Lessons from the front lines of newsroom change

By Peter Bale


New Zealand and the U.K.


Dear newsroom colleagues: In this edition of the INMA Newsroom Initiative newsletter, well start a thread on lessons from the mistakes some of our expert speakers have been kind enough to admit, an approach I think may offer you a moment for reflection and some ideas you find helpful.

We also look at yet another concerning report on trust in media and whether it may be eroded by an innovative scheme for public support for journalism. Theres a preview of the Newsroom Initiative session in the INMA World Congress on May 24, as well as my recommendations on reading and insights.

As always, Id value your feedback to peter.bale@inma.org.

Lessons from newsroom leaders

In the launch master class for the News Initiative, I asked a few of the speakers to talk about their biggest mistakes as leaders in the newsroom. It’s a simple idea but can shine a light on the scale of change in the industry and highlights again the importance of culture. 

Moving too quickly and saying "yes" too often are lessons learned from two media executives shared at a recent INMA master class.
Moving too quickly and saying "yes" too often are lessons learned from two media executives shared at a recent INMA master class.

Espen Egil Hansen, the founder of the Fyrr media consultancy in Norway and a former editor-in-chief and CEO of Aftenposten, offered insights into the way he had sometimes tried to drive change faster than was realistic.

“I have a long, long list of mistakes, but I think it has often been about doing things too quickly,” Espen explained. “Moves that in themselves have been right, but I sometimes did not acknowledge that these changes can leave problems — for example going to digital-first production. So, we have done print first for 100 years and then from one week to another we say, ‘No, we will produce for digital and we will edit and fix for print.’ That is the right direction, but I think one of the mistakes I did was just to push it too hard and not to listen to people (about) the problems that were still there.”

His insight was not just to listen more but to put systems in place to ensure expertise is heard and that problems triggered by a bigger change can be surfaced and dealt with.

Hannah Storm, founder of the Headlines Network mental health resources service for journalists, offered a personal and salutary lesson in a session where all the newsroom leaders had talked about their increased awareness of fatigue and stress among staff.

Simply: “Saying ‘yes’ too much and not saying ‘no’ enough and believing I could do it all without help from people.” 

I will extract more of these lessons in future newsletters. The idea of talking openly about mistakes and lessons in newsroom leadership came originally, to me at least, from Madhav Chinnappa, the director of news ecosystem development at Google in London.

Trust in media may be eroded by government support in New Zealand 

The latest trust in news report by the Auckland University of Technology Journalism, Media, and Democracy center showed a fall in trust in New Zealand media, anecdotally driven in part by a new programme intended to support public interest journalism but which may have had the unintended consequence of making media seem less independent. 

New research shows trust in media is falling.
New research shows trust in media is falling.

Trust in media fell to 45% in 2022 from 53% in 2020 in the survey, which is conducted on a comparable basis to the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism Trust in News Project and showed a global fall to 50% from 56%. 

“The general trust in the government has declined, and we now have funding of the news by the government, so a lot of people perceive that the media is in the government’s pocket,” said one of the AUT JMAD study co-authors Dr. Merja Myllylahti, referring to the Public Interest Journalism Fund. The fund is a NZ$75 million two-year programme under which media owners bid for support for specific projects, many of them addressing under-served audiences such as the indigenous Maori population. (Dr Myllylahti is a regular contributor to INMA’s Media Research Blog.)

The report also found that misinformation and disinformation, circulated widely during the pandemic, had contributed to the erosion of trust in the media.

I have an interest to declare: I consulted to New Zealand On Air to help prepare the Public Interest Journalism Fund in 2020. At that time, it was a response to crisis in media from the impact on advertising as the pandemic hit and several publishers faced collapse.

The JMAD report coincided with the latest Edelman Trust Barometer, which, for the media sector at least, showed an ongoing correlation between sliding trust in government and media, a general collapse of trust in democracies, and deep fears of fake news.

Dates for the diary: INMA World Congress, May 5-26

We’re looking forward to the Newsroom Initiative Day on May 24 during the INMA World Congress, which again is virtual this year. The first two confirmed speakers offer fascinating and different perspectives on building modern digital media businesses. You can see the growing agenda here.

The INMA World Congress of News Media starts on May 5, with Newsroom Initiative Day planned for May 24.
The INMA World Congress of News Media starts on May 5, with Newsroom Initiative Day planned for May 24.

Anna Åberg, the managing editor of Sweden’s Dagens Nyhetter, has a great story to tell on how her newsrooms handled the isolation of the pandemic only to emerge stronger and, she says, in a much better position to take on the impact of the Ukraine crisis. The newsroom is more cohesive, better aligned to goals, and overall more effective, she says.

I suspect her session in the World Congress will really bring together some of the themes and insights around culture in the newsroom that underpin the Newsroom Initiative and also became a big topic in the launch master class last month. 

Faisal J. Abbas, editor-in-chief of Saudi Arabia’s Arab News, is a leader in Middle East media and the embodiment of an emerging generation of journalists who are creating new international brands that reach into markets far outside the region.

Faisal has led a revolution at Arab News to relaunch a slick digital operation as well as new editions in Pakistan, France, and Japan. He’ll talk about what it took to create the new Arab News and what the ambitions are for this important voice from Saudi Arabia. 

Go here for the World Congress of News Media programme.

I will update you as soon as other speakers confirm and let me know if there is someone you’re keen to hear from or if you want me to ask specific questions of our guest speakers in the question-and-answer sections of the virtual sessions on May 24.

Recommended reads — and listens 

  • Headlines Network is a journalism mental health group I mentioned in the last newsletter, run by Hannah Storm. She spoke in our recent master class, runs a podcast, and had this interview with BBC correspondent Clive Myrie on why he found himself crying in a recent Ukraine report. The Independent reported on it, too.
  • Richard Gingras, the long-time head of Google News and something of a veteran of journalism innovation, used a speech to the International Symposium of Online Journalists at the Austin, Texas, j-school to talk about the history of the powerful demanding a voice in media in a history-and-future-of-news tour of the horizon.
  • Elon Musk’s swoop to become the biggest single shareholder in Twitter Inc. coincided with unsubtle Tweets about freedom of speech, and, according to this analysis from Poynter, presages potentially huge changes on journalists’ favourite platform.

Recommended follows

Talk back

Tell me what you want to read and what you like or dont like in this newsletter, please. Email: peter.bale@inma.org.

About this newsletter

Today’s newsletter is written by Peter Bale, based in New Zealand and the U.K. and lead for the INMA Newsletter Initiative. Peter will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global newsrooms.

This newsletter is a public face of the Newsroom Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Peter at peter.bale@inma.org or newsroom@inma.org with thoughts, suggestions, and questions.

About Peter Bale

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