"There has never been a more interesting time to be a journalist" – most reporters and editors will have heard or said this phrase at some point in the last few years.
Newsrooms are changing at a fast pace, adapting to working with new platforms and new technologies. For legacy media organisations this has meant a shift from a print-first mindset to a digital one, followed by additional experiments with new tools online.
But how can newsrooms take on new initiatives and manage this change? Lisa MacLeod, head of digital at Times Media Group in South Africa, shared her experiences at the International Newsroom Summit in Hamburg, Germany, on Monday.
MacLeod, who previously worked at The Financial Times managing newsroom reorganisation projects, highlighted the positive effect of many small changes as an alternative to running one big initiative.
"It doesn't have to be a massive newsroom reorganisation or a massive system change or a massive change of management. Sometimes the little things can make a big difference," she said.
Switching from 'said yesterday' to 'said on Tuesday', for example, can free up time for staff working on repurposing stories for different channels.
Keep everyone up to date
Another stumbling block MacLeod highlighted in her talk was the impact of ineffective communication between editors and other newsroom staff about issues that affect the organisation at a higher level.
Team members should have access to insights into what's being planned for the company in a constructive way, she explained, adding that editors should also embrace the toughest critics and get them involved in the process – a strategy she calls "harnessing negative energy".
One of the main complaints from journalists when faced with new initiatives concerns a lack of time to complete any new tasks or take part in the projects, said MacLeod.
"In a lot of cases, the reason people don't have the time is because they aren't being supported properly by the organisation.
"And by that I mean they don't have the right tools, [or] they don't know how to use the tools that they do have," she explained.
Learn why projects fail
Dealing with failure is an inevitable part of experimenting, and the start-up mindset of 'fail fast' has filtered into the way media outlets approach innovation.
"Failure is rampant in media organisations," MacLeod told delegates, explaining how the reason behind this might be the lack of knowledge around what constitutes a 'minimum viable product'.
"Media organisations are used to producing enormous products, like a whole redesign... and they don't understand the concept of doing things in little increments," she said.
"What happens is that we spend a lot of time and energy doing a huge project, investing enormous amounts of money in it, taking [it] to the market and bang – doesn't work for whatever reason."
This often results in projects never being replicated or trialled again, as they are deemed a "total failure" and a drain on financial resources.
For MacLeod, the solution lies in understanding what the technology and development teams can do and what the process looks like – "it's very important to get your head around how it works," she said.
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