Making the decision to prioritise a reader revenue model or incorporate more data into a publishing strategy is easy. The challenge lies in implementation, which requires buy-in from the backbone of a news media company — the newsroom.
“I always believed culture would be a critical part of the Newsroom Initiative, but maybe I underestimated how it would come up time and again in the three master class sessions,” Newsroom Initiative Lead Peter Bale, curator of the Putting Newsrooms into the News Business master class in March, reflected in his recent newsletter.
Creating a culture change framework
What works and what doesn’t work when it comes to changing the culture in your business? Espen Egil Hansen, international advisor for JP/Politiken and founder of Fyrr in Denmark, built a framework to answer those questions.
Hansen said the real challenge of a fundamental strategy shift comes down to culture, which takes time and a thoughtful approach because with it comes a shift in every aspect of the business.
Hansen recommends using the following framework for those navigating a cultural change:
- Define change.
- Move mental positions.
- Evaluate and adjust.
“This is an everlasting wheel,” Hansen said. “It’s something you can do every day, something you can do every month. It’s not something you do and then it’s finished.”
Creating a culture of data
Changing the culture of a newsroom is a critical part of embracing a more data-driven approach to journalism. But that begins with changing the way journalists are perceived within the organisation, said Maribel Perez Wadsworth, president, news at Gannett | USA Today Network and publisher of USA Today.
“We have to stop talking about the newsrooms as if they are separate and apart from the business,” Wadsworth said. “I think it’s incumbent on us to stop talking about newsrooms as if they don’t care about the business. I think there isn’t anybody who cares more about the business than our newsrooms, our journalists.”
The Detroit Free Press, one of the largest organisations in Gannett’s network, decided to focus on unique work instead of going for a larger volume of bylines. It removed underperforming content and started producing fewer stories. Not only was there no decline in traffic, but digital subscriptions grew by about 50%.
“Your culture is really about what you do,” Wadsworth said. “By doing a few things better … the results have been tremendous and consistent. And there is no greater mover of culture overall than seeing results.”
Creating a culture of self-improvement
Chris Moran, head of innovation at The Guardian, led INMA members through a project he started at The Guardian roughly six years ago to cut vanity publishing.
Moran created a dashboard that included graphs that showed how many articles are being produced each week. The dashboard showed all the important metrics for each journalist, but showed the list of articles in reverse order of pageviews — the articles with the lowest pageviews were at the top.
“This meant there was no friction for the editor to look at the hard truth of what is going on,” Moran said. “Content monitoring means editors taking responsibility for looking at the harder data where most of the learning is.”
The first part to implementing a new process in the newsroom was to openly discuss the problem, his solution, and how the team was going to handle it. It is important to let the news team ask difficult questions, Moran said.
“Don’t just stand up and explain what’s going on. Invite them to ask difficult questions,” he said. “Those questions might prove you wrong. Equally, they might give you more understanding of potential problems on the ground or refine the process.”
Creating a culture of understanding
“The important thing to remember journalism has to be remembered to be the core of the business,” said David Walmsley, editor-in-chief at The Globe and Mail in Canada.
For journalists to understand what is valuable content, Walmsley said there must be a culture within the team to understand the results the journalists are seeing.
“To get information to the marketplace and ensure it’s valuable, the journalists need a relationship with the company,” Walmsley said. “They need to understand the hard work they’re putting in is going to result in an improved profile.”
Walmsley said the first step in creating a culture of understanding begins with asking the journalists and reporters what they do for the business. He often stops them in the hallway to ask them this question.
“The thought process is mainly the stories that the reporter gives,” he said. “What is important is to engage small groups and have a much better understanding of what it is the editorial team must do to satisfy the business needs. If you can understand what editorial can do for the company, then the company will more than meet you halfway."
Creating a culture focused on value
For The New Zealand Herald, journalists and their reporting are key to the company’s unique content proposition, Miriyana Alexander, head of premium, said. That doesn’t mean there wasn’t pushback when The Herald told journalists its plans to change to a subscription model with valuable content at the centre of its strategy.
“There was some skepticism,” Alexander said. “I think journalists are naturally skeptical and innately suspicious. That’s why they’re good at their jobs, right?”
Alexander wasn’t blind to the fact that journalists love breaking a big story and having it read by a huge audience. The Herald was sure to manage the healthy egos of the journalists with data.
“The data showed what was converting and what was engaging and it was very obvious immediately, unlike a newspaper where you pick one up and you don’t know who’s reading what story,” Alexander said. “This was immediate feedback of what was going on.”