Effective organizational change requires a strong leader — a leader who does not just embrace the message of change but models it. The problem facing the newspaper industry is that too many newspaper leaders do neither. So more than just change, what our newspapers need are revolutions.
How can we expect editors to be agents of change when they hearken back to the editorial approach of the past and personally reject the technologies we need to embrace? We have editors leading newspapers who reject text messaging, can’t open email attachments and don’t use the Internet outside of work; editors who continue to design a printed newspaper that they want to read, regardless of their readership (readership’s needs?readership’s opinions?); editors who choose the dinosaur employee over the gazelle; editors who quite simply claim that they get “it”, but really don’t. These are editors who have a voice but no vision.
“I urge you to focus on cultural change within your newsroom.”
Mindy went to the next level writing:
“It’s too late for incremental change. It’s too late to be cautious and timid. The time has come to be bold.”
And Alfred summed up the ideas by saying that what we need is a “fundamental shift in the mindset of journalists.”
While they are all right and their suggestions are good ones, I believe that Steve, Mindy and Alfred are echoing themes that we have heard before. And even more so, I believe that none of them have gone far enough.
It is no wonder that many newsrooms are suffering and find themselves stuck somewhere in the throes of change. Even corporate continued improvement efforts will find themselves stymied in these environments by leaders who say one thing, but do another confuse their employees, muddy the waters, encourage dissent and inhibit change. All too often, blame for the state of affairs and the lack of progress is placed on line employees such as reporters and desk editors.
This needs to end. Change must occur and, I believe, it must occur at the top of our organizations.
We can no longer afford senior editors who require passionate blog posts and magazine articles to give them direction and motivation. We can no longer afford to lose aggressive, young employees who flee our newsrooms frustrated with poor salaries, stagnation and lack of direction. We can no longer afford to say that this must be the year of change and hope for the best.
Increasingly we talk about the skills we expect from new hires. I believe it is time to outline the skills we expect from our newsroom leaders. Can we afford senior editors who are still questioning the need to provide content across multiple platforms? Can we afford senior editors who don’t grasp the basic technologies that we need to use and have no desire to learn? What is the message to employees when the editor doesn’t blog or read blogs? When the editor doesn’t use text messaging? When an editor doesn’t know what a news reader is? Or what a smart phone is?
If I was a publisher, corporate officer or even an employee, I would want an editor who is active online; who blogs and uses Facebook and MySpace; who has a digital camera and knows how use it and how to upload those images; who has a cell phone that use beyond just work emergencies; who knows how to identify Flash applet on a website; who knows that Ruby on Rails is not a MySpace band; who uses a newsreader; I could go on, but the point is the old skill set of paying their dues and being a wordsmith and possibly an amateur accountant just does not cut it anymore, honestly it hasn’t cut it for a long time.
Yes there are some senior editors out there who get “it.” Those who are positive change agents in their newsrooms, they blog, they get into their communities and into their newsrooms. These are editors who break the rules, throw away the script and dare to be different. These are types of leaders we need if newspapers are not just going to survive but thrive.
The culture of blaming the reader or the staff has to end. It’s time for someone to take responsibility and frankly if they won’t, then it’s time to point fingers. Simple put, at some newspapers, it’s time for a revolution.
We need to put our newsroom leaders on notice. They need to know that their employees, publishers and corporate officers will no longer stand by and watch their newspapers crumble, their industry collapse and livelihoods disappear. These leaders need to recognize that their employees have a vision and a voice. Their thoughts and hopes are outlined in blogs, in forums and in the comments that they write.
Newsroom leaders need to be told “the time for change is now and it needs to start with you.”
If it takes a revolution, so be it.