Transition to multi-media

This article originally appeared in the 2008 edition of Innovations in Newspapers published for the World Association of Newspapers by Innovation International.

It’s important to recognize from the start that the transition to a multimedia newsroom is a change management process, and INNOVATION believes change is a holistic process.

These 14 recommendations are not a formula that can be followed step-by-step, like instructions for building a model airplane. Yet they need to be embraced as a group, and INNOVATION believes the first is the most critical. Without management buy-in, any hope of introducing successful integration is doomed.

1. Get management buy-in
Without support from the top, adoption of multimedia newsgathering by a newspaper cannot succeed. Reporters must see that editorial managers believe in what they are proposing. This means managers must do as they say, and attend training courses. They cannot say they are too busy. They must explain why change is needed, what needs to be changed, and how the process will unfold. Individuals also need to know what is in it for them and what they will gain from the experience. Managers need to introduce milestones and clear benchmarks of success.

Convergence pioneer Gil Thelen of the Tampa Tribune often pointed out that his integrated newsroom was an extension of his work in team building and change management. “This really is a huge change process that’s got a multimedia ribbon on it,” he said. Similarly, Ifra’s Kerry Northrup believes a boardroom mandate is needed for any “serious convergence conversion” of a media operation. The introduction of multimedia newsgathering is not about saving money. It must be seen as an investment in the future. A converged newsroom is a way to reach more of those scattered audiences that are the result of media fragmentation. And multimedia needs to be driven by the editorial team.

2. Establish management priorities
The company must establish priorities. Editorial staffers need to see evidence of a vision for a new kind of company – with journalism still at its core. In a knowledge economy news becomes a service, and audiences place value on services that inform, explain, simplify and evaluate news for busy people.

Convenience is a key attribute of a valuable service. So news must be available in whatever medium a customer wants. But news and information remains the driver, not the delivery system. The priority is to supply news and information to whatever platform it needs to be on. Only in English does the word for newspaper carry the concept of paper. Journalists must learn to choose the most appropriate medium for telling the stories they need to tell. Multimedia newsgathering involves a change of mindset, as reporters face constant deadlines and produce different types of stories for different platforms.

3. Changing mindset
A key way to change mindset is to concentrate on journalism’s core values. Regardless of the medium they work in, good journalists have the same fundamental values. Managers must surface those values and make them paramount. Begin by asking people why they became journalists. Their values remain consistent irrespective of the medium they work in.

Not all journalists in a newsroom must be multi-skilled.  In many newsrooms around the world only a minority will work across all platforms. But all journalists must become “multimedia minded”. This means they all must understand the strengths, weaknesses and capabilities of all platforms available for telling stories. This helps them choose the most appropriate medium for telling the story.

4. Clear and direct communication
For change to happen, everyone involved needs to understand why the change must take place. Managers can never communicate too much. Thelen said managers had to repeat the same thing hundreds of times in dozens of venues before the message reached all levels of the organization. “About the time you’re getting bored hearing yourself talk, you’re just beginning to really communicate effectively.” Paul Cheung, former chief editor of Ming Pao in Hong Kong, emphasized the need for clear direction from managers. Though the decision to embrace multimedia came from his group’s senior management, change was “editorially driven,” he said. “We knew we had to move on.”

Managers must create awareness by communicating values and intentions, reducing uncertainty. Humans dislike change. Keep stressing how multimedia newsgathering offers journalists a way to tell more powerful stories and better fulfil the media’s democratic responsibilities. Multimedia skills also improve an individual’s professional qualifications and standing, and tend to re-energize jaded print reporters.

5. Identify influential people
When deciding whether to adopt a new idea, people relate to subjective evaluations by others like themselves. Managers must identify “opinion leaders,” those influential individuals in any newsroom structure, and get them “on board” to help influence their peers. People likely to interfere with the integration process also need to be identified.

6. Produce a mission statement
A clear mission statement that tells people where the company is going should be displayed in large type where everyone can see it. If you have multiple floors for the newsroom, duplicate the statement on every floor. Use the intranet to remind people of the core mission, so that the statement appears every time they log on to their computer. The core statement The New York Times produced in 1992 is still relevant. It details in a mere 13 words the company’s aims: “Editorial excellence and independence are essential to our profitability and profit sustains them.”

7. Invest in training
Training needs to be seen as an investment instead of a cost. Create a training program and follow through. No need to re-invent the wheel. Plenty of models are available to be copied. A formal program is evidence of the organization’s commitment to change. It also provides journalists an outlet for expressing their fears and concerns during courses. It is easier to deal with issues in the classroom than in the newsroom. A knowledgeable instructor can allay people’s concerns and demonstrate the benefits of this new form of journalism. Fear is usually the biggest barrier that stops people from learning a new technology. Some newspapers have hired TV journalists who become a resource when course attendees return to the newsroom.

8. Blow up the newsroom
Many newsrooms that have embraced multimedia newsgathering have re-arranged the structure of the newsroom, placing key editorial managers on a “super-desk,” such as at the Daily Telegraph in London or The Sydney Morning Herald in Australia, improving communication and coordination. Managers can communicate by simply turning their chairs, rather than wasting time in long meetings in distant conference rooms. The desk serves as a continual reminder of the changes taking place.

9. Co-locate journalists and encourage staff interaction
Put people with similar beats together. If you have separate online and print newsrooms, amalgamate them and sit the online and print reporters together. Establish common desks, so that you put all political reporters in the same location. Proximity promotes trust, which in turn leads to sharing of information and story ideas.

Move the desks so that reporters and copy-editors work together. This helps to break down more barriers. Schedule some copy-editors to arrive before reporters leave. It is important to erase the barriers between copy-editors and reporters. Proximity breeds collegiality.

Establish coffee bars or other “magnet locations” where people can socialize and get to know each other. The need to build trust cannot be over-emphasized. People are more likely to embrace new ideas in an atmosphere of trust. In South Korea, for example, the Maeil Business Daily in Seoul opened a fitness club. Dr. Dae-Whan Chang, president of the Maeil Business Group, said journalists spent time in the club socializing with colleagues, often discussing work. “Often journalists come to work early to talk about a project they are working on.”

10. Publicize successes, and provide incentives and rewards
Journalists respond to challenges and competition. They also like being appreciated. Recognize the most innovative multimedia stories. Track consumer responses to particular stories by measuring page impressions, and email details of successes to all editorial staff. Small, symbolic, prizes such as a bottle of wine or a box of chocolates each week go a long way to improving morale.

11. Install a “newswall”
All multimedia newsrooms should have a series of large, highly-visible screens, to display the organization’s home page, satellite feeds, rival sites and television stations. Use them to display the next day’s newspaper pages as they are being built. The extra sets of eyes of all those people in the open-plan newsroom can alert copy-editors and the online team to mistakes, or rivals’ exclusives.

12. Listen to dissenting voices
Journalists are paid to be sceptical. They will find fault and point out problems in any new project. Be patient with them. Journalists have been socialized early in their career. They form groups or tribes, and tend to be suspicious of new ideas. Common issues will include journalists’ concerns that working in multimedia will force them to work harder for no more pay, and could lead to a dilution of voices in the community. These issues must not be ignored. One of the best places for discussion is in regular training courses.

13. Use databases
Multimedia content produces big digital files. The best way to store all information in a newsroom is in one database, or inter-connected databases. Use the opportunity of a new newsroom to introduce a sound integration system.

14. Remember the audience
Finally, continually remind journalists to remember their audiences. They are the key people in the multimedia revolution journalists are embracing.

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