October Carnival of Journalism: How to move the needle in your newsroom today

Journerdist-In-Chief Will Sullivan hosts this month’s resurgent Carnival of Journalism, asking the following:

“What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization?”

I’ve mentioned some incremental steps you take to grow a little revenue at a time recently, and there’s a list of free or cheap tools for online news sitting around here somewhere, but here are a few general recommendations and specific ideas for things you can do on Monday morning to get the ball rolling and needle moving into the future in your newsroom.

In General:

  • Engage your readers. Don’t be a faraway mugshot at the top of a column once a week; use blogs, comment threads on stories, microblogging tools, and every other tool at your disposal to foster a relationship with the actual human beings at the other end of your delivery routes and Intertubes.

To Be Specific:

  • Start a blog, or a story with a comment thread, or a Twitter account on Monday morning, depending on the technology you have on hand.

The purpose of this blog/thread/Twitter account is to ask readers questions, and answer the questions they ask.  One staff member (probably you if you’re reading this) takes the questions from readers and routes them to the logical reporter, editor, photographer, graphic designer, etc.  You don’t need 30 staffers to sign into the account and type into the CMS, you just need to send them an e-mail and get their answer and post it yourself.  Do encourage them to read the comments and follow up by participating in the thread.

In General:

  • Shoot more video. This isn’t as complicated as you think it is.  Get cameras in the hands of your reporters; don’t wait for your squadron of photographers to get the equipment they requested or for your editors to decide on which approach to newspaper video makes the most sense.  Skip the step where you try to produce video that looks like local TV news, and go straight to the step where you end up with a YouTube-like page with tons of video for your online readers to browse through.

To Be Specific:

Importantly, this is *primarily* a video camera, which means it’s not going to be monopolized by well-meaning reporters who “need” it to shoot stills for print.  Start a rotation, one reporter per camera per week.  Shoot three videos a week, maximum two minutes each, and edit as little as possible.  That’s how you get started shooting more video, regardless of what other long-term high-budget plans you might have in place.

In General:

  • Spend less time in conference rooms. If you feel like you’re spending too much time in meetings, you probably are.  Give yourself and your staff more time to get their jobs done and keep moving that needle in the right direction by not wasting their time.

To Be Specific:

  • Use online productivity and project management tools as an always-on meeting place that anyone can drop in and out of as their day allows.  Google Docs, Basecamp, Prologue, Yammer, Present.ly — choose a flavor and try it out.

Have more meetings, asynchronously, online, and spend less time locked in a conference room trying to figure out why you didn’t know that story or package or project was on the schedule for this weekend.  Use these tools for scheduling, budgeting, staffing, tracking long projects over time, story counts, accountability — as much or as little as you want.  Refer back to these documents instead of having meetings to talk about what sort of form you should print out to refer back to later.

Overstating the Obvious:

None of this will work if you’re not interested in making progress, passionate about taking giant leaps forward, and curious about the range of tools out there in the wild.  Try any of these, and if it doesn’t work, fail fast and move on to the next idea.  Unless you have time to waste, in which case, I wish you the best of luck.

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