(If you're in a real rush — go straight to the Executive Summary, Appendix A.)
Agile. Collaborative. Cooperative. Smart. Entrepreneurial.
These are some of the qualities that describe what our EIC calls “The Smart Newsroom”, something he devoutly hopes we are in the process of becoming.
The Learning Newsroom project was supposed to help us in that transformation.
Despite the Spectator’s well-deserved reputation for innovation, when we entered into the Learning Newsroom project, a culture survey described this newsroom as, (along with a great many other unflattering terms), a defensive, aggressive culture. We were isolationist, resistant to change, and mistrustful of each other. We were driving out our young staff and embittering many of our old ones. I think one of the consultants said she had never seen a newsroom that scored so high on the negative ends of some of those scales.
On the face of it, the Spectator seemed very ill-prepared to tackle the fundamental shifts in reader preferences and technology that are threatening our industry. Hell, we seemed very ill-prepared to tackle lunch.
Maybe that’s why so many of us eat at our desks.
And it was these people, this group of inward-looking, aggressive, noncooperative grumps, that were asked to put together a team to figure out how to change our culture, how to transform this newsroom.
The bad news is that after a year of hard work, the Learning Newsroom Steering Committee can report having made only moderate progress.
(If you haven’t seen the year end self-assessment the steering committee produced, or the results of a feedback survey that sampled almost 25% of the staff, then we suggest you do. Scales will fall from your eyes, etc. See Appendices B and C respectively)
While people are beginning to believe change is possible, that that ideas might get heard, most still regard the whole learning newsroom process as something “those people” are doing, not something “we” are becoming. Few have faith that these transformations will continue or that they enjoy true support from management.
The learning newsroom process has succeeding in deeply engaging a small core of staff (about 20 all told) in the process of change and regeneration, but the vast majority remain on the sidelines, intent on, and very busy with, their daily business, pausing now and again to throw the odd rock or flower our way as the spirit moves them. Meanwhile the engaged core is disengaging, burning out from the burden of shifting an isolationist newsroom away from it’s defensive/aggressive habits.
That’s the bad news.
The good news is that we think that all of our floundering and thrashing about, all of our hard won advances and occasional bitter defeats, have actually taught us something.
If we want a collaborative, innovative newsroom culture that not just accepts change, but seeks it out and aggressively acquires the skills and knowledge to master it, (call it the Smart Learning Newsroom), then we need to do much more than we have been doing to date. Much, much more.
Radical action is needed. We have a suggestion.
To create a collaborative, innovative newsroom culture we have to place real resources at the service of those values. Hand staff the tools and training they need to innovate, and give them the time to do it.
We propose creating an Innovation Time Bank — and then handing the Learning Newsroom steering committee the keys to the vault.