When I was a reporter, I was skeptical of any “news” issued by businesses or other organizations. At the time (I’m dating myself here), that “news” was in the form of press releases and the occasional (rehearsed) media interview or press conference. Even when we did report on company-generated news, we researched the heck out of it to make sure it was objective – and to make sure we identified bias and included other points of view.
Fast forward to today. As a PR professional, I’ve used my skepticism to help organizations develop and deliver newsworthy content. But it wasn’t until recently that I gained a new found respect for how seriously a growing number of organizations are taking the responsibility of being a respected news source. It happened when a health care client of ours asked us to help them build a world-class news operation.
Now this client already had a well-run media relations and consumer news operation, but realized that in today’s competitive and cluttered news environment, it needed to become even more proactive and efficient in leading the discussions around health topics of interest – not just those that involved their own achievements. The challenge was finding an efficient way to involve multiple internal and external communications teams in the process of content planning, creation and delivery.
To help them incorporate the elements of a high-functioning news operation, we researched corporate, health care, and traditional print and broadcast newsrooms, such as GE Healthcare’s The Pulse, Walmart’s News & Views and Procter & Gamble’s corporate newsroom. We also facilitated a 90-minute brainstorm on best practices with a panel of former print and broadcast journalists and thought leaders. In addition, we assessed digital editorial and resource management systems that could help triage, schedule and track content, and help make newsroom operations more efficient. Our research spanned well-known broadcast and print media systems (AVID’s iNEWS and the Associated Press’s ENPS), as well as newer companies’ offerings (Desk-Net’s newsroom management system and ScheduAll’s broadcast and transmission scheduling solutions).
The resulting report included detailed recommendations and best practices for:
- Structuring the news team. While the structure of news teams varies according to an organization’s size, reporting requirements and business objectives, we provided recommendations on the roles and responsibilities of most high-functioning news teams; from the news director and assignment manager (and their respective roles), to social media managers, “beat” (specialty) reporters and long format, investigative teams. Most importantly, we provided direction on who has decision-making authority, especially when the news is time-sensitive and editorial decisions have to be made quickly.
- Streamlining content intake and assessment. Given that this client had hundreds, if not thousands, of content sources, and multiple contributors across internal, external and specialty teams, we provided recommendations first on how to prioritize content. To be considered “newsworthy,” a story needed to meet two or more of seven criteria we provided (i.e. consequence, timeliness, human interest, etc.). It also needed to align with the organization’s values, and the subject matter had to pertain to what the organization’s target audiences were currently talking about (not just what the client thought they should be talking about). This content prioritization in turn helped guide the coordination of contributors and streamline the review and approval process.
- Best practices for daily news operations. Based on the experience of our reporters-turned-PR professionals, and our expert panel of journalists, we detailed “a day in the life of a well-functioning newsroom:” from assessing overnight news, morning headlines and story ideas from within the organization, to holding daily editorial meetings, updating the assignment board, and establishing internal deadlines for submitting stories. We emphasized the importance of expectations being set – and met.
- Optimizing the physical (and virtual) newsrooms. Our client did not have the luxury of building out an actual newsroom; but we were able to provide recommendations on how best to use the physical space they had so communications between team members could be optimized. We also worked with them on how best to incorporate team members working remotely via Skype, WebEx and conference calls. Again, when news breaks, you don’t want any physical or virtual walls to get in the way of timely reporting.
- The best newsroom content-management systems for inputting, assigning and tracking stories. While the newsroom whiteboard served its purpose well for physical newsrooms (back in the old days), we researched and made recommendations for a digital whiteboard upon which all stories and story ideas could be submitted, assigned and tracked by members of the team wherever they were located. This provided “the single source of truth” this large team needed from which the editors of the organization’s multiple news vehicles could plan and track their content.
By incorporating newsroom best practices, our client is now delivering on its mission to help lead important (and journalistically sound) health discussions around the world. Its integrated content planning, creation and delivery processes across internal and external communications teams enable them to produce more quality content, more quickly, and to respond to news outside of the organization in a more timely fashion.
This client’s success, along with what we have learned in our research of a growing number of in-house newsrooms across the country – have turned my skepticism into optimism. If it’s done right, adopting a newsroom model provides an excellent opportunity for organizations to expand their news coverage, position themselves as trusted expert resources, and ultimately increase brand awareness and appreciation.