This is my entry for October’s Carnival of Journalism.
You can’t force change but you can make smaller changes to re-educate people, open up communication lines, get them thinking about innovation, help erode resistance and bring about the evolution. Here are some things we’ve done at the Post-Dispatch since I’ve joined to help change the newsroom culture. (Speaking of the Post-Dispatch, the deadline for our spring and summer *PAID* multimedia internships is quickly approaching. Come join the revolution.)
#1 – Move people.
(Cost: Free-ish. Or whatever it costs to move desks.)
Physically reorganize your newsroom. This is one easy way to shake some rust off an old school newsroom, clean out a tOOOoooons of junk that pack rat journalists seem to carry around for decades, get people communicating/working together better and realize that change has arrived.
At the Post-Dispatch, we’ve created a web hub at the core of the newsroom with spokes of the traditional newspaper sections circling the web core — the web is now literally the core of the newsroom.
Several newsrooms have done similar reorganizations and at the PD, Mike Meiners and Wade Wilson were the chief architects of this process and they did a tremendous job. Sure, there was a lot of complaining before the change but it’s been very successful in my eyes.
There’s something about physical proximity that makes things happen much faster. In the next month or so, we’re going to make some tweaks to tighten some things up, fill in holes that have been vacated by some recent layoffs, section combining and people changing positions and we’ll also be building out a dedicated series of video and audio editing bays, as well as pooling some nerds. I believe it’s going further fuel the change and raise the efficiency of our newsroom.
#2 – Herd your nerds and protect their time.
(Cost: Free-ish – Again, whatever it costs to move desks.)
Your techies and high-end newsroom nerds need to be fostered and supported to grow.Â The life of a nerd is a lonely one — especially in a newsroom where, as Regina McCombs so eloquently said (I’m paraphrasing here), ‘More people know what the newspaper truck driver does than the web team.’
Surround the nerds with people who see the world similarly and they’ll flourish, feel safe and happy at their gig and not leave you for Google. Bring them together in close proximity so they can feed off each other, bounce ideas and share pocket protecting tips (away from the main fray of the daily miracle so they’re not getting nickle and dimed by people stopping to ask them how to use email but keep them close/visible enough to still have a presence in the operation).
#3 – Praise, high five and hoist your early adopters.
(Cost: Free-ish. Just time and if you can get some sort of prizes/monetary awards/donuts.)
Ryan Sholin nailed this one. Culture change is hard to pull off in one swooping move. Find your curious, early adapters and make them into golden gods in your newsroom. They’ll influence others and help push the change with you.
Buy them cookies and make it public. Get them a gift certificates. Nominate them for the employee of the month award (if your place of business does that kind of thing). High five them in the hall. Make tshirts or a Burger King crowns. It doesn’t need to cost money but figure out a way to give props and make it public. Saying “You’re the best!” doesn’t cost anything. At a meeting in front of a bunch of important people or on your relatively popular journalism nerd blog, it costs even less to say, Chris Ave, our new, dynamic political editor (You know, the guy who wrote the Politifact song?) is freaking fantastic. He’s really lead our politics team to do some fantastic web work that beats the pants off some of the big dogs in the national arena.
#4 – Old school postin’ on a bulletin board.
(Cost: $5? Free?)
Say you read something really awesome on some awesome website like Newsless.org or 10000words.net and you want to show it to a bunch of people on your team. What do you do? Send them a link? Psh. That’s so Web 1.0. We’re mass communicatin’ here!
Take a tip from the ink and dead tree publications and find a high traffic area to distribute your propaganda. At the Post-Dispatch, I requested that we set up a bulletin board right in between the elevators (just above the elevator buttons) so anyone who uses those elevators in the newsroom (and just about everyone does) has to get at least within three feet of our new media propaganda. Magic Mike, again, hooked it up. We call the bulletin board, STL Tomorrow (a play on our STLToday.com site url/name).
I try to change out postings every 3 days or so with the help of some of the best newsroom early adopters I could hope for, including our all-star, multi-talented, fall intern, Chris “Can Do Anything” Zaluski (who is currently entertaining offers for a full time job, btw., snap him up before Roanoke or the Las Vegas Sun finishes their interview process and hires him), Brian “Lynda.com, psh. Whateva.” Williamson, Gary “Multimedia Guru & Birthday Boy” Hairlson, Kurt “*The* STL Social Media Guy” Greenbaum and Erica “YES *THAT* Erica Smith” Smith.
The paper bulletin board is a great way to enslave and brainwash captive peopleerr, uh, I mean ‘introduce change to a legacy newsroom culture.’
#5 – Virtual bulletin board.
In parallel with the paper and cork bulletin board, in this newfangled electronic world we must have a digital edition of STLTomorrow! (And of course, it is much more robust and updated more often than the print edition. Oh, SNAP!) AND, more importantly, it has the same high-profile presence of the paper version — I worked with our fantastic head of tech services, John Hurst, to redesign the newsroom intranet site integrating a highly-visible feed of headlines from STLTomorrow.
Again, this is location, location, location. Catch people where they are already. Our intranet is where all of our newsroom announcements are made about training, jobs, promotions and all that fun stuff. It’s also the hub for a lot of digital journalism resources in our newsroom. So it’s an ideal place to hook everyone and to stay in front of them.
BTW: STLTomorrow is also available to the outside world at http://stltomorrow.tumblr.com. There’s probably a good deal of duplication from Journerdism but the team of adopters helping me out do a great job of finding other stuff too.
