Crosstown Digital Communications

A Newsroom Without the Drama

New York Times newsroom, ca. 1942

Lately, everyone is talking about Aaron Sorkin’s new HBO drama, “The Newsroom,” where an anchor goes rogue and dares to, you know, report the news. I don’t get HBO, but I did have a chance to watch the pilot in my hotel room recently, and I know that if I did have HBO, I’d be hopelessly hooked. I wouldn’t even be writing this—I’d be off reading episode recaps and character analyses. (Good thing I don’t have HBO, huh? Sigh.)

See, when people ask me about my professional history, I have to be honest and admit that, as much as I love higher ed, my biggest career thrill was working in the newsroom of The Boston Globe. It’s a thrill I don’t think higher ed could ever top, if only because breaking news is an adrenaline rush like no other. (I wrote about it a little bit in this LINK article about being an ex-journalist in higher ed.)

My career has taken a few twists and turns since my days at the Globe, but I still find myself in the business of dealing with newsrooms—of a slightly different sort, of course. Organizations, in higher ed and beyond, are realizing that they can be their own publishers. They can own their stories and communicate them to the proper audiences in the most appropriate manner. Hooray! This is great!

But it’s also work. It takes a whole heck of a lot of process and protocol to make those stories shine, and a lot of that is work that the audience never sees or even knows about. The best newsrooms, in fact, are silent, invisible machines that churn our all sorts of relevant, targeted content without revealing their inner workings.

I learned a lot about this at the Globe, but also during my time at Tufts, where
I had a hand in multiple news efforts—including the university’s new integrated news site, Tufts Now, which was more of an exercise in editorial problem solving than it was a mere website.

A lot of people ask me about Tufts Now and say many nice things about it. “Great online newsroom!” And while I love hearing people say this, because I’m very proud of what our team accomplished, it compels me to clarify something:

A newsroom is not a website.

A newsroom does not end in .edu or begin with www.

Newsrooms are silent, invisible machines. Your news website is what that machine, all gears spinning and pistons churning, churns out.

A news website like Tufts Now may look great, but it’s like an iceberg—the true heft of it, warts and all, is hidden below the surface. Buried deep in that icy mass are the real successes—and the real challenges—that no one ever sees.

If you look beneath the surface and chip at the ice a little bit, what you’ll find is that a newsroom consists of calendars, editorial workflows, messaging priorities, incredible stories (of course), epic whiteboard sessions, CMS customization, usability testing and surveys, social media, community management—and much, much more.

But above all, a newsroom is people. You can have the best stories at your fingertips, and the most advanced equipment and technology at your beck and call, but if your people aren’t invested in either the value of telling those stories or the best process by which to tell them, all you’ve got is a machine that makes a lot of noise but creates nothing of lasting value.

I am extremely fortunate to have two opportunities this fall to talk about how to create these silent, effective story machines. One will be on Sept. 27 as a speaker at the inaugural Content Strategy Summit, an online event organized by Environments for Humans. Alongside incredible speakers such as Relly Annett-Baker, Margot Bloomstein, Karen McGrane, Melissa Rach, Ginny Redish, I am going to talk about content strategy for online news organizations. There are many unique content strategy considerations for organizations that find themselves publishing news content, and I hope to share some insight on a few of them. (Psst! You can get 20 percent off of this incredible lineup by using the code 20GEORGY when you register.)

In addition, I am presenting a post-conference workshop at HighEdWeb on creating an effective online newsroom. That’s going to be a fun, hands-on opportunity to learn what makes a higher ed newsroom work, diving into many of the same ideas I’ll share in my CS Summit presentation and that I’ve shared with many audiences and clients over the past year-plus. I’m really looking forward to that. (Psst! You can still sign up! And early bird registration for HighEdWeb is available until July 31.)

When I first spoke about this topic at HighEdWeb last year, my talk had a “Newsies” theme, and I feel that it’s appropriate to invoke the film (not the musical) again here. Because, like Davey says, “Headlines don’t sell papes. Newsies sell papes.” The stories don’t tell themselves. It’s up to us to tell them. So let’s figure out how best to get that done.

Photo by vitike/Flickr Creative Commons

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