How to Foster Innovation in Newspapers?

    by Dan Pacheco
    July 8, 2008

    Next week I’m leading a discussion at a conference run by the Knight Digital Media center about innovation within newspapers. The topic of the conference is “Transforming News Organizations for the Digital Now.”

    They’ve asked me to talk about two things:

    1. The “ecology of innovation.” What type of environment fosters innovation best?

    2. Provide examples of innovation that helps journalists to transform.

    I have my own thoughts about this, informed by my work in Bakersfield as well as at previous companies. I will share those ideas here soon, in addition to anything that comes out of the panel discussion. But to make sure I convey the best ideas at the conference I want to open this up to the readers of this blog.


    How would you answer these questions? I’ll do my best to bring them up during the discussion — especially if the audience is quiet. And if nothing else, I expect the discussion here on MediaShift Idea Lab could be illuminating in its own right.

    I have just one request, though. The purpose is to identify proven ways to create a culture of innovation within news organizations. I realize that some think this is not possible and that the only solution is to leave the newsroom. I respect your opinion, but please keep comments focused on the questions above and asssume that leaving a news organization is not a solution (because in this case, it isn’t).

    You can think of this as a Desert Island exercise. If the newspaper is the Desert Island, and you’re on the island with the rest of the newspaper staff, how do you help and encourage that group to think outside of the box, take risks and dream big dreams?



    Tagged: best practices innovation knight digital media center news organizations newspapers

    8 responses to “How to Foster Innovation in Newspapers?”

    1. Matt Munoz says:

      I have two ideas. I hope it helps..

      1) Embracing the innovations brought forth by our competitors and use them to your advantage.

      When Bakotopia.com started out – it was an uphill battle trying to convince even the locals to register. So, I decided to market our products in the lions den: MySpace, Facebook, etc. It worked to our advantage and now helps bring in new users daily. I noticed many other local sites doing the same almost a year later – as if it was something new. Problem is, many stop updating after a few months defeating the purpose.

      We don’t necessarily have to live on other people’s sites, but you should develop a system to periodically get the word out.

      2) Avoid becoming dead weight and INNOVATE by being simply being aware. You’ll be surprised at how many journalists (even vets,) are unaware of the new things happening everyday in the media world. It’s important for todays journalist to be read up on what’s happening in the media – especially on the web and among competitors.

      Otherwise, they’ll miss the boat and it’s off to the unemployment line.

    2. Thanks, Matt! For those of you who don’t know, Matt Munoz has been running the day to day operations of Bakotopia for the last couple years, and he is a true innovator.

      Most interesting to note for readers of this blog is that he does not have a traditional journalism background or training, but he does have a marketing degree. That’s been very useful for a new brand that was intentionally created separate from the daily newspaper. And I should add that he picked up the journalism skills he needed in out 2 minutes.

      Also, as the lead singer of a popular local Bakersfield band (Mento Buru), he was a user of Bakotopia early on and used the site to promote his band’s gigs. That’s how we found him, and he found us. So there’s a hiring tip, too!

    3. I have seen successful innovation occur in the newsroom of The Bakersfield Californian in two ways: bottom up and top down. The key to both is leadership unafraid to say “Start from scratch.” Repeatedly. Another favorite question in our newsroom: “What can we stop doing?” That always leads to not only innovation, but also more TIME to do new things. Going the bottom-up route, you’re going to get lots of crazy, creative ideas and then a few people who stick it out to make the most do-able items happen. From the top-down, the key is to communicate with staff so the innovation is still grassroots and not a directive. Lastly, empower cheerleaders in the newsroom to do the “heavy lifting” of inspiring change among the staff. Without buy-in, you get backlash. And don’t forget to thank and reward your staff for being creative and forward-thinking.

    4. More good ideas! Thanks, Jen.

      And an introduction: Jen Baldwin achieved what everyone said was impossible a couple years ago and got 3/4 of the Californian’s newsroom to regularly create and edit video for Bakersfield.com. We’re talking about people of all ages and skillsets here, not just the “digerati.” Jen was also instrumental in bringing Northwest Voice-style citizen journalism / user-contributed content to Bakersfield.com (our flagship newspaper site, but one of 11 sites & brands in a network).

    5. Tim D'Avis says:

      Show and tell. Keep putting examples of great online work in front of people and eventually they want to do it.

    6. Yes, that works too. They’re particularly interested when they see people actually using tools. Journalists want to know that their work makes a difference for people — that’s why they’re journalists and not bankers or used car salespeople.

    7. Robin Herman says:

      Dan, I don’t see this conference listed on the Knight Digital Media site. Where is it and when? Thanks.

    8. Hi Robin,

      The conference is for newsroom leaders so it wasn’t open to wide attendance. However, Michele McClellan is blogging about it here if you want to follow: http://www.knightdigitalmediacenter.org/leadership_blog/

      The session I’m in is in a few hours and will include Dan Gillmor and Chad Dickerson. It’s a discussion with newsroom leaders about how to inspire a culture of innovation within their organizations. I’ll report back here afterward.

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