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5 measures to improve your newsroom

Instead of subjecting the, in many cases, traditional working methods and processes in the newsrooms to a fundamental analysis and adapting them accordingly, all too often personnel are haphazardly removed from structures without consideration of the medium and long-term consequences.

But it is especially the reorganisation and restructuring of work processes in the newsroom that offer a major potential for obtaining a sustained increase in the effectiveness and efficiency of the newsroom as well as a means of securing or even enhancing editorial quality.

Listed in the following are five measures that are not fully utilised in most newsrooms.

1. Optimise editorial planning

Introducing or improving editorial planning is one of the first approaches towards optimising processes in the newsroom. This means deciding early on, at least on an outline basis, the selection of topics, the timing of the publication of their content via print and online and the positioning in the various media.

A precondition for this is to consider the topics in a differentiated way as regards relevance, topicality and best possible platform. Not everything is of equal importance for the public, not everything is “breaking news” and not everything is suitable for multi-platform coverage. Thus by prioritising the topics it is possible to better utilise the newsroom resources – from the reporter up to production.

By improved and earlier cross-media planning it is possible to give reporters, photographers and production specialists assignments that are both more precise and more in advance timewise for the newspaper edition or for video: This improves the quality of the articles, therefore reducing the need for reworking. Peak workloads in the production area are reduced because contents are spread more evenly over the day or the week and can be processed.

2. Do it right the first time

Promoting quality consciousness represents an additional challenge. To date, in many newsrooms basic requirements, such as correct grammar or spelling, continue to be checked and not generated. As a consequence, much too much time is spent on cross-checking and correcting that would be better invested in creative tasks.

Then again, the knowledge that such checking is done, as well as the absence in many cases of feedback to “upstream stages” (e.g. to the reporter from the editor), means that there can be no learning effect. Paradoxically, experience shows that too many checks do not necessarily improve the quality and can even result in new errors being introduced into the text. The freed-up time resources can be used for new tasks, e.g. for producing enriched content for the digital platforms.

3. Produce pages more efficiently

The increased use of design modules for page production is another method for increasing efficiency. This optimisation of page layout, together with more intensive planning, means that it is possible to quickly design pages with content and page area known early on in the day. This in turn facilitates giving assignments to reporters as they can be told more precisely the desired length of an article. It also reduces the peak workloads at the page production stage before page deadline, as certain pages must be altered only slightly.

4. Qualify personnel

The successful implementation of all the listed measures is dependent to a major degree on the personnel who are involved. They must be given the necessary skills, e.g. to plan contents in a cross-media way, prioritise contents based on the profiles of the target audience or to use the many possibilities of new digital forms to cover topics. Leading personnel is also becoming increasingly important where quality is concerned: an aimed communication of tasks, constructive criticism or the use of design modules in the editorial or production system.

However, more important than specific skills for implementing the measures is having the right attitude. An in-depth understanding of the backgrounds, interrelationships and pursued objectives, as well as the conviction on the part of each individual of the sense of the measures are the precondition for their successful implementation. Such understanding and the specialised skills can be communicated by aimed and structured training programs.

5. Generate content effectively

Besides optimisation in the planning and production area as well as personnel development, synergies can be used also at the content generation stage that lead to time savings and cost optimisation. Some topics, in many cases from the area of entertainment and specialised subjects, are not subject to geographical or time limitations. Likewise, processing content for specific target audiences is in many cases very similar or can be adapted relatively simply. Examples of such topics are news about celebrities, presenting and testing new car models, service information on health, fashion, education or career.

This type of content can be obtained either from third parties (something that is done already in many instances by the taking over and reworking of agency bulletins or sports and TV schedules) or, in the case of media houses that produce several different titles, produced in “joint newsrooms” operating as a type of “internal agency”. The identity of the individual titles or brands respectively is not endangered, as long as “core topics” that constitute the brand DNA are not outsourced or centrally sourced.

None of the five listed measures can be regarded in an isolated manner. Especially the planning and production-oriented methods as well as personnel development are closely interconnected. Where the will exists, every newsroom can implement these measures also in the medium term. Certainly they are in every way better that short-term cost-saving models to the detriment of personnel and quality.

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