If you work for a traditional newsroom, especially a newspaper, in all likelihood you are in a situation not that different than the Oakland A’s as depicted in “Moneyball.” You don’t have the money you feel you need to do the job the way you were brought up to believe it needs to be done, and that situation is never going to get better. The University of Southern California’s Center for the Digital Future even predicts the end of most printed newspapers in just a few years, owing not just to the economic factors hurting advertising but, more importantly, consumer habits shifting media use increasingly to digital platforms. I’m not so pessimistic myself, but I think it’s undeniable that technology is changing how people spend their time, and both reading and viewing are moving more and more to digital platforms.
News organizations face a stark choice. As expressed in “Moneyball” by Brad Pitt as the general manager of the A’s: “Adapt or die.”
That means going beyond seeing your website or social media channels as added tasks that take away from your real job. You have to think about news throughout the day in terms of people scanning for it on their phones, on their tablets, on their computers.
Steve Buttry of Digital First Media (aka Journal Register) has been posting a series on his blog this week detailing some of the practical changes of this approach, starting with how it would affect the ways a court reporter, photographer or sports reporter might do the job. (Dare I say this might be the first time anyone has written something suggesting a link in any way between Steve and Brad Pitt.)
Perhaps most important in Steve’s series is advice for editors leading a Digital First (or digital-first) newsroom. If the message doesn’t come from the top that digital-first is the new SOP, it won’t happen. If the message isn’t accompanied by evidence that those at the top are paying attention, it won’t happen.
Much of Steve’s advice echoes tips about coaching and leadership generally – there are sections on standards, listening, praise and collaboration.
One suggestion he makes that would be an important step for newroom leaders to drive the message because it would be a big change in newsroom habits:
“Focus your meetings on digital platforms. Ask what you’re covering live, who’s shooting video, what the social chatter is, what stories are getting good traffic. … Put tomorrow’s print Page One it its proper place: as an afterthought at the end of the meeting.”
Also good advice that newsroom leaders have to internalize:
“Don’t tell your staff they have to ‘do more with less’ unless you are providing tools for them to work more efficiently (in my career, a few things that have actually helped us do more with less are portable computers, spreadsheets, databases, cellphones and pagination). Usually, ‘do more with less’ is a management cliché that means we have failed to make tough decisions about priorities.
“As you focus more attention on digital platforms, you have to focus less on print. Consult with your staff and colleagues and make tough decisions about priorities. How are you going to change the newshole, design, editing process, content, staffing, etc. of the print product so you can focus more attention on digital.”
In other words, what are you really changing? You don’t have the staff you used to have, you never will again – “Newspaper companies have seen their advertising revenues drop by 58 percent from the third quarter of 2005 to the third quarter of this year (64 percent after adjusting for inflation). Any profits are achieved only by severe cuts in staff and other costs. That path is simply unsustainable.” – and you have a shifting audience.
What will adaptation look like in your newsroom?
Related: The Innovation Excellence website takes seven quotes from Moneyball and explains how they directly relate to driving innovation through an organization.