Carnival of Journalism: Bringing change agents into newsrooms

Note: This post is another installment for the Reynolds Journalism Institute’s Carnival of Journalism project, where people passionate about journalism are sharing ideas in the blogosphere about ways to preserve and improve the craft.


The newsrooms I visit don’t lack innovative ideas. They lack resources.

As the cuts go deeper, fewer people are responsible for more journalism. And as managers ask their reporters to do more with less — create a podcast, write a blog post, crank out that raw video, and do your daily package/story — those reporters tend to default to their previous routines, their comfort zones to churn out as much news as quickly as they can. They don’t always have the time to develop new routines in an efficient manner.

It’s a phenomenon my colleague Dr. Carrie Brown-Smith and I have found among many journalists we’ve interviewed in our studies of newsroom change.

Driving innovation means understanding the routines reinforced by a deeply ingrained journalistic culture.

What should Knight and Reynolds do next? Sponsor innovation change agents to help newsrooms transform their routines of old.

One newspaper newsroom I studied added a new content-management system with the idea of becoming Web-first. The message from above: Blog and update when you can.

Though the newsroom spoke of being Web-first, it remained focused on the print product. As a result, blog posts went by the wayside because they weren’t seen as “stories.” Reporters were left on their own to figure out how to incorporate the blog into their daily job, and consequently, very few became regular bloggers. Even fewer became successful.

Without guidance, they didn’t make the time to develop new routines.

In 2009, Carrie and I began studying the Christian Science Monitor, which abandoned its daily print edition in favor of its Web site and a weekly magazine. Editor John Yemma and Online Editor Jimmy Orr became key change agents in disrupting the traditional routines by setting a clear agenda: more frequent updates, shorter posts, and headlines optimized with search engines in mind.

Despite resistance, reporters and editors slowly began changing their routines. And such changes brought about tangible successes in terms of page views: from 9.5 million when we began our study in December 2009 to 19.4 million in January of this year.

Not every newsroom has its own effective change agent. Smaller newsrooms have established staffs and routines, embedded by years of journalistic success, and not everyone can afford to hire a John Yemma or a Jimmy Orr (who is now at the Los Angeles Times leading Web efforts there).

But Knight and/or Reynolds could sponsor “innovation fellowships.” Those funds could pay for cutting-edge innovators to serve as innovation coaches. They could spend three months, six months, maybe even a year working with news organizations to transform traditional news routines into the innovative ones required of today’s fast-changing news ecosystem.


2 thoughts on “Carnival of Journalism: Bringing change agents into newsrooms

  1. I really like this idea. Couple this with what Steve Outing was talking about (finding grant recipients outside of traditional journalism) and I think you’d have a recipe for positive change.

    Also thanks for the heads-up on Orr. I interviewed Meredith Artley a while back and wasn’t surprised when she took the top job at Did you know Ben Welsh at Mizzou? I think he’s still working in the Times’ interactive department.

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