Five news management takeaways from “The Dorm Room Newsroom”

If you pick-up a copy of The Dorm Room Newsroom looking for a transformational teaching book on news management, you’ll be particularly disappointed.

And, rightfully so. The Dorm Room Newsroom is geared for inspiration over instruction, telling of my early years in broadcast which started when I reported local news from my college dorm rooms. However, the book unintentionally and subtly shares several invaluable lessons for news managers and journalists alike.

Think beyond a traditional framework to do more with less

The Dorm Room Newsroom reflects on a time when I was, for the most part, the only journalist covering local news for the station where I worked but was still expected to cover all major stories. This expectation, paired with being located hours from the local market, meant our news operation had to operate outside of a traditional framework. Each piece of information was scrupulously examined and exploited for leads to the next contact or piece of knowledge. Social media, websites, text messages, emails and calls to sources carried an above-average value since a trip to the scene of a story was rarely an option.

Luckily, even the most poorly-funded news operation usually has more than one journalist. Whether you have two journalists/producers/camera operators/etc or seventy-five, thinking outside of what’s traditionally expected can have real value for your end product (whether on TV, radio or digital). The result will be a higher story count with better information inside of each piece. Here are some specifics to get you started:

  1. Evaluate how general assignment reporters are spending their time in the field. With your station’s brand and its goals in mind, create a plan for determining how long a reporter and/or photographer should remain at a particular location/scene. Is it worth spending six hours of staff time for information that may or may not be shared at that location? Could that same information be obtained in another way? Sometimes, it’s worth the six hours, other times it’s not.
  2. Practice building relationships. Good journalists and news managers already do this, but it’s worth remembering the value of getting to know the people who will provide you with information. Having these relationships can mean an early tip on a breaking story or the help you need when researching your next piece.
  3. Maximize operational efficiencies. Take some time to observe your newsroom’s operations. Who’s waiting on who to finish his or her work? Is there a particular process that takes an extra ten minutes each day because of a clunky workflow across your computer network? Small amounts of lost time add up fast and cost you content in the end. Find ways to fix these time sucks, even if it means getting help from others in your organization.

The basics are important

There’s an entire chapter in The Dorm Room Newsroom titled “Self-taught journalism,” because for much of my early career I was learning the trade on my own. I hold the basics of good journalism in high regard since I had to figure them out for myself with no shortage of bad examples in the media field.

Remembering the basics of good journalism carries incredible value when it comes to establishing and maintaining organizational credibility and building your audience. Don’t get so caught-up in the operations of finishing your 6:00 newscast that you forget why people are watching in the first place. Remind your team:

  1. The facts are the facts. Check your personal and organizational opinions at the door.
  2. Perception is not reality (although it is often perceived as such). Make sure that the facts, and not just your perception of them, write the story.
  3. One person’s opinion rarely qualifies as the only basis for a story. Try to go deeper if you think there is something to report.
  4. Accusations are just that, accusations not yet proven to be true. Be careful to only report them for what they are.
  5. The list goes on – remember the basics you learned from the start.

Localism counts

Localism is one of the key reasons the events within The Dorm Room Newsroom were even possible. As one of my early news promos written around the time of my freshman year said, “There’s lots of ways to find out what’s happening in Washington. It’s not quite as easy to find out what’s happening just down the street.”

Audiences are thirsting for unique local content. Social media is powerful and full of information, but that information usually falls short of the depth and quality which could be presented on that platform or elsewhere by a professional news organization.

Unique local content allows newsrooms to differentiate themselves from the competition in a particular market. Obviously, your competitors understand this fact so uniqueness, story angle and exclusive insights become especially important.

Your emotions don’t have to ruin your fun or the product

The chapter “A blessing in Dallas” has essentially nothing to do with news, instead sharing the story of how our family persevered through a difficult time and enjoyed several blessings in the end. A key part of that story is relatable to news, however, telling of my mother’s keen ability to not get overly-emotional in tough situations. Despite the risk of loosing my father to a major health scare, she was incredibly fact-based throughout the ordeal.

Everyone handles emotions differently, and I don’t seek to understand or explain those avenues. But, if you find the ‘tough’ stories (homicides, shootings, tragedy, etc.) taking a toll, you may benefit from an approach similar to that of my mother when she faced the possibility of loosing her husband. The facts are the facts. You as a news manager or journalist cannot change the facts. Your job is to report and to provide clarity. Try disconnecting yourself emotionally from the stories as much as possible. Doctors, paramedics and others in similar professions take this approach so they can keep doing their jobs. Depending on how you process tough situations, doing the same may allow you to have greater mental clarity and ultimately have more value to your audience.

Have fun!

Essentially from page one of The Dorm Room Newsroom, it’s pretty obvious that I loved my first job and had a lot of fun doing it. There’s an old adage in radio that if the broadcaster is having fun, so are the listeners. If you’re enjoying the process of creating content for audiences, you are more likely to produce better content and (depending on the topic) provide greater enjoyment to consumers.

Don’t let go of what attracted you to the industry in the first place. Have fun producing great content for the people you serve and encourage your team to do the same!