Digital Transformation

The digital newsroom - where do you start?

More and more companies are restructuring their communication departments into newsroom structures. Here are a few helpful tips on how to proceed.

20 Aug 2021

The digitization. Not only has it been influencing our communication channels and target audiences for years, but it also imposes tremendous demands on the speed and quality of our carefully crafted and meticulously planned content. As a communications department with several employees, which, in one form or another, also has to report to management and therefore wants to align its communication as strategically as possible, it is becoming increasingly difficult to keep up. In the context of information overload, it can be frustrating to deliver content that is noticed by the right people at the right time, let alone for businesses that, for whatever reason, find themselves subject to unwanted media attention.

The trend of larger corporate communications to organize as a newsroom is not entirely new and aims to address this very situation. More and more companies are joining in and restructuring their communication departments to prioritize efficiency and effectiveness. No one can really draw on long-standing experience - it simply does not exist. Even looking beyond national borders provides little insight. While the organizational form has existed in traditional media outlets for some time, the organizational (and also content-related) demands on a journalistic editorial team or a corporate editorial team vary greatly.

This leads to a situation where the communications industry generally agrees on the validity of the newsroom organization, but no one knows exactly how to implement it in specific cases. The beginning is always difficult, no question about it. Several years ago, companies in Switzerland decided to take this step. And as with most major transformation projects - especially when there is little experience and hardly any expertise - the path to implementation is anything but straightforward. Depending on the size of the company, the complexity of the organizational structure, and the number of employees, a partial implementation may be introduced first. Workflows and processes - both vertical and horizontal, internal and external - need to be redefined and practiced. Weaknesses soon become apparent, and smaller or larger reorganization projects may be needed from time to time.

It's really not easy. Depending on where a communication department stands in the transformation process, it may be helpful to take a step back and bear the following principles in mind:

1. Holism - or seeing the forest despite all the trees

The larger the communication department, the more the notorious "silo thinking" creeps in. This very human tendency is not necessarily bad: we all strive for simplification. Grasping the complexity of the world in its entirety is a very high demand and is likely to be achieved by only a few people. Simplification is good, and it makes us able to act. However, when it comes to reorganizing a department, a holistic inventory is important. This is tedious and time-consuming. And some communication managers may have thought "I can handle this alone - it's faster and easier". Well, dear communication managers, we hate to disappoint you, but no, you can't.

2. The right project team - or working together

Putting together the right project team is not easy. Depending on how the department is organized or how large it is, this can be very challenging. However, it would exceed our scope to discuss this in detail precisely. But: of course, every step must be represented. Members should be familiar with existing workflows and processes - but it's still worth involving "newer" employees. Their outlook is often more open, and their experiences from previous employments are still fresh. (Newer employees are a completely underestimated source. No organization is structured in the same way, and these experiences can be valuable.) It may also make sense to advertise membership in the project under certain criteria such as function, length of service, etc. in order to ensure that the most committed employees apply.

3. Inform - or what's going on here?

We humans have a sixth sense for anticipating changes. To prevent rumors from spreading, it's best to inform everyone from the start. What is particularly important here is: Let's get rid of the clichés! The more concrete, the better. Open questions or problems should be laid on the table. However, please do not use metaphors for this. Uncertainties and fears should be addressed directly, not swept under the rug. Employees (even if they are not part of the project group) should have the opportunity to contribute, ask questions, and make suggestions and ideas. If there is a need for transformation, the employees understand this - as long as they are given the time and reasons for it.

4. Onboarding - or until everyone is on the same page

Once the project is detailed, the new procedures and processes defined, the next and decisive step follows: employees need to be brought on board. The importance of this step cannot be stressed enough! Simply putting employees into a new organization and a new role will lead to failure - and resistance will arise. It is necessary to gradually guide employees into the new situation and show them why and how things should be implemented. Employees must be able to understand the big picture. Only then will they understand the expectations and how they can meet them. And it is a first step away from "silo thinking."

5. The right tools - or efficiency and effectiveness do not come from nowhere

Ideally, the transformation towards a newsroom model is accompanied by the introduction of an integrated communication management tool. If you already have one in operation - even better. It may need to be used differently in the future, or adjusted to fit the new organization. However, the fact that the employees are already comfortable with the tool will greatly ease this step. If there is no convincing solution available, it's high time to find one! If you're going to reform, do it right. And sustainably. The possibilities are - sorry to say - endless. There are so many tools that can make work easier. Be careful not to get lost in the jungle. It can be misleading to search randomly. Remember: less is often more! The tool should simplify your life, not make it more complicated - internally and externally. Consider defining a criteria catalog for the most important features.

The tool should…

  • Encompass the entire communication process from strategic planning to operational implementation and measurement.

  • Support integrated communication: target group-specific, cross-channel, and cross-team.

  • Digitize communication planning.

  • Help align strategy, planning, and production.

  • Be easy to use.

If the list gets too long, try to make clusters, simplify, or prioritize a bit. And then you have no choice but to go out and look for it...

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