Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Local News Managers: Unleash Your People and Invigorate Your Product

Dispatches From The Frontlines Of Local News
By Mark Joyella

We know a few things about the state of local television news today: it's hurting financially, and the product has, for the most part, remained unchanged. Sports has been cut, stations have sliced dual anchor teams down to solo anchors, and reporters are shooting their own stories.
But to the viewer, it's hard to see any signs at 6 or 11 that local news is in any kind of fight for survival.

Here's another thing we know: local news itself is not in any real danger. One way or another, local news will be reported. People expect it, and they will find it. And as reporters, we will report it, whether we have the comfortable, familiar surroundings of a newspaper or television station, or just our home computer and a blog.

It's traditional local news businesses that are endangered, as their financial models begin to stutter and fail. If those old media companies collapse, jobs will be lost and traditions will fade. But news will survive, whether it comes from bloggers, hyperlocal websites, or news models to be named later.

If you've been focusing mostly on keeping your own job and haven't paid much attention to the creative new concepts people have for reporting the news, just surf over to the Knight Foundation's News Challenge and have a look at the entries.

I've been amazed at some of the concepts people are developing--and putting into action--to connect funding with journalists to produce local reporting that's solid, smart, and above all else, different.

The question I have is this: in a time of epic change--and opportunity--for journalists, why does local television news look so fundamentally unchanged? Sadly, it reminds me of Microsoft. Once the mighty king, with its unquestioned dominance of all things software, the folks at Microsoft certainly haven't seemed too worried about the upstarts like Google. And so, year in and year out, they keep churning out the new version of Windows.


Because that's what they do. Thing is--times have changed.

Microsoft's not invincible anymore. And neither is traditional local news. Time to start thinking like Google.

Local TV still has some major bench strength, and I'd urge stations to make far better use of it.

Unleash your people.

Let them be creative, innovative, and smart.

They know the business, and they want to love their work. Give them a chance to both be happy--and to bring new ideas into the mix.

Google of course does just that, requiring its people to spend twenty percent of their time on thinking up stuff that's new and different. That's where ideas like Google Wave get their start.

Innovation certainly doesn't grow out of manager's meetings. (That's where ideas like Microsoft's Vista get their start)

If you're a news director, I offer you a challenge: take your best reporters, producers, photographers, control room crew and engineers and give them one day every two weeks to do anything other than what they usually do. As a reporter, the thought of having one day, or two days a month, to tell any story, think up a new way of reporting, or to educate myself on the future of journalism and how I can be on the forefront... it's thrilling. (I'm currently reporting as part of an experimental business model, and I feel completely connected to a time of change and possibility, something I haven't felt in years.)

You kept the people you have because, with budgets tight you knew they would deliver. These were the folks you couldn't afford to lose. You count on them to keep your product competitive in a historically bad marketplace. So don't just use them to bail out the boat. Use them to solve the problem.

An invigorated, refreshed staff--encouraged to innovate--might bring some amazing ideas into a business that's desperate for them.

Science says that's the kind of motivation that really works for employees. Set them free--and they will bring back some ideas nobody could have thought of otherwise.

In a speech at TED, Daniel Pink shows how the traditional business approach to motivating workers is backward: incentives and threats kill creativity and even result in worse performance than having no "motivation" at all.

See it at

Bidding adieu to his last "real job" as Al Gore's speechwriter, Dan Pink went freelance to spark a right-brain revolution in the career marketplace.

With a trio of influential bestsellers, Dan Pink has changed the way companies view the modern workplace. In the pivotal A Whole New Mind, Pink identifies a sea change in the global workforce -- the shift of an information-based corporate culture to a conceptual base, where creativity and big-picture design dominates the landscape.

His latest book, The Adventures of Johnny Bunko, is an evolutionary transformation of the familiar career guide. Replacing linear text with a manga-inspired comic, Pink outlines six career laws vastly differing from the ones you've been taught. Members of the Johnny Bunko online forum participated in an online contest to create the seventh law -- "stay hungry."

A contributing editor for Wired, Pink is working on a new book on the science and economics of motivation for release in late 2009.
"Pink has a knack for teaching in such an entertaining way that you'll forget you are learning."Lexi Feinberg,

Book: The Adventures of Johnny Bunko

Related themes:
The Creative Spark
New on
Not Business as Usual
A Taste of TEDGlobal 2009

In an atmosphere where the carrot-and-stick is, essentially, do a better job or you'll be the next journalist without a job, it's easy to see why local news innovation's at an all-time low. (And no, putting an anchor's Twitter info on their chyron is not what I'd call innovation)

There are people in every city in the country thinking up new ways of doing journalism. Deciding that you can't afford to include your best people in that effort is deciding to give up the fight. You're advocating a go down with the ship approach: ride the old television news model until it fails. After that? Well, we don't have time to ponder that right now.


Sure you can't spare a day to let your people ponder for you?

LocalNewser is a website by Mark Joyella, an Emmy Award-winning reporter who's been around the local news block a few times.

The aim here is simple: to document what's happening in local television (the layoffs, the cutbacks, the "content centers"), and to provide an open platform to discuss what's happening now, what's going to happen next... and how together, we can keep local journalists working, and local journalism alive and relevant in the internet age.

Mark produces documentary films, and shorter video content for his own websites (including a new site devoted to wine and travel,, set to launch this summer) and for community news sites like the Brooklyn Bugle. Mark's print work has appeared in the New York Post, and online at The Daily Beast.

Mark also serves as the first community-supported journalist at The Coaching Commons, producing stories on the field of coaching worldwide. In his unique role, Mark's reporting is funded through a grant from the nonprofit Harnisch Foundation as an effort to explore new ways of bringing journalism to audiences and subjects that have not traditionally been covered by for-profit media.

Mark coaches aspiring and experienced journalists on writing, reporting, and bringing energy and personality into their work, whether it's for a local news station, a cable channel, or the web. He also teaches classes through

Mark does media training for television stations and corporations, voice over work, and in New York, he can be seen Saturday nights and Sunday mornings on WPIX's "Toni On! New York," alongside Toni Senecal and Steven Van Zant.

To learn more about Mark's work, visit
You can also connect to Mark on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and other networking sites:

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