#6 – Share the basic web production work — develop measurable standards and hold people accountable for the work they do.
(Cost: Free. Just leaders with a backbone to make it happen.)
Most newsrooms have a major problem with inequity in labor and a lack of accountability. A few hardworking (usually younger) people shoulder a huge percentage of the work, while someone who won a Pulitzer 20 years ago writes one story a quarter. One web producer at night shovels the entire newspaper’s print content over to the website while 4 dozen people produce the print edition. Now that everyone is doubling their efforts and trying to keep the daily miracle happening, this kind of inequity cannot continue without newsroom riots erupting, so it’s time to examine who’s pulling their weight, who isn’t and what they can do to help out (especially on the web).
In fact, I believe it’s time everyone helps out on the web, not just the online producers. Who would be better to manage the Education page, than the Education Editor? If everyone (or almost everyone) is helping produce the site (even if it’s the smallest portion) they’ll have a vested interest and can start understanding how the operation needs to evolve for the next century.
This isn’t easy though and each operation will have to develop their own systems and standards on what it means to own a section or help out on the site. Strong newsroom leaders should establish these standards and hold people accountable to helping out on the web, as they do with the print product. They must:
1- Communicate clearly the goals, vision and what the rules are .
2- Set up measurable standards of accountability.
3- Follow up and measure performance, if sub par, start corrective actions.
4- Rinse and repeat
#7 – Flyer like a club promoter.
(Cost: Free or the cost of office toner & paper)
Ever find a REALLY cool article that you want to *make sure* that it physically gets in the hands of key people? Print off 20 copies and shove it in all those editors’ mailboxes or drop it on their desk chairs. I guarantee you’ll reach at least half of them, if not for a few seconds on the way to the trash can.
The other strategic move here, is most uh ‘legacy’ newspaper people prefer paper. So give them their news in whatever form they want it. (Oh the irony!) Even if it’s a paper tutorial on how to publish blog entries.
#8 – Show them the stats.
If I know anything it’s that 1-Journalists are incredibly competitive. 2- They’re have a high need for feedback and affirmation that their work is read and cared about. (Just look at all the freaking journalism awards available.)
So along with the integration of STL Tomorrow on the intranet redesign, we integrated prominent links to daily analytics reports for top headlines, top blogs, top multimedia content and top referrers. Newsroom staffers love it (and hate it when something breaks, because we definitely hear about it when the Omniture report doesn’t update). Again, John Hurst worked on the intranet site and Kurt Greenbaum hooked up the Omniture analytics pipeline.
#9 – Build an internal wiki.
Getting ‘legacy’ people to participate in social media can be as difficult as trying to get an online person to subscribe to the print edition.
One way to institutionally crack that nut is to start an internal wiki and require everyone to use it for something to do with their job. Fill it with all the boring stuff you need to produce a newspaper and your site — make it the staff editable intranet essentially. Source contact info. Important links to third party sites/vendors you use. Tip sheets. Tutorials. Etc. Etc. Etc.
Posting tip sheets and tutorials on a wiki also lowers the barrier for people to do some RTFM DIY training, so that more people can help out in your operation, while at the same time you can introduce them to collaborative online tools for streamlining newsroom project management, as I’ve talked about before.
At the Post-Dispatch, we’re using Google Sites, which offers all sorts of goodies, including a wiki and document sharing. I believe they still use the one at the Palm Beach Post I set up on Social Text, (long ago) when there was few free wiki sites available that were password protectable/private.
#10 – Get the competition in front of their faces.
(Cost: Free, if you have a spare computer – and with all the layoffs everywhere recently there’s bound to be plenty of CPUs and monitors to go around. Or you can also spend a little extra and get some high impact monitors like we did.)
Like I said before, journalists are very competitive. All newsrooms have TV’s lying around on 24/7 with TV competitors. Why doesn’t anyone do this with the Internet competitors?
At the Post-Dispatch, Santa Claus Meiners hooked us up with two big flat screen monitors and we stategically placed them along the main aisle everyone uses (one near the elevators and one in the middle of the newsroom). They rotate every 30 seconds through about 90 strategically-selected sites. It’s a mixed recipie of roughly:
- 1/4 of our local media competitors like those kitten-killing bastards at Metromix St. Louis, etc.
- 1/4 of different pages on our own site (just so people know what we’re up to in all the major sections)
- 1/4 of a magical mystery bag of social media, hyperlocal and tech sites, such as St. Louis Technorati posts, YouTube video searches, local Twitter updates within a few dozen miles, Google Trends current top 100 searches, etc.
- 1/8 of major national news competitors like MSNBC, CNN, Huffington Post, Digg, etc.
- 1/8 of some inspirational blogs like Tech Crunch, Online Journalism Review, Teaching Online Journalism, etc.
This is something I pitched multiple times in West Palm Beach but it never happened and I’ve been really pleased with the results thus far in St. Louis. Back when I was speaking at APME in Las Vegas about a month ago, I noticed some other brilliant newsroom, The Las Vegas Sun, had a similar idea (although was just focused on national sites, so ours is cooler. Count it!)
None of these steps are going to right the ship in one fell swoop or change the culture in a week. But with these incremental changes, the help of early adopters and supportive leaders like Bob Rose, Arnie Robbins and Pam Maples, over time these small steps can help turn the tide and fuel a newsroom’s evolution.