Archive for the ‘leadership’ Category

Today I am leading a webinar for the Society of Professional Journalists, “Leading Change in Your Organization.”

I will repeat points I made in my 2014 posts about Project Unbolt.

I’ll also cover points covered in these posts for the INMA Culture Change Blog:

Here are the slides for the presentation:


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An editor at a mid-sized newsroom asked me some questions about digital productivity expectations for reporters:

We are banging our heads against the wall about this: How much content should reporters be required to write each day online? … Some feel they produce way more than others. So how do you even the playing field?

My quick answers:

  1. Everything any reporter produces should be published first online.
  2. Content is not all equal. You don’t measure reporters’ productivity or performance by counting widgets or credits.
  3. Expectations for reporters vary by beat and over time. Reporters should meet the expectations of their jobs.
  4. Running a newsroom isn’t like parenting. Your expectations for different reporters vary according to beat, experience, skill, news flow and a variety of other factors. You don’t even the playing field and I have little patience with whining about reasonable facts of life.

I’ll elaborate on those points in order: (more…)

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Digital LeadsI am cheering on the Four Platform Newsroom transformation efforts of the Journal Media Group newsrooms. And I encourage you to read a new report, published today, about the project in newsrooms of the former E.W. Scripps Co.: Digital Leads: 10 keys to newsroom transformation.

I have some experience with newsroom transformation efforts. As editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008-9, I led a local effort to change how a newsroom worked. As digital transformation editor at Digital First Media, I led a companywide transformation effort, first an informal effort involving visits to 84 newsrooms, then helping hire and mentor new editors and finally Project Unbolt, focused on four pilot newsrooms shortly before I left the company last year.

I wouldn’t describe any of those efforts as a complete success, and I know none of them was a complete failure. However much we succeeded, I learned a lot and blogged a lot about what we did.

Michele McLellan, one of the Scripps consultants on the project, knew of my transformation efforts and gave me an advance copy of the report, so I’m going to share some observations here.

During the Scripps project, a corporate restructuring resulted in a merger of the Scripps newspapers with the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel to create Journal Media Group. Since the Journal Sentinel wasn’t involved in the Four Platform Newsroom project, I will refer to the group here as Scripps. The company consulted with the Knight Digital Media Center at the Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism at the University of Southern California. Today’s Digital Leads report was produced and released by KDMC.

I have visited only one of the eight Scripps newsrooms where the transformation is considered to be working, and that was just briefly years ago. So my knowledge of the changes at Scripps is based solely on reading the report. As a result, I’m not going to praise or criticize specifics of what Scripps newsrooms have achieved or attempted. Instead, I’m going to summarize the 10 keys of the report, with some highlights from the report and advice for other newsrooms undertaking their own transformations: (more…)

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I’ll be leading two workshops today for the Excellence in Journalism conference in Anaheim.

First I’ll be leading Kindling the Flame, a leadership workshop that used to be my most popular workshop before innovation and digital skills began to dominate my training. I’m pleased to do the workshop again (can’t remember when I led it last).

Related links for the leadership workshop:

The handouts I used to use for the Kindling workshop for newsroom executives and copy desk chiefs.

My advice for new Digital First editors series.

Related links for the Digital First workshop:

How a Digital First approach guides a journalist’s work

Digital First journalists: What we value

10 ways to think like a Digital First journalist

Questions to guide a Digital First reporter’s work on any beat

Slides I’ll use for the Digital First workshop (I won’t us slides in the leadership workshop):

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

The most unpleasant task of my editing career has been firing staff members.

Whether you fire someone for performance or misconduct or because you have to reduce the size of the staff, you are disrupting the person’s career and life in ways you and they can’t foresee. You are delivering a blow to the ego as well as to the family finances. It can be devastating to the journalist you fire and gut-wrenching for the editor who makes the decision and delivers the news.

No advice I can deliver changes any of that. So one of the most important pieces of advice I can give is this: If you can’t handle that difficult task, don’t take on a top editing job. It’s a great job that includes a lot of exciting and rewarding work. But it also invariably includes this task, even in good times, and you need to be able to handle it. (more…)

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

Staff behavior and performance problems are among an editor’s greatest challenges and opportunities.

The staff member who is performing poorly or behaving inappropriately can bring a newsroom down and in most cases an editor needs to deal decisively with it. The performance and/or behavior can spread. The tolerance of the performance and/or behavior sets a standard for other staff members. And your newsroom is too thinly staffed for your good performers to be stretched a bit more to cover for the slacker.

