Five Culture-Killing Phrases Smart Newsrooms Will Stop Saying in 2020.

Author:Mungeam, Frank

Words matter. Journalists, of all people, appreciate the power of the reporter's pen and voice. Yet we continue to use language that squashes innovation and holds us back from transforming our newsrooms at the pace needed to match the digital disruption around us.

So, here's a challenge to news leaders and storytellers: five culture-killing phrases to stop saying, or at least actively challenge, in the new year.

  1. "That's not how we do things here."

    This response to ideas sends the message that there are rules, and those rules are not to be questioned.

    If our audiences were growing, news revenues were robust and sustainable, and trust in media was high, I'd be more sympathetic to simply following the old rules. But none of that is true. The principles of journalism are enduring, but we should be relentless in re-examining our practices--how we do what we do.

    Also, consider this. We are hiring the next generation of information consumers. Who better to help us reimagine and reinvent our local newsrooms? Forcing them into our "system" without actively soliciting their input is a huge missed opportunity.

  2. "We tried that (once) before and it didn't work."

    This response immediately shuts down the person who made the suggestion (and anyone who witnessed the exchange). It discourages rather than encourages a culture of innovation.

    A fair comeback is: How do you know it didn't work? Often, the justification turns out to be based on either weak data (Nielsen ratings) or just personal opinion about what is "good TV." We should challenge such weak attribution.

    If we knew how to evolve our legacy news practices for the digital age, we'd just do it. So, a culture that encourages purposeful experimentation, with rigor around measurement and lessons learned, means that we are never done when it comes to trying things.

  3. "What's everyone talking about today?"

    I applaud the intent behind this question, which is to tune our coverage to our community. In practice, however, this question was often posed in editorial meetings composed of a non-diverse group of decision-makers who did not reflect the community they were charged to serve (this is still true in too many newsrooms).

    The new trap today is the tyranny of "what's trending," as measured by tools like CrowdTangle. we often answer "What's everyone talking about?"

    What's trending isn't the same as what's important; a small percent of the audience drives most social activity, so "trending" doesn't truly...

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