June 03, 2005

Oh, Canada: An Innovation Presentation

I spoke yesterday at Canadian Newspaper Association's annual conference, held this year in Ottawa. I pulled together a number of the ideas you've seen on First Draft for a presentation on newsroom innovation.

Here's some highlights from the talk. The full set of slides are here.

I spoke about risk averse nature of newspapers as organizations, and their continued hesitancy about investing in the future. Two quotes were salient, the first from 11 years ago:

"Newspapers have made almost every kind of radical move except transforming themselves. It's as if they've considered every possible option but the most urgent - change. … That makes newspapers the biggest and saddest losers in the information revolution." -- Jon Katz, Wired magazine, 09/1994.

… and the second from this year:

"Despite the new demands, there is more evidence than ever that the mainstream media are investing only cautiously in building new audiences." -- State of the News Media, 2005, Project for Excellence in Journalism.

I presented two broad themes for change, Intentional Journalism and Explode the Newsroom. Here are their key points:

The idea of Intentional Journalism develops from asking these questions:

Someone gives you your current annual newsroom budget and says: Make any kind of news operation you want. Would you make the same newspaper? Would you create the same beats, departments, production and decision-making processes? Would you hire the same people? Would you design the paper and its web site in the same formats?

Of course you wouldn't. So these steps are starting points for change:

 Develop a strategic plan: What are your readership goals for 5 years? 10 years?
 Develop annual newsroom objectives: Specific, strategic and unique to your community.
 Develop annual individual objectives: Not evaluations, but personal learning plans for every staffer from the admin to exec editor; what you should be able to do a year from now that you can't do now.
 Build learning time into the budget: Newsroom training budgets are important, but even more critical is learning time; allocate it on an FTE basis.
 Evaluate -- How are we doing?: The No. 1 question of the day, every day. What is working? What is not? Are we making progress toward our larger goals?
 Challenge assumptions: Why do we do things this way? Change cannot happen without questioning the status quo.

Explode the Newsroom is based on the premise that small measures are no longer sufficient to change the industry, so we must rethink, refocus an reinvent, using these concepts as starting points:

 Don't Tinker, Explode: Big rewards come from big bets.
 The 10% Solution: Devote 10 percent of the newsroom budget each year to product and staff development.
 Structure by Horizontally, Not Vertically: Tear down the Sports, News, Features and Business silos; reconstitute around virtual communities.
 Go Weekly -- Every Day: Mass is dead; class matters.
 Be the Tip of the Information Iceberg: Reverse the print-online priority equation; the newspaper must become the gateway to information, not the destination.
 Lead from the Middle, Not the Top: You cannot lead from behind the desk; Get the editors out of the offices and onto the newsroom floor.
 Don't Cover the Community, Be the Community: Empower readers, enable citizen journalism; get engaged; lead civic discourse; be people-centric.

If you'd like to read the original First Draft posts on these topics, they are:

 Read: Explode the Newsroom: Six Ways to Rebuild the System.
 Read: ASNE Convention: Six Things that Should be on the Agenda.
 Read: Read: New Values for a New Age of Journalism..
 Read: Intentional Journalism.

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Posted by Tim Porter at June 3, 2005 06:24 AM