20200
P
1
20100
R  E
2
2070
D   I   C
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2050
T   I   O   N
4
2040
S   F   O   R   J
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2030
O  U  R  N  A  L
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2020
I  S  M  2  0  2  0
7

Leadership isn’t something you learn on the job

“Newsrooms will need to find future leadership replacements collectively across the field and give those individuals training, resources, and support now — not later.”

Twenty years ago, digital journalists still needed to prove their relevance to the field of journalism. Some of their colleagues asked if the internet was here to stay. Not only did it stay, it transformed journalism. With more than 7,800 media jobs lost just this year, it’s now the journalism field that must prove its relevance — this time, to the community. Many people are already asking if journalism is here to stay.

Digital news is here to stay, and I predict it will become even more essential in helping communities navigate a complex and fast-paced future. But that future requires a shift in our priorities.

With declining revenue, it’s no surprise the industry’s priorities have been digital transformation, metrics, and analytics. We’ve also embraced moving from thinking about “audience” to “community.” Each of those is important, but none will matter if we don’t also invest in the people doing the work and keeping them in the field.

At the Online News Association, our data overwhelmingly suggests a lack of newsroom training — in leadership skills and in strategies for harnessing innovation to create valuable, reliable information for communities. In 2020, newsrooms will need to build leaders and managers differently. For far too long, we’ve taken for granted that leadership is something you learn on the job.

They’ll focus on culture.

Effective leaders find ways to inspire teams to achieve an aspirational vision. The defining measure of any leader is the culture they create — proactively or not. If you asked your colleagues to define your organization’s core mission and purpose, would you get a consistent answer? And that goes well beyond the popularized Silicon Valley version of “culture.” One issue with culture for most teams is a “do as I say, not what I do” approach. Do you say you value diversity to external audiences, but never attempt to improve your internal team diversity? True leaders reconcile this mismatch between vision and reality to create real alignment.

They’ll lead innovation and change management the right way.

Digital transformation isn’t a new topic. But many news organizations still struggle to define what it means and embrace an environment that supports change. That’s because there is a daily grind to innovation that’s not pretty and not always the next bright and shiny thing. Future leaders will ask more questions than offer answers, and they’ll focus on the “why” of their community’s needs.

They’ll uplift innovative talent and provide those individuals with better networking, leadership, and project management training.

Too few leaders grasp that their own growth depends on helping other people grow. One of my mentors said that one of the first jobs a great leader does is to find the person who will replace them. Newsrooms will need to find future leadership replacements collectively across the field and give those individuals training, resources, and support now — not later. The world is becoming more diverse at all different levels and communities will expect that our newsrooms do the same. It’s also how people start to feel better about local news.

With a focus on building stronger newsroom leaders, digital journalists will be better positioned to tackle key issues next year such as misinformation, audience development, and emerging tech. But ultimately, if the system doesn’t change, it will set people up to fail.

Irving Washington is executive director of the Online News Association.

Twenty years ago, digital journalists still needed to prove their relevance to the field of journalism. Some of their colleagues asked if the internet was here to stay. Not only did it stay, it transformed journalism. With more than 7,800 media jobs lost just this year, it’s now the journalism field that must prove its relevance — this time, to the community. Many people are already asking if journalism is here to stay.

Digital news is here to stay, and I predict it will become even more essential in helping communities navigate a complex and fast-paced future. But that future requires a shift in our priorities.

With declining revenue, it’s no surprise the industry’s priorities have been digital transformation, metrics, and analytics. We’ve also embraced moving from thinking about “audience” to “community.” Each of those is important, but none will matter if we don’t also invest in the people doing the work and keeping them in the field.

At the Online News Association, our data overwhelmingly suggests a lack of newsroom training — in leadership skills and in strategies for harnessing innovation to create valuable, reliable information for communities. In 2020, newsrooms will need to build leaders and managers differently. For far too long, we’ve taken for granted that leadership is something you learn on the job.

They’ll focus on culture.

Effective leaders find ways to inspire teams to achieve an aspirational vision. The defining measure of any leader is the culture they create — proactively or not. If you asked your colleagues to define your organization’s core mission and purpose, would you get a consistent answer? And that goes well beyond the popularized Silicon Valley version of “culture.” One issue with culture for most teams is a “do as I say, not what I do” approach. Do you say you value diversity to external audiences, but never attempt to improve your internal team diversity? True leaders reconcile this mismatch between vision and reality to create real alignment.

They’ll lead innovation and change management the right way.

Digital transformation isn’t a new topic. But many news organizations still struggle to define what it means and embrace an environment that supports change. That’s because there is a daily grind to innovation that’s not pretty and not always the next bright and shiny thing. Future leaders will ask more questions than offer answers, and they’ll focus on the “why” of their community’s needs.

They’ll uplift innovative talent and provide those individuals with better networking, leadership, and project management training.

Too few leaders grasp that their own growth depends on helping other people grow. One of my mentors said that one of the first jobs a great leader does is to find the person who will replace them. Newsrooms will need to find future leadership replacements collectively across the field and give those individuals training, resources, and support now — not later. The world is becoming more diverse at all different levels and communities will expect that our newsrooms do the same. It’s also how people start to feel better about local news.

With a focus on building stronger newsroom leaders, digital journalists will be better positioned to tackle key issues next year such as misinformation, audience development, and emerging tech. But ultimately, if the system doesn’t change, it will set people up to fail.

Irving Washington is executive director of the Online News Association.

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