Saturday, January 5, 2008

2008: The Year for Culture Change

There are a lot of smart people who write about media issues. One of them is Steve Outing, who writes a column for Editor & Publisher.

In his first column of 2008 (See Column), Outing asked news executives what they would do if they had a magic wand and could solve their companies' problems.

Outing reports one theme kept coming up: "change the culture at our company and in our newsroom, because it's holding us back and ensuring our ultimate failure." Let me add, Amen!

In Newsplex, we have been helping news organizations change their cultures since 2002. So much has happened in the last five years. Yet the fundamental problems linger. I would divide them into two categories:

1. Lack of commitment from the top. Of course, most publishers, general managers and media executives want to move forward, embrace new technologies and formats and generate new revenue streams. But talk is cheap. Making the tough decisions to transform traditional news organizations into true, cross media operations is not cheap. Plus it requires stepping on a lot of toes--taking away cherished titles and assignments, imposing new work rules and confronting a host of legacy issues that exist in almost every newsroom. I see many executives who want it all--but who do not seem to realize that if everything is a priority then nothing is. If one were to survey the most successful convergence initiatives around the world, the common denominator is strong leadership from the top.

2. Lack of grass roots involvement. Newsroom reorganization plans simply do not bubble up from the ranks. But once someone at the top makes a true commitment to change, then successful implementation of the plan depends upon getting everybody involved. When news organizations send journalists to Newsplex, I ask that they include a few of their curmudgeons. Sometimes these skeptical journalists can make our lives as trainers more difficult. But from our experience, they almost always can be won over. And when they go back to the newsroom supporting change, they have enormous credibility.

If I had a magic wand, I would use it to erase the fear that I see in so many newsrooms. This is a time of great opportunity for established news organizations, whose reputations mean something. But that opportunity, unfortunately, is being jeopardized by the problems Outing's column summarizes so well.

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