When Samuli Leivonniemi, news editor for HSTV took to the stage at Desknet Editorial Days he started with an image of a middle aged man looking slightly out of place on the roaring flight deck of a US aircraft carrier. The man was Kalle Koponon, a print journalist from Helsingin Sanomat who had taught himself to be a freelance photographer then reinvented himself all over again as a videographer. Samuli’s point was not just that Kalle Koponon produced some excellent videos of unusual subjects, but that Koponon, and Helsingin Sanomat (HS) had both had to go through some tough transitions in order to keep up – and then do it all over again to get a step ahead.
In 2012 HS bit the bullet and built a fully equipped TV studio. It started to produce a 30 minute long news broadcast of a quality to rival the national broadcaster. Brilliant. Yet by 2014 that was cut to five minutes and HS is now building a completely new studio. Why?
“What we learnt is that you mustn’t do Web TV the way you do linear TV” explains Samuli. “When the TV people moved in we hoped they would be working on online videos for us, and they did. But only at the end of the day when all the other video work was done and that rate of production was too slow to satisfy online needs. So we reported anyway straight away with or without video.
The video team was so focussed on producing the bulletin that they only gave us video at six o’clock which meant that we had good quality TV but too late. We had the video but nobody watching it. So we had to look for a balance and part of that was that you have to be fast. In the end we settled on a quality standard at the lower end of the scale but with much more rapid production.”
HS produces a full schedule of Web TV programming; “We have six regular talk shows – football, fashion, politics, the in-depth interview, plus a talk show about domestic politics, and news satire. Then we have a daily output of anywhere from five to twenty news clips, mostly self made, some from reuters, and a daily news broadcast for channel four plus daily weather forecast clips.”
With all of that to manage it’s little wonder that Samuli finds himself speaking at an event about newsroom management software. The task of running a full Web TV channel is undoubtedly daunting, but Samuli is in no doubt that it represents the future. “Our own analytics show that video views for HS videos have tripled over the past year. We’re now aiming for one million video views per week and we’re not far off – we’ll reach that goal before the end of this year.” So what did HS learn from the process of creating a TV channel not once, but twice?
Samuli Leivonniemi’s ten tips for Web TV;
1) Don’t publish bad quality,
2) Fine tune your processes,
3) Train your people
4) Don’t be afraid to share content
5) Never send two teams to cover the same event
6) Videos are expensive so reuse videos when you can
7) Teach your audience to watch videos
8) Don’t do talking heads unless you have to
9) Build video presence in social media
And to round off the top ten Samuli gave us the wisdom of Kalle, the journalist who reinvented himself in parallel with his newspaper from print to video;
10) “Really the trick is about making videos that people will want to talk about when they get together around the coffee machine or the water cooler.”
“Every company is unique but we have worked with publishers from A (Austria) to Z (New Zealand) and we find the challenges for newsroom transformation are remarkably similar. We find the same preoccupations – the customer focus, the digital focus, and in particular how to become digitally focused while retaining the print product as a platform that drives sales.”
Dr Dietmar Schantin, founder of the Institute for Media Strategies gave us the benefit of ten years in media strategy at the recent Desk-Net Editorial Days event. Here are his the pitfalls that plague publishers managing newsroom change.
“All of these are interrelated. One domino falls and they all fall, but let’s start with;
1) An ‘atomistic’ view
The first mistake is that when you confront people with a complex task they are overwhelmed and try to filter out the complexity. Typically they do that by focussing on just one aspect so we often hear the cry ‘we need a new newsroom, we need a new building, a new CMS….’ whatever. In that process of staring at the single element they lose the overview of what we are trying to achieve. Time to stand back and asses.
2) No clear and consistent goals.
‘Vision’ is seen as commendable but as the phrase goes – ‘if you have visions then go see a doctor’.
All too often ‘visions’ have more to do with marketing slogans than attainable goals and that only adds to an already complex problem.
I remember the Nottingham Evening News [in the UK] coming to us and saying “we want to be the place where Nottingham communicates”. An admirable sentiment. But what does that mean exactly for the newsroom? We responded by approaching all of the editorial departments with a 40 question survey and the overwhelming issue that arose was a lack of clarity about where they were going.
Most publishers are aware of the need to transform, but there is not enough thought given to where that leads. The result is confusion for the people who work there. Typically the direct result of that unclear outlook is;
3) Insufficient project resources.
It’s easy to see when equipment is not up to the job, but when it comes to available human resources it is more complex question that all too often gets a simplistic solution.
When we talk transformation there is a 90 per cent chance that we will hear the phrase ‘ah but we have someone who could manage this project’. Except, of course, that this individual already has a full time job to do.
