This is a series on Better News to a) showcase innovative/experimental ideas that emerge from the Knight-Lenfest Newsroom Initiative and b) share replicable tactics that benefit the news industry as a whole. These learnings come from coaches in the UNC Table Stakes 2023 cohort.
During an in-person Table Stakes session at the University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill, we caught up with several coaches to ask them about their takeaways from supporting the teams. Each coach has done extensive work with a wide range of local newsrooms to help them overcome internal and external challenges. Here are some observations from those interviews.
The coaches are:
- Nation Hahn, founder and chief of growth at EducationNC
- Felecia Henderson, director of cultural competency at the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education
- Charlie Baum, executive director at the Media Transformation Challenge Program at Poynter
- Chrissy Murray, CEO of The Chronicle at Duke University
As newsrooms continue to work through tough times and meet the ever changing needs of their audiences, we wondered what common challenges these coaches have noticed and advice they would offer those facing them.
Question: What have you recently seen newsrooms struggling with? What advice would you give them?
- Techstack and technology have been a challenge for newsrooms of late. We need to start with making sure we’re asking the right questions around tech like, “Is it working?” Newsrooms have to be better at diagnostics. When you’re only looking at top-line data, it can be easy to miss where something has broken along the way. We lean really hard on social media to drive traffic, but with algorithmic shifts, you see newsrooms realizing they need to do something about SEO search and email and text message circulations. We have a funnel problem and have to experiment with off-platform strategies to meet people where they are, Nation said.
- Connecting with community. For so many years, we’ve covered news from an institutional standpoint and now we’re realizing that journalists have to get back to building relationships with their communities, Felecia said.
- Trying to connect more deeply with communities and audiences they’ve previously not engaged well with. Newsrooms should keep it simple and realize what they can do to get started and stay consistent in doing that. Realize that you can’t serve all audiences and start small, Charlie said.
- Finding the time to commit. Once teams are past the halfway point in a challenge, taking the time to evaluate wins and progress really helps. Celebrating early wins helps to keep the momentum going, Chrissy said.
The Table Stakes program consists of many tools that help teams achieve outcomes and move their challenges forward. Most people find they default to a few main tools. We wanted to know which tool that was for these coaches
Q: What Table Stakes tool do you find yourself using the most often?
- Targeted content for targeted audiences helps to meet people where they are. Chasing scale isn’t the right answer for most newsrooms, so figuring out who the target audience is, what content to serve them and what platform to do it on should be a priority, Nation said.
- RAOOI. It stands for resources, activities, outputs, outcomes and impact. It’s my favorite tool because it helps you stay accountable and keep track of the thing you need to do for getting to the ultimate goal of an outcome win, Felecia said.
- The ease/impact matrix. I use it all the time because there are so many possibilities. It helps you decide what you can realistically do and then you build the capacity for more and more. It’s a tool for taking the complex and using it to make simple choices to help move toward progress, Charlie said.
- DVP. It’s a tool that helps people identify what’s at the core of the issue they’re tackling, Chrissy said.
Here’s some more background on the tools:
Serve targeted audiences with targeted content and experiences is the first Table Stake and it is an essential skill for modern journalism practices. Being audience-driven across the newsroom will help news enterprises identify the needs, interests and problems of their target audience. You can learn more about the seven table stakes here
RAOOI is a tool that helps you focus on outcomes and impacts — the goals you want to achieve — rather than getting caught up in all of the activities along the path of achieving those goals. The framework begins with acknowledging the resources that are available (time, money, etc.) and the activities you will do (coverage, change workflows, etc.), all within the service of working toward outcomes and impacts. It stands for resources, activities, outputs, outcomes and impact. You can learn more about activity-based goals and outcome-based goals here.
The ease/impact matrix plots the ease of something against its anticipated impact. The tool helps to identify early wins and relatively easy tactics that have been identified in strategies. Starting with a small, manageable piece of the challenge shows that a focused effort can result in performance improvement. This helps build momentum for taking on the next piece.
DVP (Dissatisfaction x Vision x Process = Change) is a tool that asks you to consider the dissatisfaction of various stakeholders, the shared vision you’re striving for and the process that will help you achieve that vision. All of that must be present to help you make change. You can read about how a Table Stakes newsroom applied DVP in this piece.
As Table Stakes teams are working through some of the toughest challenges that local news faces, we asked the coaches to reflect on what’s worked and what others should try.
Q: What is something you’ve seen Table Stakes teams doing that you would advise others to try?
- Stop doing. Triad City Beat here in North Carolina has stopped doing their editor’s column, and it has helped them find capacity gains, Nation said.
- Reaching the Latinx community. KPBS has received funding for a reporter to cover immigration and a variety of topics like acclimation and voting resources in English and Spanish, Felecia said.
- Collaboration: The Assembly recently announced its collaborations with other newsrooms and different types of media across the state of North Carolina. These partnerships are a great way for The Assembly to take its core competencies and extend them to others, as well as for the organization to help increase the reach of their partners. I would encourage others to take advantage of geographic collaborations, too, Charlie said.
- Membership programs. For a lot of people, they realize how many people are willing to support what they’re doing once they make a case, Chrissy said.