Smart newsrooms will prioritize board development

“Many leaders focus their board efforts on traditional fundraising, audits, and budget approvals, but they miss opportunities to have their boards be true partners.”

Journalists and news organizations spend a lot of time thinking about deepening audience engagement. And many newsrooms are rightly focusing on building trust between management and staff, all in service of ambitious and impactful reporting. But we often lose sight of the need to engage more purposefully with one critical constituency — our boards.

We’ll see that change in 2023.

As more nonprofit newsrooms emerge — and commercial outlets look to make the jump to becoming nonprofits — newsrooms will start to focus on the role boards play in their success. Boards will help news organizations weather economic downturns, platform collapse, generational disconnect with audiences, and pandemic and climate preparedness.

Many leaders focus their board efforts on traditional fundraising, audits, and budget approvals, but they miss opportunities to have their boards be true partners. In 2023, newsrooms, particularly those in the nonprofit realm, will need their boards to:

Strengthen and diversify fundraising. Fundraising is table stakes for nonprofit boards, but fundraising models tend to remain static and don’t evolve past what was successful at the organizations’ inception. When a key benefactor or board director moves on, this creates existential risk for the organization. Nonprofit newsrooms will need boards that can be nimble and help diversify fundraising and revenue sources.

Galvanize newsroom culture and preparedness. Newsrooms will increasingly need their boards to help them develop more agile strategic plans, to attract and retain talent, adjust resources to align with goals, and undertake scenario planning. Part of this shift will require newsroom executives to help teams understand the role boards play and create opportunities for greater transparency between boards and the organizations they serve.

Share best practices from other industries. We will also increasingly see newsrooms bring leaders from other industries — including industries we might not think of as connected to journalism — to their boards to represent innovative thinking at the top of the organization. It will be particularly beneficial for newsrooms to understand best practices from other sectors that could provide inspiration for the challenges facing journalism leaders. Newsrooms should consider gaining board expertise from unexpected places — can Fortune 500 leaders who work for companies with excellent employee retention rates work with newsrooms to craft a plan to improve culture? Can CleanTok influencers help newsrooms create solutions-oriented content strategies?

Strong boards will consistently invest energy into understanding what drives the organization’s team and creating opportunities for them to thrive. It means getting your hands dirty to try to mend problematic relationships and interactions, creating pathways for meaningful feedback, and being generous with introductions, asking tough questions, and taking real steps to help leaders raise money to enable their visions.

Creating this deeper engagement between news organizations and their boards will lead to healthier, more stable newsrooms, which will yield more thorough and impactful reporting, which is ultimately the best outcome for news organizations and most importantly, audiences.

Sumi Aggarwal is a consultant who focuses on editorial strategy and was the editor-in-chief of Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2022. Annie Chabel is a consultant who focuses on business operations in nonprofit journalism, and was the COO of Reveal until 2022.

Journalists and news organizations spend a lot of time thinking about deepening audience engagement. And many newsrooms are rightly focusing on building trust between management and staff, all in service of ambitious and impactful reporting. But we often lose sight of the need to engage more purposefully with one critical constituency — our boards.

We’ll see that change in 2023.

As more nonprofit newsrooms emerge — and commercial outlets look to make the jump to becoming nonprofits — newsrooms will start to focus on the role boards play in their success. Boards will help news organizations weather economic downturns, platform collapse, generational disconnect with audiences, and pandemic and climate preparedness.

Many leaders focus their board efforts on traditional fundraising, audits, and budget approvals, but they miss opportunities to have their boards be true partners. In 2023, newsrooms, particularly those in the nonprofit realm, will need their boards to:

Strengthen and diversify fundraising. Fundraising is table stakes for nonprofit boards, but fundraising models tend to remain static and don’t evolve past what was successful at the organizations’ inception. When a key benefactor or board director moves on, this creates existential risk for the organization. Nonprofit newsrooms will need boards that can be nimble and help diversify fundraising and revenue sources.

Galvanize newsroom culture and preparedness. Newsrooms will increasingly need their boards to help them develop more agile strategic plans, to attract and retain talent, adjust resources to align with goals, and undertake scenario planning. Part of this shift will require newsroom executives to help teams understand the role boards play and create opportunities for greater transparency between boards and the organizations they serve.

Share best practices from other industries. We will also increasingly see newsrooms bring leaders from other industries — including industries we might not think of as connected to journalism — to their boards to represent innovative thinking at the top of the organization. It will be particularly beneficial for newsrooms to understand best practices from other sectors that could provide inspiration for the challenges facing journalism leaders. Newsrooms should consider gaining board expertise from unexpected places — can Fortune 500 leaders who work for companies with excellent employee retention rates work with newsrooms to craft a plan to improve culture? Can CleanTok influencers help newsrooms create solutions-oriented content strategies?

Strong boards will consistently invest energy into understanding what drives the organization’s team and creating opportunities for them to thrive. It means getting your hands dirty to try to mend problematic relationships and interactions, creating pathways for meaningful feedback, and being generous with introductions, asking tough questions, and taking real steps to help leaders raise money to enable their visions.

Creating this deeper engagement between news organizations and their boards will lead to healthier, more stable newsrooms, which will yield more thorough and impactful reporting, which is ultimately the best outcome for news organizations and most importantly, audiences.

Sumi Aggarwal is a consultant who focuses on editorial strategy and was the editor-in-chief of Reveal from the Center for Investigative Reporting until September 2022. Annie Chabel is a consultant who focuses on business operations in nonprofit journalism, and was the COO of Reveal until 2022.

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