Leading the newsroom in digital era

Evidently, journalism has not been spared, from operations to content quality; the dynamics are demanding new knowledge and a new set of skills to full-proof journalism.

IN today’s world, there is a digital element to every occupation in the world.

And according to the World Economic Forum, businesses predict that 44% of workers’ skills will be disrupted by 2027 as technology is moving faster than employers can adapt their training programmes.

The World Bank lists analytical skills as an important asset, which people should possess because 74% of experts predict demand for analytical thinking will grow over the next five years since it’s within skills least affected by automation.

Evidently, journalism has not been spared, from operations to content quality; the dynamics are demanding new knowledge and a new set of skills to full-proof journalism.

“AI (artificial intelligence) is the ultimate storytelling companion, capable of analysing vast amounts of data to help entertainment creators craft captivating narratives that resonate with audiences on a whole new level,” John Doe, AI futurist said.

Traditionally, the newsroom has been organised in a system similar to a military unit, a strong publisher, editor and line editors overseeing a rigid hierarchy.

In most cases, all decisions responded to a chain of command, premised on the belief that knowledge and age go hand-in-hand.

This is still the operational reality in most Zimbabwean newsrooms, at least those I have been exposed to.

Being the youngest, no matter how up-to-date your knowledge is, either they don’t believe you, or their ego does not allow them to see things differently.

Despite attending workshops and having to face the reality of the changing media environment, they remain heathens on matters digital.

Perhaps the biggest questions are: What does it take to be a newsroom editor in the technology era? Which skills are sufficient? What kind of teams do you need? How do you arrange the newsroom? What new roles are emerging?

At this stage, it is clearly visible that publishers in Zimbabwe are struggling to adjust to digital transformation.

Strategies are developed under the guise of digital first, but after all has been said and done, it’s back to factory settings.

While trying to transform, AI comes as an uninvited guest, adding more confusion to an equally confused lot; still deciding whether to protect print or do away with it.

Being a grammar guru or style sensei used to be a prestigious quality for many editors back then.

Not that it’s irrelevant today, but times have changed, digital Darwinism has confronted old models and qualifications, imposing a demand on skills relevant to successfully lead the news business.

Increasingly, there is high demand for quality news products which must be treated into showpieces.

Social media cannot be treated as an afterthought. The internet too cannot be an afterthought. Multimedia content production cannot be an afterthought.

Content packaging dynamics have changed in a great way and editors leading newsrooms in a digital age should be acquainted with multiple formats.

Conflict between digital survey or digital teams and editors arose largely due to failure by “legacy” editors to appreciate new content formats and sometimes writing styles for online.

The 21st century newsroom does not sleep, and this demands thorough planning to create seamless operations between traditional and enterprise journalism.

Leadership skills are indispensable

While it is true that journalists are terrible leaders, managing a newsroom in the digital age demands leadership which provides inspiration to diverse cultures for journalists to spread their wings and execute their duties.

“The qualities that make people great journalists (urgency, scepticism, doggedness) make them bad managers,” Poynter Institute academic Roy Peter Clark wrote in 2014.

For newsroom leaders, being surrounded by the same people all the time should be frightening.

Instinctively, editors should be on the lookout for new knowledge, even from other industries.

We used to believe that IT people are for big projects which have nothing to do with news, but today, there is an increased demand for those skills in the newsroom.

Digital forensic analysts have found new home in newsrooms and they are assisting with fact checking, specifically digital content that usually goes viral on online platforms.

Data scientists are also helping in harvesting audience data as newsrooms are increasingly adopting a data informed approach.

Gone are the days when journalists were partly motivated by the urge to impress other journalists, in today’s newsroom, the audience is king.

Understanding the technology will make the job easy as distribution of resources will be need based.

Understanding that you cannot be good at everything and you don’t know everything is strong ammunition in building efficient teams which will put ideas at the centre of content generation.

Yes, there is always pressure to apply cost savings, but newsroom costs, if put under tight budgets, compromise quality and productive operations.

As newsrooms move towards reader revenue, it’s prudent for newsroom leaders to be cognisant of the importance of being data informed.

We will meet again next week!

Silence Mugadzaweta is digital & online editor for Alpha Media Holdings and content strategies blogger for International News Media Association.

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