Everything I learned about newspaper journalism I learned at the News & Observer. So, I was thrilled when its editor, John Drescher, asked me to talk with the news leadership team there, which I did yesterday. Drescher had read this post and wanted me to speak specifically about content and big ideas.
We had a good discussion — although I talked too much — and I encouraged the editors to ask themselves two questions each morning.
First question: what information do people need today? Not the more typical what do I have to do today? Not what’s a good story for me to write today? Not what’s happening on my beat today? Flip that thinking and put the focus where it belongs — on the people you want to reach rather than you or your story or your sources. That change will alter your perspective of the value of the information you’re serving to readers. It will also alter people’s perspective of your value, which is a good thing. (Yes, this is a direct steal. When I steal, I steal from the best.)
Second question: what am I going to do differently today? People are leaving the newspaper and going elsewhere for information. Sometimes it is to your website, which is great, but most times it’s not. So the choice you face is to continue doing what you’re doing — which isn’t working, despite it being the world’s greatest journalism — or to do something differently. As you’re producing the world’s greatest journalism, you certainly want it to reach the most people. Every day, figure out how to do that.
The N&O is an outstanding paper with outstanding people. I’m optimistic that they can blaze a trail if they want to.
P.S. These are better than the two questions that you think of now: Jesus, is it already time to get up? And, will I get laid off today?