The next level up from that approach is to think that all that’s required is to hire a project manager. Just by way of comparison the Daily Telegraph [UK] found it took sixteen months for a dedicated staff of seven people to implement their transformed newsroom.
The inevitable results of under-resourcing are frustration and staff burn out.
4) Bolting things together
Too many projects are cobbled together, often relying on existing structures and inserting a digital element in the hope that this will work. In the process the existing structures go unquestioned. We see plenty of examples where staff are working from 6.30 in the morning but there is an editorial conference at 9 purely due to the ongoing legacy of print.
True transformation means realigning the entire production process.
If the mobile telecom contract is too expensive to offer smartphones to all staff, but you expect them to shoot and file video stories then the result will be frustration.
Don’t give people hammers if what they need are screwdrivers.
6) The wrong people in the wrong places
Closely related to number 5) is the problem of the human factor.
Transformation has to be both a management project and a grass roots staff movement but there is a common tendency to redefine the multimedia newsroom and then hand it over to the editor in chief of many years who secretly sees online as the enemy.
We know many young online editors hired as part of a transformation who end up leaving three months later not because of the job itself but because they are oppressed by an obsolete culture. That doesn’t mean you have to expel the old guard – if they were excellent journalists before then they still are, but what we can’t do is to cobble together new job descriptions to better fit existing personnel.
Which brings us to…
7) Insufficient people development.
People development is not a luxury. Training, education, and counselling is essential. Setting up a training program at X euros a head multiplied by 200 staff seems like a daunting cost but it is nothing compared to buying a printing press and newsroom transformation is a far more radical move than that.
Once you get people on board most of them will want to learn but you can’t just hope for that – we have to make it happen.
Small companies tend to be more flexible, faster, and more easily motivated but when it comes to transformation it doesn’t matter if we are talking about six people or six hundred – if a single managing editor doesn’t really want to see the change happen then it just won’t work.”
Dr Dietmar Schantin has worked for the last ten years transforming 15 newsrooms around the world for such shining lights as Telegraph Media Group, Ringier Media Group, Archant Group, Associated News Media, Axel Springer, Styria Media Group, the Hindustan Times and New Zealand Media and Entertainment.
“Journalism isn’t like a cookie factory!” If I got a euro for all the times I heard that from an editor at a Dutch newsroom… I would have enough money to start a cookie factory.
Of course, there is some truth to this argument. Media don’t bake the exact same assortment of cookies every day, like a factory does. A newsroom doesn’t just produce the same 12 flavours of content. Nevertheless there is a lot that each and every newsroom could learn from a cookie factory. One of those things is the value of planning and logistics.
Before the factory can start baking a cookie, it has to make sure all the ingredients are present, and both machines and staff are ready.
Just as a media company gets its content from a variety of sources, the factory gets its ingredients from various suppliers. Various suppliers means varying delivery times. And that is not the only thing the factory has to take into account. Maintenance, quality testing, sometimes baking whole batches all over again, transportation – all those things and more have to be carefully planned to make sure the factory can bake cookies of a consistent quality and deliver them on time to the shops.
“Great”, I hear you say, “but you’re overlooking the fact that not all journalism can be planned”. You are absolutely right. Not all journalism can be planned. But most journalism can be planned; short- and longform journalism, press conferences, sport events, town hall meetings – all of that can be foreseen in advance. As can those lengthy pieces that bring depth to a topic like the financial situation of Greece. Sure, we couldn’t know the exact date of publication. But from January 1st of this year we already knew that a piece like that was great to have lying around. The cookie factory doesn’t know exactly when summer will start, but they do know that the fruity flavours will sell way better when it does.
When a newsroom realizes this and commits itself to planning its content with tools like Desk-Net, great things will happen. The quality of the produced content will increase.
By planning, I really do mean planning. If a reporter knows that a court will return its verdict on an important case five weeks from now, the reporter already plans that in his own agenda – of course. But that’s only the first step, there’s also the process of editorial planning. Using an editorial planning process means an editor at the internet desk gets a heads-up and knows that he has to build a timeline to accompany the news article on the day of the verdict. Instead of rushing into this hours before – or even after – the article gets published, the internet desk now has five weeks (!) to build this timeline.
Chances are that within those five weeks nothing new will pop-up on this court case and that the internet desk will have a quiet moment to build the timeline.
Importantly planning your content like that doesn’t kill creativity or that sense of urgency that every medium wants to show through its content. It actually helps it. Because planning all the things you can plan gives you peace of mind and therefore more time to think about all of things you couldn’t plan.
Guest author Paul Vereijken (@paulvereijken) worked in various positions at Eindhovens Dagblad (Dutch regional newspaper). In his role as a Digital News Manager he selected Desk-Net and implemented it together with Fleur Besters and other colleagues. Today he is a New Business Consultant at De Persgroep (publisher of Eindhovens Dagblad).
