At too many newspaper websites, there is an all or nothing approach to innovation and change. I am frequently told “we’re going through a redesign” or “we’re getting a new CMS” as just some of the justifications for current site problems or sub-par functionality. But is that really the best approach?
Many newsrooms leaders are familiar with the term “incremental improvements.” It is frequently used as part of company-wide Continuous Improvement programs, but is just as applicable in team building and reporter coaching. Incremental improvements are the buildings blocks of change necessary to achieve something great. It is a realistic approach to change and just as importantly, it describes a process.
But for some reason, once we move to the online operation, incremental is seemingly replaced with all or nothing. While one can argue that there still is a process, it’s one that withholds change until some magical moment, until that redesign is complete or that CMS is installed. This approach I believe is a big mistake.
To a degree, my approach can be explained this way:
If it’s broken, fix it.
If it’s missing, replace it.
And if it’s needed, add it.
I know, I know, you’re saying “over simplification”! While theoretically you might be right, there is more to my message then those three simple phrases. What I want you to understand is that change online happens fast. That great redesign that your team developed six months ago has a risk of being outdated and lacking by the time you roll it out. Your readers may get so frustrated with missing and poor functionality that you find they’ve moved on before you’ve had a chance to launch that CMS.
Not all changes or improvements require a team analysis. Not all changes or improvements require complex developer skills. And not all changes or improvements require you to wait.
If you’re looking to add some social networking opportunities, add them. Many sites, such as Digg, StumbleUpon or Mixx have made this step easy for you. If it’s a problem of poor functionality and you feel it’s beyond your reach, remember that you’re part of a larger community (we’re all in the same relative boat) and reach out. I’ve benefited from the guidance and assistance from folks at other newspaper companies and I’ve done what I can when called on.
But no matter what you do, don’t just sit there. Don’t leave your site broken or lacking. And if there’s anything I can do, feel free to ask.