Diverse in gender, nationalities, ages, and skills, and with a clear sense of mission to do great, impactful journalism. That’s how Dr Alexandra Borchardt, director of strategic development at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, envisions newsrooms in 2020.
Ahead of her appearance at the World News Media Congress, 6-8 June, in Estoril, Portugal, she shares her vision of newsrooms in 2020, gives some insight into the challenges facing the news industry, and outlines crucial skills for both journalists and managers.
WAN-IFRA: What does a newsroom in 2020 look like to you?
Alexandra Borchardt: Definitely diverse in gender, nationalities, ages, backgrounds, skills. Reporters, editors, designers, tech people and marketing working side by side, each valuing the others’ skills and talents. Opened up to audiences, but everything with a clear sense of mission: Doing great journalism that matters. That sounds like a no-brainer, but this debate needs to be led constantly: What is great journalism?
What will editors need to do to ensure the viability of both their journalism and newsroom over the next few years?
They need to invest in the right people. I’m not only talking money and numbers. The demands on the 24/7 newsroom that is meant to do everything well from text to voice, from video to virtual reality, from analytics to marketing are skyrocketing. There is a huge risk of burnout, particularly among the most talented who tend to invest highly. So editors and managers need great people skills to make everyone feel valued and their needs acknowledged.
They also need to make clear what great journalism is to them. Hopefully this: Setting the agenda, not chasing it. Listening to people, not copying and pasting, analysing data in depth, not just using what’s most convenient to confirm one’s assumptions.
Do you see any changes in the way newsrooms will be managed? What skills do you think a newsroom leader in 2020 needs to have? Do we need new positions in the newsroom?
Audience engagement and relationship building will become much bigger tasks. If we want to make readers, viewers or listeners pay for news, they are entitled to more attention and service. Looking at the pressures outlined above, newsroom leaders also need to focus more and send a clear message to their staff: Don’t do everything, but do important things really well. Data can help with setting priorities. And then there is artificial intelligence coming in. But AI can just be a support system, it should not be used to make decisions. So you need people to handle the robots.
What should newsrooms on a small budget be doing now to equip themselves for the future?
Focus on things you are good at, collaborate on things you cannot handle alone. Look into what artificial intelligence can do for you, but don’t use it primarily for cost-cutting. In journalism, build some really engaging data collection projects that target your specific audience. Draw on their expertise and build relationships this way.
What skills should universities be teaching, and what skills should news organisations be providing training for?
The most important skill is being able to ask the right questions, not only as journalists but also as managers: What are we doing, and is it still the right thing to do in a changing environment? There is significant benefit in knowing something about tech, coding skills won’t hurt, but it’s still more important to know what a good and relevant story is, how to collect evidence, how to entice people to open up. In good newsrooms there is rarely a shortage of journalism skills, but astoundingly very often a lack of communication skills. This hurts collaboration and adaptation to new demands.
Communication with the outside world is also a topic. More often than in earlier days, journalists need to represent their organisations and attract and engage audiences. For leaders, management trainings should be mandatory. Lifelong learning sounds like a phrase from the educator’s textbook, but it’s vital. And it can be fun, too.
Will newsrooms forever be dealing with culture change or is there an end in sight?
As long as a newsroom can deal with cultural change, it is alive. So let’s hope there is no end in sight but a rewarding future on the horizon.
Alexandra Borchardt is the director of strategic development at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism where she developed and leads the seminar series ‘Oxford Perspectives – Envisioning the Newsroom in 2020’. Prior to this, she was managing editor of Süddeutsche Zeitung, one of Germany’s leading dailies, where she is still a contributing writer.
Simone Flueckiger is a reporter at WAN-IFRA.