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Jan. 4, 2017, 10:15 a.m.
Reporting & Production
LINK:  ➚   |   Posted by: Shan Wang   |   January 4, 2017

What do you wish you knew on your first day stepping into a new newsroom? What guidelines do you wish you had left for your successors at your old newsroom?

Many newsrooms don’t have any formal systems in place for passing on the ins-and-outs of a big project to newcomers, mostly because, well, journalists are busy people. The haphazard transfer of institutional memory leads at best to some lost time and duplicated efforts, and at worst errors or dead end projects.

It’s not too late to start in 2017: Now you can piggyback off some of the research done by Sandhya Kambhampati, a Knight-Mozilla Open News fellow who spent part of her fellowship year sourcing best practices for on-boarding new employees. For her guide, Kambhampati relied on data gathered from a 247 survey responses and 101 individual interviews with respondents. Newsrooms large and small from broadcast to digital-only to print participated (though the majority of responses came from large newsrooms).

Eighty-six percent of survey respondents said their newsrooms had no on-boarding or off-boarding processes, Kambhampati found, and those who reported having no formal guidelines available said having some sort of process in place would be “a huge step forward.” Kambhampati also acknowledges that the pace of news often doesn’t allow much time for extra note-taking, so instilling a culture of documentation from the start is helpful: “There should be buy-in from higher-up editors who enforce taking some time to actually document work. Leadership in documentation among teams is really important as well.”

Challenges and learnings are broken down by small, medium, and large-sized newsrooms, with checklists for onboarding (and off-boarding) that any newsroom can fork from GitHub. (Some organizations do a particularly good job already: You can read other writing on their processes here.)

For instance, a sample of the on-boarding checklist for small newsrooms:

☐ Explanation of who is in the newsroom, what they do, a little bit about them, where they are based if they are remote. Include pictures of people so you can easily identify them. You may also add a note near key people for the position

☐ Expectations for the job (what the previous person did and/or what the newsroom expects the person to work on. Examples include annual projects, attending certain meetings)

☐ Order of how stories and/or pitches get filed and how they go through the editing process (ex: points of contact, timeline for stories)

☐ How to use the CMS and other software in the newsroom (there would be documents with screenshots explaining what different buttons in the CMS or software are)

☐ List of logins for social media, version control, servers and how to activate certain accounts (ex: PGP, set up email)

☐ Include a glossary of common terms used in the newsroom or on the job in a document (for example if there is a list of acronyms for organizations that reporters on this beat usually contact or sources will often refer to)

☐ Have a mentor on the team or in the newsroom (ideally this person would walk you through what the previous person worked on and be there for any questions)

☐ Timeline of ongoing topics on the beat (for example: a calendar of notable events on the beat or data releases)

☐ General notes/documentation on security in the newsroom (PGP, VPN, file sharing)

☐ Read through common contacts (ideally this would include times when they are good to contact, if they prefer email vs. phone, etc.)

The full research was published last month and is available in full here.

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