Coming up with an idea for a new editorial project or initiative, whether it's launching a new podcast or trying out 360-degree video for the first time, is a great first step, but there are many other hurdles to clear before seeing it in practice.
Journalists and producers in a newsroom usually have to go pitch their idea to editors and in the process, figure out who else on their team or in their organisation can help with skills or knowledge, what type of resources they will need and how they will measure success, which can be challenging especially if their idea is met with a certain degree of scepticism.
At the Financial Times, Robin Kwong, now head of digital delivery and previously special projects editor, and designer Caroline Nevitt, created the IKEA-inspired toolkit, a set of resources and materials to help journalists plan, execute and review newsroom projects that span various teams across an organisation.
The toolkit, consisting of mix-and-match modules like IKEA furniture kits, was open-sourced in March and offers detailed instructions enabling anyone to apply it to their own use case.
Each of the five modules aims to solve one specific problem reporters and editors face with new projects, from pitching to creating a production checklist, measuring success using analytics, and holding a review meeting to talk about the outcome of the initiative.
The material can be accessed online or printed, and it can be tailored to individual projects by expanding, adjusting or removing the modules as necessary.
How it works:
The first module is a projects calendar, which can be set up to help everyone keep track of events and initiatives that are in the pipeline for the coming year.
What follows in module two is the project pitch, which has a set of initial questions the reporter has to answer about their idea, such as: what makes the topic interesting, what format they are planning to tell the story in, and why readers should care about the issue. They also have to provide details about practical aspects such as budget needed, duration, whether the project has a news peg, and whether they need help from other departments, such as graphics or video.
Module three ties into this last aspect, featuring a list with the names, job titles and contact details of people in the newsroom, which can come in handy particularly in larger newsrooms where it can be tricky to know what everyone's role entails and how you could collaborate with them on a story.
The fourth module, the production checklist, is the most comprehensive in the toolkit, consisting of various steps and suggestions tailored to the different stages of the initiative.
At the beginning for example, it advises scheduling meetings with the relevant editors to go through the timeline of the project and obtain final approval, assembling a core group of people you aim to be working with, as well as starting a Google Document to keep everyone informed of the progress. The subsequent sections focus on the 'awaiting copy', 'copy editing and ramping up to launch day' and the 'live' stages, all with step-by-step instructions.
The aim of the fifth module is to help provide a template for analytics and answer the question of what we mean when we ask 'how did this series/project/experiment do?'. There are some examples of common goals the FT uses for their projects, which can be used as a starting point to outline your own, and instructions on how to break down more general goals into specific metrics.
For example, if one of your aims is to engage readers of your publication who had already shown interest in the topic your project is focusing on, you can check if you have achieved this by looking at how many of them also engaged with your story or series. And, as Kwong has pointed out, there are still learnings to be drawn from newsroom experiments, even if they don't go quite as planned or if they don't tick all the goals on your initial list.
The sixth and final module is on how to hold a review meeting, which is a chance to show gratitude to everyone involved in the project, and enable everyone to provide feedback and go through what went well and what could have gone better in order to come up with lessons for future initiatives. A structure for the review meeting and what can be discussed is included, along with a sample review document from the FT.
Check out this OpenNews write-up where Kwong explains the thinking behind the toolkit, and tweet us @journalismnews if you have used it for projects in your newsroom, or if your organisation has similar workflows in place for working on larger projects.
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