Guidance for newsroom newcomers can accelerate the slow pace of transformation

By Dr. Dietmar Schantin

Institute for Media Strategies

London, United Kingdom


One of the most difficult challenges in the digital transformation of any newsroom is managing the expectations of the staff, particularly among younger people who embrace change. When new ideas come up against established practices, good intentions sometimes go awry.

Veterans of digital transformation projects know that outcomes are never perfect and that progress is incremental. Those who expect universal acceptance of the process, even today when digitalisation is everywhere, are bound to be disappointed.

Not reaching ultimate goals does not mean the project has failed. On the contrary, every step taken brings the organisation closer to the underlying purpose of digital transformation: a strong business model supporting the mission of providing the news and information audiences depend on and ask for, in the ways they prefer to receive it, in an era where reliable and credible news is more needed than ever.

Legacy newsrooms need to embrace digital adoption of those newly entering the industry.
Legacy newsrooms need to embrace digital adoption of those newly entering the industry.

Digital transformation works best in an open, innovative, and experimental culture, but newsrooms are often less-than-ideal environments. New thinking runs up against the wall of established practices, lack of understanding, and outright resistance. This can be particularly hard for newcomers to the newsroom, those fresh out of journalism school or those coming from digital start-ups — the new lifeblood on which the future lies. New people with good ideas often find themselves reporting to editors or other superiors who may not perceive the value of their ideas, dismiss them outright, or don’t understand the concepts at all.

Sometimes the process can feel like taking one step forward and two steps back: Enthusiastic and motivated people share the newsroom with entrenched staff who are busy with day-to-day operations and may see change as an additional burden, a pretext to cut staff, or as a “flavour of the month” to be ignored until it disappears.

If left unaddressed, it can leave enthusiastic staff — the people needed to drive the process — unmotivated and disheartened. Eventually, many of them leave. The good news is change does occur, even if it doesn’t meet 100% of expectations. Established organisations may not be able to harness the entire impact of fresh thinking, but progress is made nonetheless.

Transformation has been going on for some time, and many organisations are well beyond the first steps of this process. Those coming into newsrooms today are starting at a point well beyond those of a decade ago or even two years ago before the pandemic. Most newsrooms have experience with transformation processes, but many are still not there.

This is the reality, but newcomers can still have a tough time with it. They come out of school or the digital environment with a good knowledge of what needs to be done, but not with a full understanding of how to best implement their ideas within the realities of the newsroom culture itself. If organisations want to accelerate the pace of digital transformation, helping these new ideas emerge and thrive is essential.

This process can begin even before someone enters the newsroom. The Journalism Innovation and Leadership (JIL) Programme at the University of Central Lancashire (UCLan), for example, has invited senior executives at leading media companies to mentor graduate students to better prepare them for a future in the news industry. I am honoured to have been asked to join this team. Newsroom veterans can give back to the business by helping prepare the new generation for the realities of newsrooms even before they leave school.

And they need to be prepared. Too many newsrooms have difficulty attracting the most competent digital talent who don’t see legacy media as an exciting career choice. And when they succeed at attracting good personnel, they often soon leave because they are underequipped to navigate the legacy culture of the organisation.

In the digital environment, news media is but one sector competing with many others for the best people. Therefore, it is essential for the industry to attract the best minds by helping them understand the realities: The challenges are engaging, the successes are satisfying, and, most importantly, the news business isn’t like other businesses. Its mission is nothing less than providing an essential foundation of our democratic societies, which deserves the best thinkers to stick with it.

About Dr. Dietmar Schantin

By continuing to browse or by clicking “ACCEPT,” you agree to the storing of cookies on your device to enhance your site experience. To learn more about how we use cookies, please see our privacy policy.