar and my priorities, and I never thought quite big enough.

I know that in these days of reduced resources many editors are going to scoff at my two pieces of advice but I actually think the tough times make them more important than ever. 1. Don’t waste your time on minor issues and process oriented meetings and, 2. think big, transformative change, not incremental change.

I dearly wish I would have set up a rotating list of five big, direction-changing issues and insisted that my calendar allow me 75 percent availability to concentrate on the five big ideas.

Tim gives excellent advice and I appreciate his contribution to this series.

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Butch Ward of Poynter wrote an excellent post posing an important question for editors to ask the journalists who work for you: What do you want to be someday?

Butch, one of the best teachers in the news business, said the question we’re often asked as kids — what do you want to be when you grow up? — remains an important question throughout our careers:

Good managers understand that dreams and ambitions don’t die once we land in the workplace. In fact, they know that taking an interest in their staff’s future can help build strong working relationships with them. Once I believe that you really care what I want to be someday, I’m much more likely to trust your advice, respond to your suggestions and take an interest in your needs.

I highly recommend Butch’s post and make it part of my series on advice for new Digital First editors. (more…)

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This post continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

A managing editor (not from a Digital First Media newsroom) asked my thoughts about developing a plan for pay raises based on performance.

It’s a challenge many newsrooms face (or will face whenever current pay freezes are lifted): Media enterprises’ success is based on performance, so I suspect newsrooms will increasingly consider basing pay on performance. Here’s what my correspondent asked:

What sort of goals could we set for photographers, reporters and copy editors — and perhaps their respective editors who oversee them — that if met would result in a bonus?

I don’t really want to enact quotas for all of what we do, but perhaps that’s helpful.

Do you know how other newspapers who are becoming digital news organizations might reward employees or offer bonuses? Are there other editors you could put me in touch with if you don’t know? (more…)

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Teresa Schmedding, photo linked from dailyherald.com

This guest post by Teresa Schmedding continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.


Effective leadership is not about making speeches or being liked; leadership is defined by results not attributes — Peter Drucker

I remember, way back in the dark ages, when I was promoted from copy editor to an “editor” management position, I knew exactly what I didn’t want to be. I didn’t want to be anything like the bad bosses I’d had in the past.

I didn’t want to be a boss that blamed his/her subordinates for his/her mistakes. I didn’t want to be a boss that settled for okay instead of amazing. I didn’t want to be a boss that didn’t listen. I didn’t want to be a boss that sugar-coated the facts. I didn’t want to be aloof and unapproachable.  I didn’t want to be autocratic, but I also didn’t want to be laissez-faire.

But what qualities did I want to have? Open door. Straight shooter. Honest. High standards. Fair. (more…)

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This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms.

A busy editor might be tempted to dismiss diversity as a buzzword or a lofty goal you don’t have time for. You need to regard it as a matter of journalistic integrity and business survival.

Accuracy is the core of journalistic integrity, and your news will more accurately reflect the events and issues of your community as your staff better reflects your community. And your news organization will have a more prosperous future if your content appeals to the entire community, not just the aging white audience you probably have now. Your content will have broader appeal if your staff brings broader experiences and perspectives to news coverage.

The top editor needs to say the right things about diversity, but actions always trump words, so what you do is far more important than anything you say.

So here’s some advice from a middle-aged white guy for recruiting, hiring and retaining a diverse staff and for making sure that your content reflects the diversity of your community: (more…)

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