Photo by Angela Wu/Atlantic 57

3 Ways to Optimize Your Newsroom

Spend as much time getting content in front of audiences as creating it.

This is part two in our three-part series on the modern newsroom. In part one, we explain how to get your mission to take hold in the world and in your work. Now, we share how to achieve the right balance between planning and creating and everything that comes after.

Consider the old model: The editorial team works independently to plan stories and create content. The multimedia team creates a video that summarizes the article. Then the social media team works to push it out across all the platforms they manage.

With this approach, most of the time is spent planning and creating content. Teams follow lengthy processes for everything — from agreeing upon a topic to brainstorming an angle, to getting all necessary approvals. They publish the piece, quickly promote it, and move on to the next big initiative.

Put simply, these teams focus inward. The problem: They may not be able to think creatively or holistically about how all of the content they create comes together to tell a greater story and build meaningful audience relationships. Instead, everyone just feeds the beast, writing story after story, creating social post after social post, and churning out analytics report after analytics report.

Modern content teams, on the other hand, focus outward. Leading newsrooms dedicate time to thinking about the entire lifecycle of their content. After they publish a piece, they work relentlessly to promote it, to tailor it for specific audiences and platforms, and to continually resurface it at relevant moments. At every step, they mine analytics to understand audience interest and reactions.

This audience-first approach moves beyond one-time distribution to create meaningful engagement. It delivers content that is tailored to audiences, platforms, and moments. As a result, the content is more valuable to audiences and more successful for the organization.

This visual represents how modern newsrooms — like The Atlantic and Quartz — have evolved from the traditional model to spend just as much time getting content in front of the right audiences as they do creating it.

Importantly, this approach does not require adding to people’s already heavy workloads. It’s not about dedicating more time — it’s about redistributing that time so it is time better spent.

This all sounds straightforward and smart in an ideal world, right? But what does it look like in the real world? And, how can content teams of all kinds shift from the top bar chart to the bottom one? To make the best use of your organization’s collective disciplines — writing, external engagement, business development, marketing, analytics — organizations must create a process that fosters their team’s capacity to approach projects collaboratively.

Here, we unpack methods of working to make that possible.

1. Avoid the assembly line.

The top chart is a often a sequence of events — plan, create, publish, distribute, repeat. The bottom chart, while it looks like a sequence, requires overlap. Strategists, writers, editors, social media managers, developers, and designers come together from the very beginning to brainstorm, plan, and create. This makes every step of the process more efficient and aligned toward the end business goals.

The Atlantic uses this approach to consider the story they want to tell — outside of a distinct format — and then determines the best way to deliver it to their audiences. When the team holds editorial planning meetings, they ensure no role or aspect is an afterthought, giving equal voice to writers as they do the podcast, video, and audience growth teams. This helps them create content that aligns with team strengths and audience preferences.

2. Unite around key takeaways and goals.

You’ll spend less time planning content if everyone already agrees on what you are trying to accomplish. This kind of clear alignment from the onset frees you to focus on telling your story in the best way possible.

When your team sets out to create new content, ask the following questions:

  • What is the the key takeaway of the story?
  • Why is this important for your organization and its goals?
  • What pillars and principles of your organization’s brand idea does this idea represent?
  • What channels and formats best bring this idea to life?

These questions can act as guardrails to ensure you are pursuing initiatives that are truly important. Without guardrails, your team may find themselves struggling to come up with content without the right context. This takes a lot longer and tends to be less successful.

3. Decide what not to do.

To be efficient, focused, and successful, teams must be thoughtful about the initiatives they pursue — and also those they chose not to pursue. The media landscape is fast-moving and fast-changing, and it can be tempting to chase every news story or trend without consideration of investments or priorities.

This reactive posture allows you to easily get caught up with distractions. These are investments that underperform when compared to others and can pull valuable resources from the areas that matter most to your organization’s goals.

To avoid this, carefully consider what you are already doing. Assess what’s worked and what hasn’t, and then make a “don’t do” list. Reference this list when potential distractions arise to consider whether they are a worthwhile use of time. Experiment thoughtfully rather than clumsily. With every new project or editorial initiative comes the opportunity to learn, adapt, and get better over time.

Measure your hard work.

Smart newsrooms use data to drive the initiatives they invest in. To learn how to go beyond the page view and understand what your data actually means for your content efforts, read the third post in our series, “Ditch the Dashboard: How to Find Deeper Meaning in Data.

Strategies of smart newsrooms are some of the many things we think about for our clients at Atlantic 57. Sign up for our weekly newsletter, the Digital Trends Index, to follow our work, and get in touch on Twitter.