How newsrooms should evolve

How newsrooms should evolve

Media | Judette Coward-Puglisi

February 17, 2011


Just last evening, Nicole Duke-Westfield, former business editor at the Trinidad Guardian (now Guardian Media Limited), and I spent a careful twenty minutes pondering the state of new media in the Caribbean. Why was it that few editors were running on the social media track? Why weren’t newsrooms engaging more on Twitter? Why weren’t journalists repurposing content for video and podcasts?

With the exception of some newsrooms (I am referring to both print and broadcast) that have added social links to their online streams, few newspapers have fully embraced the new social way to communicate. They prefer to remain on the sidelines like a very timid fan on a red carpet night. Duke-Westfield made a good point saying that the very nature of newsrooms with their understaffed desks and overstretched reporters preclude editors taking the time necessary to turn a newsroom into a true news organization. And that’s sad. Sad because each time I pick up the newspaper, I am regaled with stories and snippets of yesterday’s news, stuff I’ve read online already.

So the obvious question is: What steps should newsrooms take to evolve? Jeff Jarvis in his book “What Would Google Do” (which by the way is an excellent read for journalists and public relations professionals) gives some insight. According to Jarvis: “In the shift from physical to digital and mass to niche, the best way to exploit the legacy value of a paper is to use its old-media megaphone to promote and build what comes next. First, a paper has to decide what is next. It has to design and build its post-paper products – retraining and restructuring staff and sloughing off unnecessary costs. It has to promote the new products even at the expense of the old… Convincing audiences and advertisers to move to the future is better than following them there after they have discovered other sources of news.”

Journalists too are not exempt from the need to change. Laura Dowrich, Editor of Metro Magazine is a great example of what a new media journalist should look like. Dowrich not only knows how to write a good story, she also has somehow been able to figure out what news is important to people, how it should it be reported, displayed and socially distributed. What elements of it should be on Facebook and/ or Twitter.  What is real critical here is deconstruction. Reporters should be able to decide which story should be narrative, graphic, audio, video and data based.

This  requires new thinking. And while in the Caribbean newspapers plod along traditional lines citing poor internet penetration in their countries, time should never be any organization’s excuse since it becomes a great enemy once you’re moving against it.

Jarvis sums up a number of differences between new and traditional media. I’ve picked eight but the differences tell us why it is so critical that news organizations adapt.

1) Traditional Media: Newspapers marketed themselves to a population. New Media: News organizations converse, engage and collaborate with the communities they serve; the population markets the news organization among itself.

2) Traditional Media: Newspapers operated in a climate of “scarcity;” news space became tighter when ad sales diminished or the price of newsprint increased. New Media: News organizations have an abundance of space online.

3) Traditional Media: Newspapers spent money conducting focus groups to find out what readers liked/disliked and analyzed the findings with skepticism. New Media: Through conversation, news organizations ask readers/users what they want, so the news organization can serve the communities better.

4) Traditional Media: Readers got their news when the paper hit their doorstep, or soon after it rolled off the presses. New Media: Readers don’t wait for the presses to roll but expect the information immediately.

5) Traditional Media: Deadlines were mostly daily with stories due at a set time. New Media: We’re always on deadline.

6) Traditional Media: Newspapers reported the news, but reporters weren’t allowed to make themselves part of the story. New Media: To connect with readers in niche communities, news organizations seek to put personal touches on news and information, often in the form of blogs.

7) Traditional Media: Newspapers were hesitant to even mention competitors in the newspaper. New Media: News organizations do what they do best and link to the rest, as Jarvis says, and yes, that means even if the link leads to the competition.

8). Traditional Media: Newspaper employees told readers with complaints to “write a letter to the editor.” New Media: News organization employees engage angry readers, so they don’t lose or alienate them.

Jarvis’ checklist is extensive and provides a good guide but the real key is perhaps for newsrooms to get strategic, jump in, take some risks and evolve. Waiting for it all to become mainstream may mean that newsrooms are already too late.