Coming to terms with newsroom change

Coming to terms with newsroom change

Innovation to modernise the newsroom ultimately requires quality leadership and cultural change, says Pit Gottschalk, the head of content management at German publisher Axel Springer.

Mr Gottschalk, who will be in Sydney next month to speak at the Future Forum conference, believes that newsroom leaders need to encourage fearlessness and trial and error if they want to properly innovate.

“I think that’s the case whenever people face a huge change in their life; they ask, ‘why should I change anything? Where’s my benefit?’

“Thus, they stick to what they have. For media companies, that leads to the following questions: Is the investment worth it although I don’t know the exact outcome?

“That’s what innovation is all about; you don’t know the outcome, the results.”

Axel Springer, which is based in Berlin, owns numerous mastheads across Europe – include Bild, the highest-circulating newspaper in the continent – and is active in more than 40 countries internationally.

As the company’s head of content management, Mr Gottschalk organises content syndication, sorts out any issues with wire service contracts, handles freelancer arrangements and helps in content production.

In 2011 he published The Heart of a Morning Paper Beats Online, a look at newspapers and how they are adapting and changing into online-first entities. Mr Gottschalk advocates online integration in the newsroom and in an early chapter declares that “papers need to define their new identity between the conflicting priorities of ignoring or incorporating digital news distribution channels.

“Is the time advantage in the communication of information (news) pitted against the paper by the electronic media complementary to the offer of a daily paper? Or is it the other way round: does a daily paper complete the supply of news previously distributed by the electronic media?”

Mr Gottschalk has developed a measurement system to deliver figures and percentages on the complete online integration of newsrooms – taking into account structure, culture, tasks and people – and what that specific newsroom still has to improve on.

“My book presents in English how the Germans do,” he said. “After that, a lot of media companies proceeded with their improvements in the newsroom because they saw where their strengths and weaknesses were.”

Mr Gottschalk said that to address the competition and fragmentation of online, local newspapers should look at being more collaborative while sticking to what they’re expert at.

“There’s a great sentence of Jeff Jarvis I want to quote: Do what you do best – and link to the rest,” he said. “Local papers cannot work on the same cost level like bloggers do, for example, and there’s no chance to get to details like a niche website as a vertical can do.

“But, why don’t they co-operate? They can use their USP  (unique selling proposition) – brand, trust, attention, staff, market knowledge – to define a win-win situation.”

Mr Gottschalk has built a 40 question editors’ survey that he uses to assess the state of contemporary newsrooms across the globe, with the core question “Is your newsroom ready for the digital world?” Insights he gained from the survey helped inform The Heart of a Morning Paper Beats Online. He is encouraging Australian newspaper editors to participate in the survey prior to his visit to the country.

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