On the Newsroom Change Agent, or How the Squeaky Wheel Avoids the Oil...

A “six degrees of separation” database, nwsmkr will combine a journalist’s curated notes with public contributions & social APIs to visualize connections and distinctions between public figures, providing a new storytelling method for news organizations.

 


Last week at lunch, my cousin and I were talking about how as a kid she would head into the yard and kick around a playground ball for hours at a time.

Thinking about our conversation now, I see clear parallels to the Mozilla-Knight Journalism Learning Lab lectures this week conducted by:

And I see similarities to my own experience of trying to be an agent of change in the newsroom of a daily newspaper, but I also see some clear differences.

For three years I did my best to champion a newsroom culture of digital-first and managed major projects that led significant changes in terms of how work was done and who did the work. Looking back, I can see that as each project grew in scope, ambition and number of people affected, so did I.

Looking back, I can see that as each project grew in scope, ambition and number of people affected, so did I. So I can’t think about how nwsmkr will need newsroom collaboration without considering how I will help create that collaborative environment. Because I’ve done it, and if I hadn’t, I wouldn’t be here, pitching myself and nwsmkr to all of you.

When I think about bringing nwsmkr into a newsroom, the challenges seem similar to those I’ve worked through before. Newsroom changes won’t be significant, though there will be some.

To see nwsmkr reach its potential will require input and suggestions from staff, and that’s where having an open, collaborative environment makes all the difference. And you know the best way to build that environment?

By kicking the ball around the yard.

Building and honing these skills helps an individual to be in a position to make things happen, but also helps them to recognize opportunities for newsroom collaboration are all around, even if, as Al Jazeera’s Nanabhay said:

“Journalists are focused on getting the news out now and not always thinking about how they can use a new tool or technology…”

Me, I’d rather teach others new skills than get hung up on what some might call the ”technological limitations of journalists.” It’s an excuse and it’s ignoring the fact that every newsroom is filled with varying skill sets and degrees of expertise, filled with specialized knowledge, filled with people who each day learn about something and convey that knowledge to another person.

  • Like these guys.
  •  

     

  • Copy editors who know you can’t write “125 people were evacuated.”
  •  

     

  • Methodical documentarians who’ll tell you the old way of doing “X” took 68 mouse clicks and the new way takes 89 mouse clicks.
  • There’s the not-sure-what-to-make-of-this editor who in the past 25 years has been through five editorial front-end-systems, three pagination applications, two website content management systems and 457 memos about the changing nature of the industry and has trouble with email, but will give you honest feedback about what is possible and not possible.

Being a newsroom champion isn’t about making anyone fit your needs. It’s about joining them on the walk, learning their needs and learning how you can help. It means acting with adoration for the middle of the pack, loving the insights gleaned from the late-adopters and giving thanks to the early adopters who buy in from the start…

 

… Whether with a cheesy promo video …

[[posterous-content:cdyDjCignicBvnCCbDqv]]

 

… Or wireframes …

 

… Or a longer, more detailed overview of a project …

[[posterous-content:vADbqIogCauEBtopghIo]]

… Or an implementation plan…

 

Links mentioned in the video

Comments