A new version of Desk-Net (#74) containing minor improvements has just been released.
Social media icons: Desk-Net already provided standard icons for text, pictures, etc. Now the original social media icons (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) can be selected.
Before the icons may be used, the account admin must first add them to the company’s format list (located in Admin > Formats).
Improvements to story list mailings: The story list on the Dashboard page can be easily sent to multiple recipients.
New: Mailings contain the appropriate formats and assigned employees (e.g. “Text:Rooney”).
Performance: After migrating to a new database server last winter, we have now been upgraded to a more powerful application server as well.
New alert: Desk-Net changes the publication date when other respective data is modified (e.g. the event date).
A new alert notification has been implemented. When the publication date is automatically changed, an alert notification pops up while saving.
In the coming weeks and months, we will be working to finalize the mobile version of Desk-Net.
Included in the development process are improvements to the entry field and other pages, providing you with the same familiar Desk-Net experience on mobile devices as on the desktop version.
We hope these new features will make working with Desk-Net easier and more enjoyable. We welcome your feedback at email@example.com
– The Desk-Net Team
Fleur Besters told us to be brave, Monika Jäger taught us the importance of understanding. In the latest of a series of articles about change management in the newsroom we look at how Managing editor Carsten Matthäus of Suddeutsche Zeitung taught us that it’s good to talk.
“Back in 2010 we had a classic situation – print was where you earned money, online was where you gave away that content.” Change came in a number of steps, a new CMS, new editions, a new look-and-feel. Each wave of change met a wave of resistance, often from readers themselves. “Traditional newspaper readers get upset quickly if they’re not consulted. We thought that it wouldn’t be a problem if we changed the font size of the crossword. Instead it upset people so much we had to change it back.”
What Carsten Matthäus learned was not to be afraid of change, but to be more proactive about consulting and with every step on the way that lesson proved its worth.
“When we moved to a digital edition in 2011 the process was rocky but it worked and on the way we learned to Think Liquid. Why ‘Liquid’? Because content has to work on all screens, all platforms, and people do too. We got our print editors to write teasers for the web and they started to see the benefit of working for online. After a while we turned this into a semi-automatic workflow. “
Learning to handle their readers respectfully turned out to work with workers too.
“Suddeutsche Zeitung was what we call a ‘Pretzel’ paper – cool, but old-fashioned – and we embarked on cautious updates with long discussions to limit the damage. Even for the design we got colleagues involved who had never been involved before and got the discussion process going with them, and with the readers. We got a lot of letters from upset readers as we redesigned, but not so many subscriptions cancelled – which was a result, and all thanks to asking our readers first.”
Consultation was working with readers, but the biggest step was still waiting for them within the paper’s own newsrooms.
“ We had two worlds – online and print – and we wanted them to talk to each other. Which resulted in meeting overkill. 300 people talked to each other for two hours every week. The editorial department didn’t exactly thank us for that but we noted a new atmosphere emerge. In the end we saw the best in their field step forward on their own initiative and say they wanted to write for online.”
Like every other editor Carsten Matthäus acknowledges that the transformation is a work in progress but he’s happy with the results so far, and in no doubt that it couldn’t have been achieved by a series of top-down dictats. “If staff are motivated to work for online channels it can work but you need that bottom-up approach.”
To facilitate internal communication the team introduced Desk-Net, again not without resistance – “the editor in chief thought Desk-Net was not the answer but it did help, improving the communication between print and digital, and there was hardly any negative reaction to it in the editorial department itself.”
In fact the firm but listening approach paid off with some unexpected bonuses; “I thought we would not be able to keep all of our editors as we shifted to new ways of working but our editor in chief asked them to stay, and they did and. As we added new staff and new abilities we found it worked well with them coordinating and organising.” Old dogs and new pups learning together.
This year the Suddeutsche Zeitung takes the leap to a paid model with the emphasis on digital and Matthäus braced for the worst; “We expected shit storms… but they never happened”. Long may that last.
The secret to Suddeutsche Zeitung’s success seems to be consultation, a bottom-up approach, and an understanding that managing a modern newsroom is a matter of being in constant beta. Newsroom change management, it seems, is the job that never ends.
Sometimes you have to be a little hardline to get people to move with times and sometimes they have to take a deep breathe and dive in – no matter how much they wish they didn’t have to.
That was the message from Fleur Besters at Desk-Net Editorial Days 2015. Fleur, an entrepreneurial journalist who until recently worked for Eindhovens Dagblad was talking about projects working with colleagues “many of whom missed the digital revolution in 2000. For too many years we did our work sitting on top of an ivory tower, looking down to the world beneath us.
