Strategy and trends

Time for a reorganization? 5 steps for a successful newsroom reset

Newsrooms everywhere are coping with fewer resources. Sometimes you lose a person here and a person there. You cinch your belt and plow through. Then you realize everyone seems to be running, and no one is stopping to ask the big questions your community needs to have answered. In-depth coverage is pushed aside because reporters feel like all they can do is get through the day.

If you’re at this point, it’s time for a reset.

Here are five steps to re-evaluating your resources:

1. Go on a listening tour: Listen to your readers (if you don’t have a reader advisory board, now’s the time to start one). Check out your analytics. Listen to your staff. Listen to people from other departments, like advertising reps. What are you listening for? Find out what’s most important to them and how you can serve readers better. What topics are hottest? One of the lessons we learned in a survey a couple of years ago was that readers were thirsty for in-depth and investigative journalism. They want the stories that matter.

2. Take stock of your resources: Look at your staff with fresh eyes. What is each editor or reporter best at? What are their growth opportunities?

3. Do some one-on-ones: Speak individually with each person on staff, or if your newsroom is too big, assign your trusted editors to do the same. Ask reporters what they really want to do. Remember to listen. Even people you know well might surprise you.

4. Align reader values with reporter obsessions: “Obsessions” are all the rage right now, replacing the more traditional reporter “beats” in some news organizations. According to Dallas Morning News and Quartz, the difference isn’t merely semantic. Beats are usually structured around institutions, while an obsession is focused on the impact on readers. Obsessions offer focus within a topic, and aren’t likely to last forever. Dallas Morning News Managing Editor Robyn Tomlin offers the example of charter schools as an obsession. The focus is always on the effect on people. What about charter schools is related to people? For example, the reporter focuses on parents who are making decisions about where to send their children to school, on the emotion of that and the research around it. A reporter’s obsession is part of the coverage he or she does. At Dallas Morning News, coverage hubs are organized around topics. Learn more in this Poynter write-up.

5. Shake up your structure: Sometimes your staff losses all happen at the top – you lose key editors. And sometimes they all happen at the bottom – reporters find new opportunities. Rarely are you left with the perfect mix. If you find yourself in a lopsided situation, you’re going to need to make adjustments. Try for 25 percent editors to 75 percent reporters/photographers/copy editors, etc.

This newsroom reset isn’t for the faint of heart because change is scary. But a strategic approach beats the erosion of meaningful coverage. In the end, your readers will thank you.

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