By Catalina Albeanu
Ahead of the Newsroom Summit in April, we asked the advisory team of editors and media consultants what conversations we should be starting inside our own newsroom and with colleagues. Here are several ideas and questions to put on your next team meeting agenda:
1. How can we embed science and climate reporting across all sections?
Reporting on the spread of COVID-19, vaccines and treatments brought us a deeper understanding of how to question information, where to find trustworthy sources, and created a certain level of awareness of science in newsrooms without specialist science reporters.
“The pandemic brought home the value of science in the newsroom, taking that knowledge and understanding, and being able to make it accessible for readers. You’ve got journalists who perhaps weren’t science journalists learning to tell science stories in a way where they can avoid the jargon, understand and interrogate the information,” says Cherilyn Ireton, the executive director of the World Editors Forum.
These lessons could come into play for climate coverage, which also requires a daily connection to the topic and finding new and engaging ways of telling stories. At Agence France-Presse, making sure climate change is covered in appropriate complexity is part of a move to better reflect core societal changes into traditional beats.
“It’s a hugely complex subject to report in a really engaging way, and not in a catastrophic way,” says Phil Chetwynd, Global News Director, Agence France-Presse. “And to report it as a real human lifestyle story, not just as a scientific story, and also to report it as a proper business economy story, which I think is really where lots of the focus needs to be and probably hasn’t been.” (An understanding of internet culture is another element that Chetwynd points out shouldn’t remain of interest only to specialized reporters on digital culture beats, as it impacts and permeates other aspects of our lives, from politics to finance.)
2. Is it time to refocus Coronavirus newsletters?
As COVID restrictions lift and we begin our return to the office, is it time to rethink the role of pandemic coverage in reader-revenue drives? “What happens after COVID?”, asks Ramona Adolf, head of online department, Zeitungsverlag in Germany. “Many structures have been created around it, it’s our main topic that drives subscriptions and views.”
Even though the pandemic hasn’t ended, the question of when to begin transitioning the subscriptions and verticals created in 2020 to other topics that could better match the current landscape begins growing. “When do you stop?”
3. How are you reflecting your community?
While news organisations focus on tackling audience challenges – how to keep people interested, how to reach them and keep them excited about buying subscriptions – another issue is falling down the list of priorities.
“All of that doesn’t have to, but it does distract from creating more diverse newsrooms, and ones which are genuinely representative of the population that they serve, and creating content that is more targeted towards attracting and retaining a diverse audience,” says Deirdre Veldon, Deputy Editor, Irish Times. “I would see that as the big challenge for us, and one that tends not to get as much air time, because of the competing priorities that are there.”
4. What user needs are you serving?
Regardless of business model, having a clear mission reflected in the way a media organization measures its success is an important step towards sustainability, and part of that journey is building an engagement strategy.
“Thank God people stopped talking about reach for the sake of reach, because we understand that engagement is the most important factor for future growth and for future monetization,” says Dmitry Shishkin, digital publishing consultant.
“Linked to that, inevitably, is the optimization of output, so publishing fewer stories, identifying user needs for your audience and really figuring it all out. Answering the big question of why you exist in the market and what is the value that you are bringing to your audience is the overarching thing, with everything else folded into that.”
5. How do we make journalism an attractive industry for new talent?
The skills required in modern newsrooms place media organizations in a fierce competition for talent. In some newsrooms, it’s TikTokers who are needed, like at The Standard Group in Kenya, where Caroline Jerotich Kimutai, digital editor, is looking for ways to bring TikTok-native voices into the mix. In other cases, hiring coders puts media outlets in contrast with technology companies that focus more on company culture.
It’s not a new conversation, but it could soon become a pain point if not many organisations look at making work in the newsroom interesting again so that more people want to become journalists, says Benjamin Quiring, team lead of editorial development, Kölner Stadt-Anzeiger Medien in Germany.
“All the organizations have developed very well to become modern companies, but on the other hand sometimes we are really stuck in old structures. And I’m worried about that, because to make interesting, high quality, cool digital products you need employees and reporters and editors who want to work in these companies. If we don’t make a move to become more modern and more interesting, we’ll have a problem in five or ten years.”