Today is the day for change in your newsroom

You don’t need a fancy new CMS, a new editor in chief, new business model or prayer to start innovating today.

This month’s Carnival of Journalism, hosted by Will Sullivan over at Journerdism, asks a very pragmatic question:

What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization?

Pragmatic questions need pragmatic answers.

Stop wasting money on software and IT you don’t need:

Times are tight, right? Then why does every one of your employees have a copy of the full Microsoft Office Suite? A lot of those people probably hardly ever touch it, and those that do use the software could probably get away with a much cheaper software solution.

Don’t waste money on IT spending that you don’t need to spend, especially on software that makes you less productive. Most of your employees could do everything they need to from Google Docs. Google Docs is either free or cheap ($50 a seat for the premium version per year), and it allows for powerful collaboration.

News organizations are now trying to cater to different audiences — print, Web and mobile. It’s hard to properly disseminate content to those different streams without good collaboration.

Google Docs has fantastic collaboration built in. It could save a lot of time spent sending e-mails back and forth, and even — gasp — time spent in e-mail. Teams can share documents for specific projects. 

I use Google Docs for everything I do on BeatBlogging.Org. I love how no matter what computer I’m on, I can have access to all my documents. I love how easy it is to share documents with people. I love the simplicity. 

When I worked at Stars and Stripes, I had a full copy of Microsoft Office. There is nothing that I ever did there that I couldn’t do with Google Docs. In fact, I still used Google Docs when I wanted to share documents with other employees.

Yes, some of your employees probably need Office because it does have features that Google Docs doesn’t have, but the vast majority of your employees don’t need it. Regardless, Google Docs will help with work flow. 

Create a culture of learning, everyday:

This isn’t as far out as it sounds. Sign up for Lynda.com and similar sites. Purchase books on HTML, CSS, Flash and other tools. Encourage your employees to subscribe to RSS feeds of sites like This Week in Django.

Have your employees sign up for free blogging accounts at WordPress.com or a similar site. Have them sign up for Twitter, Facebook and other social networking sites. The only way to understand social networking is to get out there and do it.

Allocate a few hours each week when employees are expected to spend time learning new skills and tools. Encourage your employees to spend their down time at work learning. Allow your employees to take courses while they are at home.

Let’s make it easy for our employees to get wired, and let’s get everyone on Wired Journalists.

Have seminars and classes every week:

This again, isn’t that crazy of an idea. These seminars and classes can be led by employees. Many newsroom already host weekly classes where blogging, Twitter, HTML, social networking, video, etc are discussed. 

But if you don’t have qualified employees in some of these areas, bring in outside people. The last thing you need is for your employees to learn the wrong ideas and techniques or get discouraged when their teachers doesn’t really know what they are talking about.

We can’t honestly expect all of our employees to be up-to-date on the latest trends if we don’t even talk about what those trends are and how we can use the newest technology to produce better journalism. Remember, some trends aren’t worth our time. They have to help us produce better journalism and connect better with our readers. 

I’d also have every one of your beat reporters and editors reading BeatBlogging.Org for great ideas on how to incorporate social media.

Work flow says a lot about your organization:

Organizations with modern work flows are often more innovative. Now, maybe you can’t change your whole newsroom work flow overnight, but you can at least change how your team works. Maybe just your team adopts Google Docs to share ideas, but it will still make your team more efficient and allow you to produce better results.

I’d strongly consider project management software like Basecamp. Basecamp combined with Google Docs can help transform a newsroom into a modern, efficient organization. Many Web teams especially don’t have software to help manage projects and work flow.

Basecamp is the kind of modern IT spending that makes sense. Why newsrooms still blow money on Office or even Exchange e-mail makes no sense to me. Microsoft programs are terrible for collaboration, and they’re expensive. 

I think any small news organization would be crazy to spend money on Outlook/Exchange. A bigger organization can spread the cost around to more employees, but a smaller organization has to pay a lot of money for software, servers and people to maintain both.

And Outlook/Exchange that doesn’t really allow employees to be efficient because of its 20th-century mindset. Google Apps and GMAIL is a great solution for many newsrooms (if you’re a small paper like a weekly, you’d be crazy to use anything else).

E-mail is not a project management tool:

How many of your news organizations send out e-mails about mandatory meetings? How many of your organizations also send out reminders about said meetings? Now how many of your organizations how a calendar system like Outlook?

Well, why don’t your news organizations just place these mandatory meetings on your calendar? People need to stop living out of their inboxes. Your inbox is not where you should go to find out what to do each day.

That’s what your calendar is for. Many companies all over the world have created a culture in which e-mail is the main productivity tool. But using e-mail for anything more than it is intended for makes everyone less productive.

There really is no excuse for employees to be CCed and BCCed on every little e-mail. Frankly, it’s embarrassing when many employees get hundreds of e-mails a day. A lot of those e-mails should be IMs or on another, more relevant communication platform.

Outlook/Google Calendar, Google Docs, Wikis, Basecamp, etc will all make your news organization more efficient. We all have less resources today. Let’s put those resources to better use.

  • http://www.journerdism.com Will Sullivan
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  • http://www.patthorntonfiles.com pat

    @Will,

    And yet, most newspapers aren’t listening. What’s amazing to me is how different my work flow is now that I am freed from the newspaper hierarchy.

    Google Apps/GMAIL has been great for me. If I need to share a document or collaborate with someone in a different state or country I can do so easily. Most people in newsrooms have trouble collaborating with people a few cubicles over.

    My post was inspired by listening to Merlin Mann’s Inbox Zero talk at Google. I listened to it twice this week. It’s that good.

    I also have been doing a lot with Lynda.com and other sites recently. All good stuff.

  • http://www.stephanieromanski.com/ Stephanie

    Great post! Stuff like this always makes me so excited to get it implemented in my newsroom. But what do you do when you ask everyone to move to these tools, and they do it for a while, and then taper off and go back to their comfort zones? I find that’s what happens at my paper. We had internal IMs for a while and only two of us used it. Now instant messaging has been taken away from us by corporate. I shared a Google calendar with people involved in a big project, and I was the only one who used it.

    I want to use all of this excellent advice, but how do I break other people’s habits if I have no authority to make them?

  • http://www.danielbachhuber.com/ Daniel

    We’ve implemented Google Apps for Your Domain at the Daily Emerald and adopted the email, calendar, docs, and sites functionality with success. I’d be interested in hearing ideas on how to incorporate productivity suites into workflow.

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  • http://www.beaumontenterprise.com Scott Eslinger

    Is anyone using google docs/ calendar etc. for their newsroom budget and photo assignments?