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A Newsroom Organization

I want to issue a challenge. Each of us has, in some ways, come together in the NextNewsroom project to try to talk about and map out a sustainable model for journalism. What I have not seen, or understood, is how we can effect change in our various locations across the planet. We should be the ones designing the next newsroom, not just talking about it while our companies execute their disparate versions of what’s right. (And let’s face it, far too many companies are taking the expedient route of cutting staff to serve the bottom line and not talking about how to really revolutionize our business and practices.)
This, I believe, is the place where the NextNewsroom project can really have an impact. So, I’m throwing out this idea for a newsroom organization. If we come together around something exciting, and find a way as a group to approach media companies with this, we could indeed create the next newsroom right here.

I have read a lot here about the physical nature and location of a newsroom. With respect to Michael J, who made the very salient point somewhere about newsrooms as incubators for good ideas, I must disagree with the premise that journalists must come to a newsroom every day. I have believed for a while that the best place for journalists to be is out in the community.
I would rather the journalists who work for me walk the dog and talk to their neighbors or hit their neighborhood coffee house, or head straight to court/city hall to see what’s happening rather than come in and cruise the wires and local newspapers.
The great thing is technology allows us to have a virtual meeting online. Arm journalists with laptops, webcams and phones and call the editorial meeting wherever and whenever they are. Too long have journalists been removed from the people they serve. (If not in reality, at least in the minds and attitudes of our community members.)

With that said, I want to present a rather long plan for newsroom organization that I came to some time ago and have refined with a couple of people I respect deeply. (It comes with a chart!) The following is an excerpt from a letter to my favorite collaborator.

My model is based on an online-only newsroom but can easily be adapted to other medium. (I can see this in a television, radio or print newsroom. It has the flexibility to work in newsrooms with staffing limitations and can be used to manage workflow in large newsrooms simply by adjusting the number of people reporting to each role here.)
I admit my nomenclature is old-school but I don’t think names are the biggest issue facing newsrooms … so I decided to give us a pass on inventing new names for everyone.
I kept the chart simple (because what’s the use of a complicated chart) but included by definitions & workflow here.

First, see the attached chart. Organizational chart.doc

Okay, you see the broad brush … here are most of the details:

The Editor in Chief controls the whole enchilada. The primary job of this person is to A) hire the right people for all the editor positions; and B) to make sure all the editors are talking to each other and coordinating all the moving parts. The editor in chief is also a key player in the building of partnerships. (I’ll detail that later.)

The role story editor is fairly commonplace: manage the contributors (freelance or staff) and the line editors who edit their stuff. Line editors also edit incoming user generated content for posting.

Multimedia editor is responsible for everything that isn’t words. If a video is submitted by a contributor, or audio pertaining to the story or animation called for, this individual edits and posts to the story, in social places (YouTube, Twitpic, etc.) and to mobile.

This brings us to the social editor, who is responsible for providing content to social networks and promotion of the organization on those networks. More importantly, this editor is the voice of the people outside the “local” community talking with the organization. What are people talking about generally? What story ideas are they offering? What are they saying about our newsroom and content? How can we use that information? This person must also be a sideways creative type: one who sees things a little askance. They also research more social network opportunities. (This person is also a viral marketer who is intimately familiar with the news of the day, not sitting apart in a promotions department/area.)

The community editor has a similar yet different role. Ideally the community editor is monitoring the direct community of the organization. (The people who are participating in the forums or emailing us.) This person is the representative for our direct consumers. What is their feedback on our product and how can we use information to generate more content? They also add community content to our stories and monitor forums on each story.

The layout editor is responsible for vetting affiliate stories (not original reporting) to add to our page. They are also responsible for the thematic appearance of the front page. (Think Google … but not every day.) Can we link several stories to provide a more comprehensive treatment? How do we represent the Fourth of July on the page? This person also thinks about front page elements that work to support a story. Ideally this person is also the best headline writer.

This group, and the publisher, meets three times a day: 1) Discuss the stories for the next cycle (not necessarily “day” or “night”) and how each will support the content; 2) Update. How are the stories coming together with all the elements? 3) What are the things we can plan for tomorrow? And review of execution at the end of the cycle.

Every contributor submits a video introduction of the story they write. This includes what it was like covering the story, the people they encountered and any other more personal information about this piece. They also must submit stills for each story. (I like Dropbox, a potentially powerful tool to accomplish remote feeds of stills and video.) They may submit an edited package that supports the story or tells it differently.

The publisher makes sure resources are there to carry out the mission and leads the building of partnerships to distribute information. Find new complimentary websites that will publish our widget. Find commercial partners to advertise with us. The editor in chief is part of this conversation as well. (As is a group not pictured here dedicated to developing partnerships. Think sales except not as limited.)

Ed note: I should also point out that I built this organization on the premise that more newsrooms would employ an increasing number of freelance journalists in the field. In the case of some newsrooms, I foresee the roles possibly being the only full-time employees. I also left some wiggle room with regard to filing status reports. Every newsroom will likely be different so I saw little point in mapping out who a journalists calls to report what or ask for X.

3 Responses

  1. We are in the process of implementing a very similar structure at our media outlet at Boise State. We played a little bit with this notion last year, learned some lessons and our EIC is re-tooling to get it closer to what you have listed.Our current EIC also is big on using social media to viral market and we have seen positive results when that happens. It has been difficult to train or even get other journo’s to do this and even understand this concept – and we are dealing with college students who know how to use facebook, twitter and other social media tools for their own personal use but shy away when it comes to professional use. Don’t know why, but our EIC and some other students are tackling this problem and will see what happens this fall.Regarding staff not being “in” the office, I’m on the fence. I agree it is very beneficial to be out in the field and developing/maintaining those relationships that help you discover what is going on in your community. That being said, for years in a college environment I have seen students attempt to do this and the big problems are internal communication break down and holding people (often free lancers) to deadlines.

  2. If anyone wants to reach out to me: langleymichael@sbcglobal.net.

  3. Michael we should talk about how you can get involved with a new media group at Boise State that is interested in implementing a similar structure.

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