The changes which have affected the news industry externally – largely the revolutions in online publishing, social media and mobile – need to be brought into the newsroom. But how?
Speaking at the International Newsroom Summit in Amsterdam yesterday, Lisa MacLeod, head of operations at the Financial Times, offered 10 ideas in engaging newsrooms in digital change.
1. 'Shaping the modern journalist'
The FT is currently focusing on a key range of "digital competencies" in the newsroom, said MacLeod, to ensure all journalists can make the most of the tools and techniques available.
"We did a big survey to basically ask them about digital training and training in general," she said, and although they had a lot of responses not many people turned up to the training programs.
They found that many journalists would prefer full days of detailed training rather than lunchtime sessions, so MacLeod and her team have identified 20 digital competencies deemed central to how its journalists should be approaching their work.
2. 'Training 101'
"We talk a lot about data journalism," she said, "but it turns out lots of people have never worked in a spreadsheet in their lives."
For some experienced journalists, data has simply never been a part of their workload and starting with the basics is nothing to be ashamed of, MacLeod added.
Skills such as "basic web production, tagging, hyperlinks [and] understanding media law that applies to the internet" are all important areas that may seem like a given for young journalists in 2014, she said, but are areas in which an organisation needs to be responsible for training its staff.
3. 'Decoding code'
Despite the reluctance of many journalists to sign up to training sessions, any time coding was offered the sessions were "packed out" said MacLeod.
Coding lets staff "take journalism and turn it into something functional on the web that is easy to use", she explained, and is something all journalists should at least have a passing knowledge of.
4. 'Newsroom analytics'
The FT's in-house analytics software, Bettsy, uses a range of different analytics programs to show which stories are being read or viewed in various different manners.
Although many news organisations will not have the resources of the FT or a member of staff like Tom Betts, head of analytics, after which the analytics program was named, MacLeod said all newsrooms and journalists should understand how, why and when their audiences read stories.
"You get a feel for who's enjoying the story," she said, adding that this understanding enables journalists to better serve their audience.
5. 'Tools of the trade'
Alongside 'digital competencies' – like data journalism, knowledge of analytics, basic coding skills and more – modern newsrooms need to be aware of the physical tools that are relevant to the job as well.
"We're all on BlackBerries and have been for a few years," she said, but the FT understands that their journalists need smartphones and apps to really take advantage of the technology on offer.
"There's a big push of mobile and tablet in the newsroom," she said, "to get an idea of what people are reading on."
And the multimedia reporting tools and apps available on such devices can only benefit the newsroom as well, she said.
6. 'Connecting business partners'
"Editorial and commercial departments communicate as a unit," said MacLeod, and they are trying to reach out to their audience in ways that will benefit them directly.
In some cases this can be holding "tech-splainers", where editorial and staff are invited to seminars led by the FT technology department, who explain about technology and concepts which can benefit the outlet.
"'What is an API?' for example," she said. "What does that mean for content? Who can that reach?"
Such an active relationship with readers can only help to better serve them as customers, she said, but can also improve the outlet's journalism.
In some cases, the FT has organised excursions to other countries involving readers, editorial and commercial teams, which have benefited all.
7. 'Creative collaboration'
Different departments and teams are regularly invited to work together to come up with new ideas, she said.
"We have held some 'creative summits'," she said, "almost like a hackathon but with content at the centre."
The result has been to produce "more ideas than we could implement in 100 years", which also help to foster future collaboration.
8. 'Building, testing, failing fast'
The agile approach to technology start-ups is important for newsroom experiments, she said, in trying to build new projects quickly and learn from them immediately.
9. 'Communicating and educating'
The FT has an in-house editorial blog, where journalists are invited to share ideas from inside the newsroom but also anything they spot from competitors that may be of value, said MacLeod.
All journalists have access and are able to post as they see fit, making sure that everyone in the organisation can be aware of developments in the industry and what they may be able to learn.
It is also made available as a "compendium of digital downloads" she said, so staff can read in their spare time.
10. 'Reward the willing'
The FT rewards a monthly "digital champion" with a cash prize – not a huge amount but "enough for dinner with a few friends", she said – in an attempt to encourage innovation and digital thought.
Update: This article was updated to clarify that the FT's analytics software Bettsy is named after Tom Betts rather than Andrew Betts, and that 'tech-splainers' are internal rather than public.
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