May 05, 2004

You Say You Want a Revolution ...

UPDATE: Here is the Columbia Journalism Review piece on Moroney:

"Editors should praise — not punish — dissenters. 'Be thankful for the people who speak up,' he said. 'They are our best hope for getting it right.' Moroney’s “Fidel” speech lasted an hour and twenty minutes. He was preaching the causal relationship between high-quality journalism and financial health. In the final minute he used the word 'revolution seven times, and the crowd in the ballroom gave him a standing ovation. Many were stunned by what they’d heard, particularly Moroney’s praise for newsroom hell-raisers."

As I've always said, when you're too busy to write, use someone else's words. The current issue of the Columbia Journalism Review contains an article examining the newsroom "revolution" at the Dallas Morning News (it's not yet online).

In response to the piece, James Moroney, the paper's publisher, memoed the staff with the "five principles of the revolution," which he called "the remedies we need to get us from where we are to where we need to be." They are worth remembering:

 Be intensely customer focused. (We had become too inwardly
focused and forgotten that we are serving our readers and advertisers, not the other way around.)

 Sense of Urgency. (We began to believe we were the only game
in town. We could take our time to act and to react. We can't. The
competition is at the gate.)

 Be Inclusive. (We lost our focus on the development of a diverse workplace. We must understand we can only truly serve our diverse
group of readers by reflecting that diversity among our own employee

 Carry Two Buckets. (We had become too specialized. We developed a "that's not my job" attitude. There are too many empty hands
around. If you have one, either pick up another bucket or use it to turn
the handle on the exit door.)

 Welcome Constructive Criticism. (We became too arrogant, especially in management. We thought we knew it all or knew it best.
Non-management employees and mid-level management weren't encouraged and rewarded for speaking up. Instead they were ignored or worse, punished. It's way past time for everyone to be able to be heard.)

Newsroom cynics are likely to dismiss these concepts as empty management-speak, but they are shortcuts that acknowledge the weakness of our journalistic institutions and offer ways to overcome them.

Here is another way of looking at them:

 Serving readers means doing journalism for the public good, being the watchdog. Serving advertisers means providing value in exchange for their money, which pays our salaries.

 Time is running out on relevancy. Urgency is a necessity, not a luxury. The conversation of news is faster and more compresses than ever. For a newspaper to participate -- and to do so with crediblity and depth -- it must be nimble and assertive.

 Diversity is good. Does this even need to be explained anymore? The world is diverse. America is diverse. Newspapers aren't. Who wants to read anything that doesn't reflect the world in which they live?

 Learning is also good. The one-person, one-job model of newspaper journalism is obsolete, made so by the capabilities of technology and the demands of a media market in which flexible, responsive organizations triumph over calcified, hierarchical organizations. Start with the Learning Newsroom.

 Change begins at the edges but takes hold in the middle. Train, develop and empower front-line editors. Enable them -- through coaching, support and guidance -- to implement the vision for the newspaper. The Readership Institute's latest newsroom survey concludes that newspaper's with an ability to innovate have engaged and enthusiastic mid-level editors.

Posted by Tim Porter at May 5, 2004 07:37 AM