In Innovation on May 28, 2015 at 4:56 pm
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. …
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In Ideas on September 11, 2014 at 10:01 pm
In this week’s New Yorker magazine, writer Ferris Jabr notes something I’ve always known but never said or written: Walking helps your writing. And maybe it’s not just true of walking; perhaps other forms or exercise work as well.
This isn’t just Clay Lambert nonsense or piffle dependent upon anecdotal evidence. Jabr points to scientific research that notes subjects think more creatively – even break loose new metaphors for writing projects – during a good walk.
The reasons are several and start with chemical changes in your brain. Exercise increases blood flow and that necessarily makes you more alive. There is evidence that where you walk matters. Perhaps that is because walking somewhere pastoral allows your mind to wander whereas a stroll through the city requires a certain level of concentration on the task at hand. Getting up from behind the desk is a signal to your brain that you are free to think and don’t have to be productive at the moment. Walking is a state of relaxation.
I would be lying if I said I methodically walk as a means to improve creativity in my writing. But I do walk quite a bit, and I know that I’m sometimes almost overwhelmed with creative thoughts, ideas for stories, plans for the future and more when I’m strolling around my neighborhood. I very often get up and take a short walk through Half Moon Bay when I’m feeling stuck at work. Trust me: It is 10 minutes well spent. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Books on May 22, 2014 at 3:12 pm
Have you ever noticed that some things look the same regardless of vantage? A small branch from a tree, held in a certain way, looks itself like a tree. A coastline looks like a coastline whether seen from the beach or outer space.
Those examples come from Ed Catmull’s book, “Creativity, Inc.” and are used to describe a mathematical principle known as stochastic self-similarity.
I know, right? When is the last time Clay Lambert pretended to understand a concept rooted in math? But this one I think I get and it relates to the way we all deal with stressors in our lives.
The book was recommended by Wick Communications CEO Tom Yunt, who has made it a point to pass along interesting management tracts and I’m grateful for material I wouldn’t normally crack. Catmull, the author, is the co-founder of Pixar Animation Studios. He has a Ph.D in computer science and a world of experience working with creative people.
In the midst of a discussion of randomness and dealing with the unexpected, Catmull throws in couple pages on stochastic self-similarity. (Actually, the passage occurs in the exact middle of the text. How random is that?) He uses the concept to make a point about the problems we all experience. Some of them are small: You can’t find that letter to the editor, a reporter calls in sick, you spill coffee on your keyboard. Others are bigger: A reporter substituted the name of a local teacher for someone accused of a crime, your photographer quits, the newspaper’s biggest advertiser goes belly up. Then there are terrible life events: A death in the family, your child hospitalized, a fire sweeps through your home. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Deadlines on May 22, 2014 at 2:56 pm
Do you work better on deadlines? I do, and I suspect that is one of the things that drew me to this business. Instinctively, I think I knew that journalism was a good place for a slightly scattered, hard working, nosy guy who didn’t always study until the all-nighter the day before the big test.
I’m in pretty good company. Take Duke Ellington. He was unquestionably one of America’s greatest composers and one of the most prolific, too. In his memoir, Music is my Mistress, Ellington wrote about his own working style. He said he didn’t long for free time in which to fold note after note into masterpieces like “Black, Brown and Biege.”
“I don’t need time,” he wrote. “What I need is a deadline.”
Deadlines have a way of focusing attention. I know I feel a sense of urgency, a physical thing, that can be either debilitating or exhilarating, depending on my surroundings and my support. Reining in that feeling is a delicate thing. So how do you make things happen on deadline without locking up like a dear in the headlights?
Keep perspective. No one ever actually died from missing a newspaper deadline. At least not that I know of. It’s important to hit deadlines; missing them is not the end of the world. Overplay the importance of a few moments and you run the risk of letting the moment overwhelm you.
Ask for help. No man is an island, particularly on deadline. Marshal your forces. Make sure everyone has an achievable goal. Work together and not at odds with one another. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ideas on November 7, 2013 at 4:33 pm
The reason newspapers are boring is a) Fear that anything out of the ordinary will upset the bosses, and b) an imagination failure. Let’s tackle the last problem first.
Look, newspapers, some of them, come out every darn day. After about 10,000 deadlines, new ideas can feel like a distant shore. It’s so much easier to do election results, football gamers, street festivals the way you’ve always done them.
So, want some ideas? I have a few. You don’t have to take any of them, but please let them wash over you and serve as kindling for your own creative fires. If you don’t like these, think up something new for yourself.
- Buy five disposable cameras and give them to amateurs. Give one to a high school senior who is interested in photography. Give one to a kindergartener just for the heck of it. Hand one to a grandmother on a day trip with the senior center. Or give them all to band members who are going to the nationally televised Thanksgiving parade. Turn the results into a feature spread. Include a sidebar from a photo pro with tips on how the amateurs might do better next time. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Ideas on November 7, 2013 at 4:26 pm
Do you like Dave Barry? Please don’t say no, because that would hurt my feelings. If you don’t know, he was the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist for the Miami Herald. He belongs in some kind of hall of fame for this column alone.
By definition, one who makes you laugh is not boring. If you have ink on your newspaper that causes people to guffaw and hand the thing over to someone sitting nearby, well, then you have an antidote to many of our industry’s problems.
Not long ago, I read an interview with Barry on a website called “Newspaper Death Watch.” Barry was bemoaning the state of things and hit on what I think we can all agree is a big problem: boring newspapers. Here’s how Dave tells it:
Newspapers have had a consistent problem over the past 30 to 40 years that whenever they are offered two options, they always pick the one that is more boring and less desirable to readers. …
I think he is alluding to our tendency to seek the relative safety of the very middle of the road. We do this for a good (or at least ostensibly good) reason: We think fairness dictates it. We can’t run that great high school football photo six columns wide because, gosh, what about the other high school games that day? We can’t run a front-page editorial because, well, it just isn’t done. We can’t tell what we really think of that local hamburger in our review of the joint because, darn it, the owner of the store is such a nice guy. … Read the rest of this entry »
In Innovation on March 15, 2013 at 9:18 am
Compare these equations:
5+5 = ?
?+? = 10
They add up the same. The first one prescribes a single answer. The second one, however, has an infinite set of possibilities.
“This is profound because the way you ask the question determines the answers you’ll get. The answer is usually baked into the question,” said Tina Seelig, a professor at Stanford’s famed Design School during a presentation on creativity recently. (I pulled the quote and other stuff from the Stanford Journalism Department’s Peninsula Press.)
So, what does this have to do with you? Well, Seelig says this kind of rethinking of old problems is the key to unlocking your creativity. We could all be more creative.
I confess that for my entire career I have thought of writing most news stories as a matter of putting together the puzzle pieces. I even use that terminology sometimes. Seelig says I have it exactly wrong.
“True innovators, true entrepreneurs, really creative people are not puzzle solvers,” Seelig said in her lecture. “They are quilt makers. They basically leverage all the resources they have and put them together to come up with something that’s actually much more interesting and much better.”
Incidentally, Seelig identified six creative inputs: Imagination, attitude, and knowledge, which are all internal things, and outside influences including culture, resources and habitat. … Read the rest of this entry »