mediaXchange 2016 Presentation: Changing the Culture

One of the greatest challenges newspapers continue to face is changing the culture of the newsroom. At Monday’s mediaXchange session, “Changing the Culture: What Works,” co-sponsored by ASNE, three newspaper executives discussed recent cultural shifts in their newsrooms with moderator Pam Fine, ASNE president and University of Kansas’ Knight Chair of News, and offered advice to others looking to make a shift.

Start with the end result, advised Mizell Stewart III, managing director of content for Journal Media Group, which was recently purchased by Gannett. First determine what business problem you are trying to solve, he said.

At Journal Media Group, publisher of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and the Commercial Appeal in Memphis, the newsrooms needed to develop a mindset to always leading with digital to help drive more digital subscriptions.

“Think smartphone, then tablet, then web, and finish with print,” Stewart said. You can say digital first but, if you sit through a news meeting where the staff is still talking about page one and still calling it a page one meeting, there is a disconnect between what you espouse and what you have.

The newsroom needed to understand that people aren’t reading the newspaper as much as they had in the past and they are spending more time on mobile platforms. The key, he said, is figuring out how to reach these “time-starved consumers primarily on mobile devices and bind them to us in a way that leads to digital subscriptions.”

In Florida, the Sarasota Herald-Tribune is finding new ways to create experiences for its readers. Sarasota hasn’t given up “big journalism” but it’s looking at the newsroom as an important part of revenue generation and seeking more community sponsors for news, says Executive Editor William Church.

For instance, Herald-Tribune Media Group is getting ready to launch SPIRE CoLab with The Patterson Foundation, a local philanthropic organization. They also have launched TheGunWriter, a journalism-based website for gun enthusiasts that aims to capture a national and local revenue stream, Church says.

During the session, participants congratulated Church and his staff on winning a Pulitzer this year with The Tampa Bay Times for an investigative report on the conditions at Florida mental hospitals. “I love the fact we get to celebrate a Pulitzer but what I love even more is that there were 160 new jobs created in Florida in state government because of this report,” he said.

At Gannett, newspaper executives are spending more time talk with employees about what they want and getting their feedback, says Chief People Officer Dave Harmon. Gannett is measuring it’s success through engagement surveys, whether employees are coming to company events and what employees are saying about the company on social media, he said.

“You’re not going to change the culture if you don’t have everyone signed up,” Harmon said. “You need to understand what people want and paint the path for them.” In the past, he said, Gannett focused on financial measures. Now it is focused on brand, audience, financial and people metrics. “If we’re doing the right things and live what we say will do, you will get enough supporters on board and that will overcome the resisters.”


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