Can a legacy newsroom toss out the old and act like a startup?

Photo by Lawrence Denny Lindsley

I’ve been thinking a lot about what it’s like to be a mid-career journalist working in a large metro newsroom. That’s my frame of reference, so I’m not going to generalize beyond that scenario.

Is it too easy to get complacent? Do I feel like I’m working really hard yet in reality have I become too comfortable and too entrenched in habits built over close to 30 years of doing the same thing? (Hmm, 30 years? Maybe “mid-career” is only wishful thinking on my part.)

I think we’re all working really hard. But I think it’s very true, at least in my case, that we’re stuck working hard on too many things that we no longer should be doing.

Meetings every day at the same times, with the same routines. The same traditional beats. The same traditional decision-making (for example, it’s simply true that most of our editors don’t feel like we’ve “published” unless something runs in print).

How can we ever break out of this rut? I honestly don’t know. But I have a suggestion — toss the whole thing out on the sidewalk, let it land in a pile, and then start rebuilding it as it makes sense for today’s audience, not yesterday’s habits.

I think this is possible. It would be ridiculous, error-filled, chaotic, risky — and the most exhilarating thing many of us have tried in decades.

Mark  Briggs, author of Journalism Next and an expert on entrepreneurial journalism, blogged today about what newsrooms can learn from startups. 

This is my favorite quote in his post, courtesy of Evan Smith of the Texas Tribune:

I feel like Indiana Jones outrunning the boulder. If I look away for a second, I’m gonna get run over.

Can legacy newsrooms behave like startups? There are plenty of obstacles, starting with personnel — do we have the right people? Can you manufacture a sense of urgency and fear in a large organization that doesn’t do very well with change?

Sure would be fun to try. How much, honestly, do we have to lose?

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