Newsroom experts

Tony Elkins’ innovative approach to journalism

This guest blog was written by Tony Elkins, GateHouse Media’s new director of innovation

I don’t have a job description.

It’s one of the most liberating things in the world.

But liberating doesn’t mean easy. In fact, it’s the opposite.

When I was offered the role as GateHouse’s Director of Innovation, I knew it would be the most demanding, stressful, challenging, rewarding and gratifying endeavor I would ever undertake.

The job description is a little ambiguous for a reason . . . journalism is changing by the second. And we need to be able to change with it.

That’s easy if you can throw tons of money at the problem.

It’s a simple fact small newsrooms don’t have the luxury of doing that.

And that’s where I come in.

I was very fortunate to spend my formative journalism years in a newsroom filled with amazing reporters, designers, graphic artists, copy editors, developers and executive editors.

The Sarasota Herald-Tribune was where the foundation for my future, and this job, was laid. We were able to create impactful journalism at the local level by being resourceful, developing our own tools, pushing ourselves outside our comfort zone with each new project and always aiming big.

In my different roles at the Herald-Tribune, I paid close attention to all those journalists and carry a few of their skills into this new role.

If we want to be innovative we have to be resourceful, find the best tools for the job, think like a startup and be urgent optimists.

GateHouse has a lot of talented people among its news and business properties. There’s also a large creative community in Austin’s Center for News & Design. It’s my job to go out and find opportunities to marry the two.

We have to support local newsrooms and find, develop and implement resources for them to carry out our core priorities: Do journalism with impact and embrace our future.

That may mean helping the Herald-Tribune win its next Pulitzer prize, develop a year-long series at the Columbus Dispatch that peers 20 years into the city’s future or find ways for the State Journal-Register to explain what’s really going on in Illinois.

We’re going to dig into podcasting, video, virtual reality, data visualization, social media and every other medium we can find to effectively engage our audiences and create moving journalism.

It’s a big job, some things are going to work, some won’t. When that happens, we’ll pivot.

That’s what it means to be innovative in today’s journalism world.

Words still matter, but so do visuals, format, medium and distribution.

To be successful we have to find the right ways to share our stories. We need to pivot. We need to reinvent ourselves daily.

We have to be open to change. We have to remember this is also a business and revenue isn’t a dirty word. We need to stop thinking like a newspaper and start acting like a startup.

We need to create niche verticals and find new business models. Phrases like “business model generation” and “value proposition design” should be part of our lexicon. Our readers are also our customers. How we effectively serve them?

I hope I can lead that spark as Director of Innovation. I’m not going to go into newsrooms and tell them what to do. It’s my job to listen, encourage, support, inspire and help them connect with their communities and create outstanding journalism (and revenue).

It’s going to be really difficult, but I’m up to the challenge.

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