Transformation project to help legacy newsrooms with digital transition – Knight Foundation

Transformation project to help legacy newsrooms with digital transition

Arlene Notoro Morgan is the assistant dean for external affairs at Temple University’s School of Media and Communication. Today Knight Foundation is announcing $1.3 million in support for Temple University to develop a digital transformation project inside legacy newsrooms. Photo credit: Wasim Muklashy on Flickr.

If you have spent any time in a journalism classroom, it’s obvious that today’s students don’t read newspapers or consume TV news the way their parents did. They are getting their news from Twitter, Facebook and other social media, mostly on their phones.

So when I was approached about working again with Doug Smith, executive director of the Punch Sulzberger Leadership Program that I started at the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism, I was ecstatic about how this could have a twofold impact on a changing profession and journalism education.

Smith is a noted management consultant, lawyer, innovator and author of a number of books on organizational change, including “The Wisdom of Teams,”  “Make Success Measurable” and “Taking Charge of Change.” In the Sulzberger program, he worked with dozens of news organizations over the past eight years as they grappled with how digital and technological innovations were battering their once stable industry. His concepts, based on why having “values” is critical to “value,” routinely generated a 90 percent success rate for those in the program.

But those projects were discreet and limited. The program Temple University is launching with Knight Foundation is more far-reaching. It aims to help four metropolitan news organizations – the Philadelphia Media Network, The Dallas Morning News and the Miami Herald (a fourth selection is pending)transform their workflows and their cultures to become truly digitally focused.

This is beyond exciting. It is, to my mind, critical at this juncture in an evolving industry.  I wanted to be a part of it. Thanks to the leadership of Temple School of Media and Communication Dean David Boardman, the former editor of The Seattle Times, the school agreed to work from the beginning with Knight Foundation and Smith on his proposal.

Working with Smith and a team that includes Quentin Hope, a Sulzberger consultant, and the American Press Institute, headed by Tom Rosenstiel, we hope to unlock the obstacles – aside from financial – that are hampering newspapers from developing a framework that can look to a future without newsprint.

When I describe that “paperless” goal to people of a certain age, they cannot imagine a time when “paper” will not be the major conduit for news and information. But say that to my 12-year-old granddaughter, whose phone seems to be glued to her hand, and she just shrugs. Sure, strong storytelling is still at the heart of the craft. But it’s clear in my household and in the classes I have taught that strong writing and traditional reporting skills aren’t enough to lure and sustain a visual audience.     

Rather than cry over what’s being lost, Smith has designed a project that will use these four legacy newsrooms to come up with a template for change that other news organizations can embrace.

Ultimately, this project should enable us to determine what works and what doesn’t, providing the solid research that defines and publicly documents what’s required to compete in today’s social, mobile and digital world in terms of technology functionality, key workflows, and key roles and skills. 

These newsrooms will work with a variety of experts to experiment with digital processes on producing news and information. At the same time, the Temple team will record and analyze these findings for publication on the project’s website as well as in news media journal reports.

The ultimate goal will be to produce a major best practices report on digital transformation taking place inside the four legacy newsrooms along with templates for change that other newsrooms can adopt. In addition, Temple will work with project leaders to produce innovative curriculum and case studies along with a robust series of online tools, templates, methodologies and other materials, such as self-assessment tools other newsrooms can use.

What’s exciting for me is that Knight has made dissemination of the project’s findings a key outcome of this grant. To this end, Temple will be in the forefront to make this project a life force of change for both the industry and journalism education.

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