This week the American Press Institute released a report calling for human-centered design in newsrooms, and for those newsrooms to give a lot more thought to the structures and processes that form the basis for newsroom culture. The implication is that the resulting culture will impact everything we do and whether we are adaptive enough to survive in a digital age. It released a simultaneous sort of nuts-and-bolts set of guidelines for managers to follow and it’s written by a really innovative journalist named Craig Silverman.
There is a ton of information in these reports and it’s hard to synthesize and do justice to the project. Some of it will look awfully familiar to anyone who remembers API’s Newspaper Next project a decade ago. Apparently, we didn’t all climb aboard that train and now we need to catch up at the next station.
At its core, the project is about creating a cooperative culture that acknowledges our business is evolving rapidly and our survival depends on our response to that call for change. There are many impediments to creating that positive culture – in our newsrooms and in our company generally – and often they come down to a human tendency to cling to the familiar.
Take an example. Think about the way you write up crime news. There is a process. Maybe you call the PIO or check the jail log or look for press releases or read the sheriff’s reports. Have you been doing it that way for a long time? Might there be a better way now that we are in the digital age? Here’s a paragraph from the API report:
Any one process, viewed in isolation, appears to be just a mundane part of getting the day’s work done. But these simple routines that occupy daily life easily evolve into rituals that define it. With time they take on tradition and significance (“that’s the way we do things around here”). We are what we repeatedly do. …
Simple routines that evolve into rituals that define your work. Sound familiar? I can tell you there is no phrase that will frustrate Wick management any more than “that’s the way we’ve always done it.” Now is not then and we can’t continue to publish the way we’ve always done it.
I want to make one comment about the word, “culture.” In Silicon Valley, the word is sometimes used as code that enables discrimination. Too often a room full of 20-something white guys have said, “Well, we just didn’t think Sandra would fit into our culture…” Don’t mistake the concept to mean “people just like us.”
The report is really, really interesting. It’s long. Take your time. Read a bit here and there. And tell me what you think.