There were a few signals last week that culture change remains THE key element in media transformation.
Moving from an old media mindset to a digital first and paid content culture is a tough process for news organisations, but transformation can succeed – at least at a corporate level – early evidence from News UK suggests. The group publishes The Times, The Sunday Times and The Sun. News UK chief marketing officer, Katie Vanneck-Smith, told a London conference organized by the Digital Editors Network that the hardest part in moving the business to a paid content model had been changing the culture.
To stop schizophrenia in the business, with teams working to different goals and in different directions, Vanneck-Smith said News UK had found a unifying metric for everyone, including editorial staff, to rally behind. The focus in their case was on total sales – and it has obviously worked because both The Times and The Sunday Times reported an increase in print and digital sales after putting up a paywall.
Elsewhere in the world, signs were less about success, merely evidence of how difficult newsroom transformation can be.
In the US, where the digital transformation of newsrooms is at an advanced stage, there was criticism about the gap between those who talk about change and those who actually cede control of newspapers to digital editors.
Ahead of the Online News Association conference in Atlanta, Rick Edmonds highlighted in an article on Poynter’s website, that despite digital transformation being the top priority for newspaper companies, few had given the editorial reigns to digital specialists. He counted half a dozen top editors out of 1 380 daily American newspapers who had digital editors at the helm and is skeptical as to whether the change will have accelerated a year on from now.
The change experts tell us that culture change takes time – often up to a generation – before it truly heralds a new mindset. This can be extremely frustrating given the speed of change elsewhere.
Of course, change in South African newsrooms has an added layer of complexity as became apparent at City Press last week.
According to the Media Online a meeting chaired by editor Ferial Haffajee, designed to “future proof” the newspaper and to have “a discussion about a genuine future, to find ways of altering your work patterns, to do wonderful journalism,” degenerated and claims of alleged newsroom racism emerged in a Twitter debate. This exposed the newsroom tensions and the work that still needs to be done. More about the incident can be found here.
So how does one manage difficult newsroom transformation? A few, select, pointers from Lauren Rabaino on Media Bistro offer conventional wisdom (there are more on the Media Bistro website). Her advice may not be sophisticated enough to solve City Press’s problems, but will be of value to most newsroom managers grappling with the challenge of taking their staff with them on the journey of change.
- Show don’t tell: show transformation by doing things, not talking about what you might do. Track projects’ success and show results– much like News UK did this week.
- Show quick results early: start change projects by picking easy issues that can be quickly solved instead of starting with a huge project.
- Find your allies early: find co-conspirators to support you in your transformation project.
- Rock the boat without tipping it over: learn how to communicate and introduce change without scaring everyone.
- Ask forgiveness, not permission — but carefully! Sometimes, if you really believe in something, you have to push it through, then ask later for forgiveness.
- Choose your battles: You’re going to lose some so make sure those you fight are going to help you move the needle. Before every fight, ask yourself if it’s worth it
- Seek first to understand, then be understood: Colleagues often feel threatened and get defensive when their ideas are dismissed or ignored. Listen to what people need and they will have an easier time understanding your needs.
- Keep your users at the heart of everything you do: At the end of the day, you’re not fighting these fights for yourself. You’re fighting for your readers — your users.
- Remember that you’re not in this alone: If it ever gets hard, you have a whole community of people who are fighting the same fight as you. Reach out.
Cherilyn Ireton is executive director of the World Editors Forum. This post is adapted from a blog on the editorsweblog.org.
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