‘Innovation is everyone’s job’: How to build a listening culture in your newsroom

Newsroom leaders discuss how they encourage ideas and discussion in their organisations.

by WAN-IFRA External Contributor | June 7, 2019

Every publisher aims to drive innovation within its workforce, experimenting faster than the competition to stay ahead of the curve online.

But within a thriving newsroom, full of staff hustling away on their next feature, investigation or project, ideas and innovation are bubbling up below the surface – which can be difficult for managers and editors to extract on a regular basis.

Some reporters may feel unable to voice their opinions, while others may not know who to talk to.

So what steps can team leaders take to ensure their staff feel heard and appreciated? After all, listening can be an important precursor to action, and can trigger a positive culture change needed to drive innovation within a news organisation.

“We found that no one would offer their perspective on issues in front of a crowd,” said Gordon Edall, Director of Globe Labs, The Globe and Mail in Canada, speaking at the 71st World News Media Congress this week.

“They would leave the meeting, go back to their desk and talk about it then – that’s where you get all the constructive discussion.”

Edall explained that he makes an effort to go to team meetings of smaller than 12 people, aiming to start a dialogue with project managers and staff in order to find out people’s opinions and ideas within the company.

“It makes my day when somebody says ‘wouldn’t it be great if?’ – when someone knows you want to hear their input, more and more people speak up,” he said.

“We want to encourage new ideas, listen to our staff and minimise any frustration in any way.

“I don’t have innovation in my title, because innovation is everyone’s job.”

The Globe and Mail are aiming to formally train staff in innovation, teaching how to identify problems and solve problems. They use an open-source programme called Adobe Kickbox, designed to help employees become more innovative.

“You walk in a room for two days of innovation training. We teach you how to know the difference between a good idea and a bad idea,” Edall said.

“You get a beautiful red box with a selection of things in it – a coffee card, chocolate bar and most importantly, a credit card with $1,000.

“It’s never to be explained to me – I give it in good faith for people to use when we teach them how to do dummy product launches using Google Ad Words, and qualitative research to structure a project.”

Edall explained that this energised and motivated people to work with them and bring more ideas forward, be listened to and know that they’ll be heard.

James Down, Chief Strategy Officer, Guardian News & Media, agreed that listening to the undercurrent of ideas within a newsroom is key for innovation – and understanding the thought processes of your team.

“It’s important to have that shared language. Where we got this right was when we embedded innovation agents in the newsroom to understand what it is to edit, commission and write a story – be a journalist today,” he said.

“It is a process of going desk-by-desk, listening, influencing, taking part in the conversations that are happening.”

Kim Bode, Product Manager, Newsletters and Messaging, Los Angeles Times, believes community building and engagement should be front and centre of her work.

“For me, it is very important to have one-on-one meetings because even in a small group of six to eight people, not everyone gets to talk,” she said.

“I always ask people who else I should be talking to, asking enough questions till I understand thoroughly what’s going on, and databasing our conversations and the ideas within them.”

Being responsive, accessible and present is key to igniting that internal fire within your publisher’s staff, the panel suggested. Just as news organisations are becoming increasingly open to audience suggestions and ideas, so should editors and team leaders if they are to drive a culture of innovation within the newsroom.

By Caroline Scott

WAN-IFRA External Contributor

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