As we hurtle into the transformative era of AI, editors face fresh challenges to the way they lead their newsrooms. Do you have the skills to change traditional hierarchy and the way you and your staff operate so that the audience and data-led processes guide what you do? A new workshop may help, says Jeremy Clifford
With most publishers still struggling to find a sustainable revenue model based on the quality of their content through digital transformation, AI is hurling a huge spanner in the progress they thought they were making. We have been guilty of failing to understand how to adapt to the digital age and have moved far too lethargically to embrace the innovative thinking that this requires – weighed down by the belief that we need to protect print for as long as we can.
And so, in my opinion, newsrooms are in danger of making the same mistake they made in failing to properly understand the structural and leadership changes they needed for digital, as we approach the AI era.
Alan Hunter, a renowned adviser in newsroom transformation, and myself, with more than 30 years experience in media – 15 of those spent helping publishers respond to digital challenges – were inspired to create a programme to tackle the leadership challenges a modern editor now faces.
Let’s start with leadership skills
To be a successful modern-day editor in the digital and AI age, your skillset needs to be far broader and maybe not so in depth. Newsroom leaders must accept they should build a team around them who knows more than they do – and to welcome the challenge that has. This is where depth of knowledge lies. And to that point, hierarchy is out of date. The organisational structure has to encourage free expression of voices, opinions and the development of expertise.
Gone are the days when the voice of the editor is final and always right. So the editor in the digital age has to enable voices to be expressed and listened to, from the most junior people in the newsroom – as these are likely to have the most up-to-date knowledge. How does a newsroom leader build that team? What are the leadership skills they need today? And how do you manage in a hybrid newsroom and still spot all the nuances that you would ordinarily see in front of you in a newsroom?
What about the shape of your newsroom?
The modern editor needs to accept they will not be the expert in all fields. So how should you build a newsroom structure that reflects this? Too often a newsroom reorganisation starts with structure, departments and how many people should fit into each team. This is an outdated approach based on the need to deliver cost savings.
The newsroom structure must be built around the audience you are trying to reach and the products you are going to use to distribute your content to them. Only once you have a laser-view based on insightful and actionable data, can you start to begin thinking about the skills you need to build in your teams and what those teams should comprise. Our course will help you to identify a content strategy based on audience data, and a product strategy to maximise the performance of the content, before moving into discussing what the correct structure is.
The importance of data
We are fast moving into what can be described as Digital News 3.0. Digital 1.0 was when news organisations shifted their print content straight to digital, hoping that advertising would make it pay. Digital News 2.0 saw more attention paid to digital storytelling, social media and formats such as video and audio, alongside the growth in monetisation through subscriptions. Now we are looking at Digital News 3.0 where the embrace of data will bring about a much more complex form of user- and needs-based journalism, tailored initially to much more clearly defined audiences, and then to individuals.
Data analysis must become their friend. Often data analysts are not able to get through the door of editorial because of a cynicism about the performance of the content the journalists have produced. Data is the electricity that powers the newsroom vehicle – and becoming comfortable with that and knowing how to get the most actionable insight from the data is key to a newsroom’s success. The Editor in the Digital Age programme Alan and I have put together will go far deeper into these areas and others. (The programme was scheduled for 16-18 October in London.)
(By special arrangement with WAN-IFRA. The writer is a digital consultant in the UK and a member of the WAN-IFRA Expert Panel. He has more than 30 years’ experience working in media, leading digital change in newsrooms and managing the complex transition from print to digital reader-revenue access models. He is the co-founder of The AI Collective – a training and consultancy partnership – helping newsrooms to understand how to integrate Artificial Intelligence into their workflows.)