News organizations need to rethink staff resources in order to promote innovation

It’s a simple question: What should news organizations stop doing, today, immediately, to make more time for innovation?

And it’s a simple answer: News organizations should stop pretending like it’s the pre-Internet days. Most news organizations are still legacy-first. Newspapers still care more about the print edition than the Web edition. Beats are still centered around making content for print edition.

The same goes for broadcast. Even the best news organizations often have separate Web staffs that produce editorial content for the Web product. But that makes no sense.

Why have two staffs to produce editorial content, when most employees could be creating content that works on multiple platforms? That’s what I mean by rethinking staff resources.

It’s simply a matter of making employees and content work for us. Duplication of work is a great way to stifle innovation, because most news organizations are under a tremendous budget crunch and can’t afford to waste resources like that.

It’s easier to go from Web-first to print than the other way around. Why? Because the Web is incredibly flexible.

It can do all sorts of content incredibly well. Print, for instance, can only do writing, and photos to an extent, well. And print even has major limitations on written content that the Web doesn’t have (arbitrary story lengths, anyone?).

Let’s take the example of a beat reporter. Some beat reporters have begun blogging, but their blogs are often treated as one more thing to do. That’s hardly a way to promote innovative content. In fact, one-more-thing syndrome is a good way to promote staff burnout.

Rather, a blog should be the heart of a beat reporters arsenal — not the 15-inch story. Any time a nugget of information comes in, a beat reporter should blog about it (or post to Twitter or both). As news comes in a blogger can either add to his original post or make a new post.

Twitter updates take seconds to write, but make fantastic notes for longer written pieces later on. This keeps readers updated and interested.

At the end of the day, when the dust has settled, it will be a lot easier to put together a 15-inch story. A beat reporter will already have notes (Twitter is great for this) and several post of content to work with.

But imagine the reverse scenario. A beat reporter concentrates on producing copy for the print edition first. This means no meaningful content will be posted until a story is completed for the print edition (or stories). This also means the story may be an aribitrary length to fit print needs — not the story’s needs. Many beat reporters who operate like this will occasionally dump smaller news items into their blogs.

When people ask “how can we make more time for innovation,” it’s really more about using time more wisely than about making more time. Think about it. Blogging and Twitter are naturally mobile friendly, which saves us even more time while reaching an even broader audience.

That’s another bird killed with the same stone. Any good blog has at least one RSS feed (if not multiple ones for comments and sometimes categories). Google Reader is a fantastic (and free) mobile RSS reader. Without doing any extra work your content is already mobile friendly.

And I don’t have to explain how ridiculously mobile friendly Twitter is. So, now a beat reporter isn’t actually doing any extra work, but he is hitting the Web and mobile with full force. And because of the way blogging and Twitter work, it’s extremely easy to make a print story from all writing that has already been done.

We need to make our content work for us. This means making our content smarter and rethinking how we us staff resources in news organizations.

This is my May post for the Carnival of Journalism. It is currently hosted by Ryan Sholin over at Invisible Inkling.

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  • http://www.greglinch.com Greg Linch

    Another aspect is that, by posting updates to a blog or Twitter while working on a story, you can receive feedback regarding who to talk with, other angles to pursue and details that might have been missing. That’s not to say the journalist would do a bad job of reporting in the first place, just that the reporting process can be greatly improved before the “final” version.

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Greg,

    Fantastic point. This can be a great way to harness the power of our audience. Journalists should never turn down an opportunity like that.

  • Karim Amara

    Dammit man, you know how to nail a point.

  • http://xenosrssblog.wordpress.com scott lewis

    If you look at the forecasts for future growth from organizations such as Outsell, it’s startling that both search engines and aggregators are set for good growth, and newspapers are predicted to decline. That would indicate that news organizations are not receiving a fair share of the revenue earned from their work. Is it possible that news organizations need to form their own aggregators and even search engines, collaboratively? If such measures were taken, then there would be a natural move to adopt some of the suggestions in th is piece.

  • http://patrickbeeson.com Patrick Beeson

    > It’s easier to go from Web-first to print than the other way around. Why? Because the Web is incredibly flexible.

    Reverse-publishing only lifts the financial burden of using two systems, and then only if that one system can do everything (not likely). I wrote about this, and how it’s important to produce content that works well for each medium — not content that only works half-ass on each medium — a while back in an entry titled “Newspapers’ reverse-publishing idea flawed.”

    Give it a read, and post a comment if you have any thoughts.

  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Patrick,

    I agree on many counts. I wrote a post awhile ago that said print publications should concentrate on analysis pieces.

    And I don’t think that post and this post are incompatible. In fact, I think they go hand in hand. By concentrating on Web first, it makes writing those in-depth, second-day analysis pieces so much easier. Web concentrates on getting news and information out, while print concentrates on looking at the bigger picture.

    Different products, different content. If beat reporters use blogs and Twitter to get information out, it will make their analysis pieces a lot easier. They’ll have tons of notes and ideas already published. Now they just need to look at the bigger picture.

    And so I’m not advocating a reverse-publishing model, but a Web-first model. A Web-first model makes it explicit that Web is for immediate news, while print is for analysis.

    I’ll take a look at your post soon and comment on it at your blog.

  • http://blog.syracuse.com/newstracker Brian Cubbison

    I’d take it a step further and say that the newspaper should be Sunday-only and the rest of the week’s news should be handled online.

  • http://www.lectroid.net Marc Matteo

    In the same vein that there are requirements w/in newsrooms to subscribe to the paper, I’d like to see the “online desk” staffers barred from taking the print edition.

    Why? Because it clouds online news judgement. When online staffers are still happily existing in a 24-hour news cycle of monologue presentation, they fail a lot of times to expand their thinking to a web-based, constant news stream, dialog model that will, it seems pretty clear to me, define the future of news online.

    In short, they become liabilities.

    I recognize the value both financially and functionally of a print product, I truly do. I don’t think such a restriction should be permanent by any means. It’s just that since many newspapers are not hiring “web natives” for their web positions — and therefor crippling themselves — a “print ban” on online staffers seems like a good way to whiplash them into starting to think like web natives.

    Sort of a “total immersion” type of approach.

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