That’s the challenge. The opportunity is that a successful discussion with the top editor at a critical moment can help turn a career around and turn a problem into a productive staff member.

The needed conversation is uncomfortable and difficult, but it’s one of an editor’s most important moments of leadership. (more…)

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

Time is one of an editor’s and a newsroom’s most precious resources. Spend your time wisely to move your newsroom forward and elevate your digital journalism.

The challenges of digital journalism give you – and your staff – lots more things to do without giving you any more time. To succeed, you need to manage your time – and your staff’s time – efficiently or you will certainly be overwhelmed.

To manage your time effectively, a top newsroom editors must:

  • Set priorities.
  • Delegate.
  • Decide what to stop doing.
  • Decide what to do less of.
  • Decide where you can accept a lower standard.
  • Identify time-wasters.
  • Find opportunities to use technology to work more efficiently.


Few things an editor does are more important than setting priorities. Decide for yourself how you and your staff should spend your time. The priorities you set will shape other time-management decisions. (more…)

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

Newsroom strategy needs to be bold. But you also need to know what digital audiences value.

On the boldness scale, I give a little credit to the editor (and/or corporate executive) who decided to cut the entire photo staff of the Chicago Sun-Times. While I oppose and mourn every cut in newsroom staff, I have said news organizations need to decide what to stop doing. If you have to cut, I think I’d normally have more respect for leaders with the guts to make a strategic cut — such as cutting an entire department — than those who just helplessly erode the whole newsroom across the board.

As I read the outpouring of outrage, sympathy and support for the Sun-Times photo staff in social media yesterday, the part of me that loves bold leadership and recognizes that sentimentality and affection can’t guide business decisions wanted to defend this decision. But I can’t get there.

This strategy overlooks what the audience values.

Most top editors come up through the writing and editing ranks, not from the photo staff, so our default settings favor paragraphs over photographs. But our users engage more deeply with visual images. They always have. (more…)

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

Editors need to understand and pursue mobile opportunities.

In more than one-third of Digital First Media news operations, we get more than half of our traffic on mobile devices such as smartphones and tablets. Just as the computer reading experience is different from the print reading experience, the mobile user experience is different from the desktop or laptop experience.

You need read and view your products on your smartphone and tablet (and recognize that they aren’t the same thing), both on the apps and on mobile browsers. Know what your mobile users are seeing and experiencing. (more…)

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Nancy March

Nancy March

This continues a series on advice for new top editors in Digital First Media newsrooms. Nancy March, editor of the Mercury in Pottstown, Pa., and cluster editor for Digital First Media in Pennsylvania, New Jersey and West Virginia, offered this post after I made brief reference to the editor’s personal life in my post last week on respecting the staff’s personal life. Thanks to Nancy for this guest post.

I have a saying honed during 37 years in the news business: “Never do today what you can put off until tomorrow.”

That may sound like encouragement to procrastinate or an excuse for laziness, but it’s not. Put it in context of our work: We  build a product from start to finish in a day’s time — every day — and with so much emphasis on what we have daily, we have to also know what we can set aside until tomorrow. (more…)

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

A new editor is taking on a demanding job that doesn’t leave you much time. You probably will think you’re too busy for a blog. But editors should blog.

I fully understand thinking that you’re too busy to blog. I started a weekly column right away when I became editor of the Cedar Rapids Gazette in 2008 (I had done the same thing as editor of the Minot Daily News in 1993 when blogging wasn’t an option). I meant to start the blog soon, but quickly got “too busy” and didn’t start blogging for six months. But when I made the time, my communication with staff, the public and the broader news business improved right away. A blog is worth the time. Editors should make time for it.

An editor with a blog comments on community issues, explains newsroom decisions to the community, publicly praises staff members who excel and sets an important example for the staff. Editors should make time to do all those things.

Blogging reinforces the culture of transparency that is important for you and your community. When the editor blogs, staff members who are “too busy” understand that this is a priority and that they should make time to blog as well. They understand that engaging with the community is important, that it should be part of what makes you busy, not part of what you’re too busy for. (more…)

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

David Witke

David Witke

Editors should be aware that we’re role models for the future editors on our staffs.

The editor who most shaped my own leadership is David Witke, who was managing editor of the Des Moines Register when I started working there in 1977 (the editor who hired me, in fact).

Dave has given me lots of advice through the years, but nothing he told me was as important as watching him lead. Here’s my favorite example of Dave’s leadership: (more…)

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