This is what innovation in news looks like today

I started down the path of innovation in news more than 20 years ago, when innovation looked like shooting a video for a newspaper website and encoding it in six different versions: high and low bandwidth and different files for Quicktime, Windows Media Player, and Real Audio Player. If you’re old enough to remember those days, you’re likely chuckling and shaking your head right now.

You know all the digital disruptions and new platforms that have impacted the news business since 2000 so I won’t try to list them here. In 2022, however, innovation looks different. It means finding a way to solve the staffing and culture problem in newsrooms of all sizes and types. This is not just a newsroom crisis, of course. The Great Resignation has impacted everyone. But I work in local news, now as a consultant, and the most pressing innovation I see needed today is keeping and attracting the humans that make the organization go.

I’ve heard some dire stories. And I know there are many more out there. If local newspapers, TV stations, and startups can’t provide a healthy culture where people feel engaged and included, with relative amounts of autonomy and flexibility, there won’t be anyone left to cover, report, and produce the news. Or sell the ads to pay the paychecks. After waves of staff reductions in recent years and “doing more with less,” the strain of short-staffing as quality journalists leave the business every day has become the most mission-critical problem to solve.

I’ve been so consumed with work-life balance ideas and research since 2020 that I wrote a book about it called The Butterfly Impact. I interviewed more than 100 people, from across an array of industries, to find the best approaches to solving this challenge. I have leveraged that research into my consulting work, helping news companies bring more workplace wellness to their teams with the goal of, frankly, saving the business.

During my career, I’ve had the unfortunate experience of being in several meetings to decide which employees to lay off after a directive from “corporate” to trim payroll expenses and headcount. Today’s challenge is different, even more daunting. The open positions driving increased staff burnout is a vicious cycle that won’t end until leaders commit to solving the culture and workplace wellness issues. How? Here are some ideas to get started:

  1. Make it a long-term project. Think 12 months at least. You’re building the new culture of your organization for the next 3-5 years. Not applying a Band-Aid on a paper cut.
  2. Ask and listen. Find a way to learn what is most critical among the employees by asking them.
  3. Prioritize the issues. Then appoint a small team (task force? tiger team?) to attack them with recommendations to senior leadership.

If done right, this can become a recruiting tool as well as a retaining tool. Culture means winning in 2022. And this is what innovation in news looks like today.

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