We are highly educated, smart people, and of course we know how things works in the world around us, even if it is not our disciplinary. We now what our readers because, without asking them. We decide what is important and what not. We do not need insights from our marketing colleagues, Because we are independent.”
But that’s not enough, and Fleur feels strongly that “we have to be part of the society we write about.” Which means new technologies, new platforms, and accepting new ways of working.
“Before we switched to Desk-Net everybody had their own Google document or bit of paper and we had to say ‘throw all of that away’.” Then she implemented the rule that any story that wasn’t on Desk-Net simply wasn’t going to be in the paper the next day. “Then they learnt fast” she observes.
This may sound a bit tough (“I’m a nice person really,” notes Fleur – and she is) but she is an absolute believer that journalists today need more organisation to deal with the multiple demands of multiple media (“journalists hardly ever look further than the next day”). Furthermore she is under no illusion about the way to implement change; “innovation isn’t implemented by central office it is done on the shop floor and if you don’t make it concrete it has no life.”
Her rule on using new tools is firm – “ never give them an excuse to avoid using tools” – but not uncaring. Knowing that a lot of people struggle to adapt she recommends a lot of personal intervention;
“What I always did was really help people with developing their skills. Because if they know how to do it, there is no excuse left to not do it! I literally sat next to them if needed, and they could call me anytime.
With people who didn’t dare to tweet, I advised them to send a tweet in the morning of the first week about what they planned to do. After a week they must send a tweet in the afternoon about how it worked out that day.
Working that way makes it fun for both. The innovator and the newbie both get an instant result. You don’t need fancy stuff, break out sessions or pizza brainstorms for your newsroom. Just ask them what they need to do their work.”
She also advises mixing and matching workers with different skills. “Make couples. Younger and older colleague, and find something they can teach each other. Show that older colleagues know a lot about journalism, and sometimes even more about digital. They already have a base they can build new expertise on. Young colleagues have to learn both!”
And finally, and most simply of all she tell us to “be brave…. and keep to your plan.”
We recently learnt that the New York Times had blocked its home page to its own staff to force them to reach for their smartphones and think mobile first. Good for the NYT, but there is no one way to manage editorial change, and Monika Jäger Local News Editor of the Mindener Tageblatt struck a chord with a lot of editors at the Desk-Net Editorial days when she shared her own experience of trying to bring in change. Minden is not New York, and the Mindener Tageblatt is not the NYT so Jager found that ushering change had a lot more to do with gentle coercion than lightning strikes.
‘Alive and Kicking’ was the title she chose for her speech; a title that reflected both the energy of the redesign, and a certain sense of relief at coming out the other side in one piece.
“What have we done in two and a half years?” She asked, “Everything, that’s what. We took every brick out of the building and turned it around”
And in that renovation what was the key area of change? “The integration of online and print – we have totally reinvented ourselves. I was talking to a colleague who said ‘how are we going to do this; I am honestly scared to death – as far as I’m concerned I am from a completely different profession, and a different job.’ Thing was he was right…. and I relate to that.”
Perhaps because Monica too comes from that pre-digital age, she is more understanding about the fears inspired by newsroom reinvention. “I am fifty-plus and I can remember using raw film and developing pictures. The changes in this business have been more far-reaching than any other industry. We are working with people who used a typewriter in the past and many of those working with us had severe reservations; you mustn’t forget these are people at a stage where normally they would be looking to get more settled and the changes mean more work, more effort, and the justified fears that go with that.”
A lot of the process for Monica was finding out where people really were in terms of personal digital development. “Many of our print colleagues didn’t have a PC at home. They don’t have smartphones, and only after a training course do they have Facebook. They still don’t have Twitter and when I proposed the idea of standby duties the news staff had to come and explain they couldn’t do late shifts because they didn’t have the necessary web facilities at home.”
What Monica took the trouble to find was a story you hear in a lot of regional papers. It’s easy to read about the New York Times, the Guardian, and the other early adopters and think your team is surely at a similar level but a closer look shows that much of the industry, notably the smaller newsrooms, is actually running at a very different pace. So rather than lay down the digital law with diktats, Monica took a gentler approach.
“In one case we found that tools such as an iPad and a laptop were only owned by a single department manager. So I took them and put them in a shared cabinet and got everyone to start exploring the possibilities of the iPad.”
Monica brought in training, and a culture of Facebook including a group page where staff could complain or make suggestions, plus an external consultant which worked, she says, because “they understood that it is mainly about people, not about structures.”
Monica learnt a lot about the pains of rebirth but her biggest single tip to bringing people on board was the simple advice to “never forget how big a challenge it is for someone who doesn’t like technology. It is a steep mountain to climb.”