What about journalism keeps you up at night?

As we welcome a new cohort to the Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, we delve into what they’re excited about when it comes to disruption, innovation and leadership.

The second cohort of the Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership at the Newmark J-School.

By Elise Czajkowski

The second cohort of the Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership — which recently kicked off in May, 2021 — boasts 20 news leaders who hail from seven countries and represent legacy newspapers, start-ups, newspaper chains, radio stations and a multitude of other media organizations.

Each of them will focus on how to transform the news industry and their organizations by building successful products and establishing sustainable business models.

But like many in the media, they share concerns about the future of the industry. So we asked them all to talk about the journalism issues that they’re looking to explore while in the Executive Program.

What about journalism keeps you up at night? What areas of disruption, innovation or leadership in journalism do you want to explore during the program?

The future of local media is certainly a topic that keeps me up at night. Working on identifying a business model that will allow local media to be profitable and continue their journalistic work without losing their integrity and credibility is a priority. The reader revenue model seems to be the preferred option for many news organizations around the world, but I wonder if it is a solution that fits all types of media outlets or if there’s room for other alternatives that offer hope for growth and new income.

In terms of things I would want to explore during the program, one thing I would like is to better understand how to start a transformation of a mostly print-centric newsroom from the inside out. I believe if we impact our journalists first, if we give them the tools, education and development opportunities, then we can think about impacting audiences in a creative, responsible and lasting way. Developing a training plan for a small newsroom with limited resources and identifying the roles that we don’t have, but need, is very important.

Also, I would like to work on developing a product that helps better serve the hundreds of thousands of Puerto Ricans who have migrated to the United States mainland in the past 10 years, but who left their families, their culture, their traditions and their hearts in Puerto Rico.

Noel Algarín Martínez, Deputy Information Editor at El Nuevo Día

I love the fact that there are so many people working to inform their community via community media and hyperlocal publications. However, I am disheartened by the lack of acceptance by many in the industry. For me, community media is the “main street” or “mom and pop” small business model of America’s news industry. Community media should be seen as partners in reporting instead of being used as unnamed sources to mainstream outlets or used to access a certain audience demographic for community outreach.

By being part of this program, I hope to learn about and create new ways to support small publishers like myself. I also hope to find ways to make it easier for publishers to access resources needed to keep their newsrooms sustainable and provide tools to lighten the load of these news entrepreneurs.

Shana Black, Founder and Publisher of Black Girl Media

Journalism in 2021 is confronted by numerous paradoxes. Our newsrooms need digital subscribers to survive — but that means that high-quality information is surrounded by paywalls, while misinformation proliferates on social media and on the (not so) dark web. Giant tech platforms seem to control much of our destinies — but they continue to deny that they are publishers or that they have a legal or moral obligation to support a news ecosystem from which they have profited. Nonprofit, digital-only news organizations are growing briskly — but the majority of original accountability journalism continues to be produced by legacy newsrooms whose fortunes are insecure.

What worries me most is the vanishing of original, local accountability journalism — and the emergence of news deserts — across Western democracies, and the resulting erosion of trust: trust in government, trust in institutions, trust in news and trust in each other. No one leader, institution, publication or journalist can, alone, reverse these trends. What journalism leaders can do is to recognize the magnitude of the challenge confronting a free press in democratic societies and to use that moral framework to inform our actions.

That’s what keeps me up at night. What gets me up in the morning is the chance to collaborate with passionate, brilliant, inspiring and creative journalists who are committed to tackling these profound challenges.

Sewell Chan, Editorial Page Editor at the Los Angeles Times

Time is what keeps me up at night. Changes, both negative and positive, in our industry are happening at a rapid pace. What’s clear now, more than ever, is that content is not the challenge in local news’ success — the business model is. New business models shouldn’t be confined to non-profit and for profit, there has to be a way to experiment with a variety of models, talk about our successes and failures and forge a way forward together. We cannot operate on the margins any longer if we want to see local news survive.

Connecting with our communities deeply is also essential to our success. We can have all the money in the world, but if the communities we cover don’t believe we’re essential, then the model is broken. We must work hard to listen to our communities and build trust. We must open our minds to what’s possible and think outside of the traditional model to transform into a product that is essential. I want to explore how news organizations serve as community connectors, offering products that serve our readers where they are and at the time they need it; delivering news that our communities will value — not just what we think they want to read; utilizing engagement tools that allow our readers to connect with each other and remain invested in our news organizations.

Cynthia DuBose, Managing Editor, Audience Engagement at McClatchy

Coming out of the pandemic, news orgs may be facing a K-shaped recovery much like the broader domestic economy. Some news operations will have engaged new audiences and found new resilience within the pandemic’s constraints. Others will have greater burdens in finances and staffing, perhaps paired with limited ability to respond to broader industry changes.

The investments we ask news orgs to make in this environment should be judicious, data-driven and adaptable to differences in resources. Developing new audiences and product thinking may come across like a buzzword-driven luxury, in many respects. We should tailor our approach to lead with empathy and meet news orgs where they are. These efforts should not be one-offs but rather initiatives that align with industry shifts, skill development in people and long-term sustainability. The specific strategy or product may not be the real goal, compared to embedding the skills and support to make such shifts.

Tiff Fehr, Assistant Editor & Lead Engineer, The New York Times

I love being a reporter and I’m learning to love being a journalism entrepreneur. That’s what keeps me up at night: the inspiration for stories from the community I serve; the excitement of challenging the conventional media through new eyes and platforms: the need that we — I — have for more training; the dream of being sustainable and the desire to reach more communities; the fight to get more Spanish-speaking Latinos into journalism; and the need to change narratives. I want to make it right, and I want to spend my life doing it right every single day.

The pandemic helped me rediscover journalism through a more human and sincere approach, and it forced me to confront my own vulnerabilities. This is how I started Conecta Arizona, a non-traditional news-you-can-use service for the Spanish speaking community in Arizona. I started paying attention to small details and concerns. I stopped assuming what my community needs, and I started listening, again. I wish we all could take the time to do this.

I believe in hyperlocal journalism with national and international echoes. I believe we need to start changing narratives. But having done this successfully with Conecta Arizona, I know how difficult it is to build a business around these concepts. How do you measure your impact when there are no metrics to show? What I have done is to show faces, stories and testimonials. But is that enough to make Conecta Arizona sustainable?

Maritza Lizeth Gallego Félix, Journalist and founder, Conecta Arizona

Being a journalist who has mostly worked in digital distribution, I worry a lot about platform dependency and who is controlling the path media outlets use to reach their public and vice-versa. I do see many companies changing their goals to focus more on subscribers or maintaining a community — and even confronting big tech on remuneration for showing its content. However, many are still chasing audience numbers that could only happen by playing by the rules of social media, search engines and other services.

In the end, the question that keeps me up is if we, as journalists, are still truly impacting readers as we think we are. Are we not reaching them? Or are we not being trusted? Where are people getting information from? It is hard not to question that constantly when facing the current state of the COVID crisis in Brazil and its coverage. While the news has been showing a complete catastrophe, many people seem to refuse to believe it.

I hope the program will give me the opportunity to find more accurate goals to guide newsrooms. By the end of the day, what represents a job well done? What shows that we are doing quality journalism and actually informing people? I would love to have a clearer picture of that debate.

Daniela Flor, Audience Specialist at Estadão

As the promise of ad-supported digital media has vaporized, and instability has washed over the industry, unionization has been on the rise in newsrooms across the country. These efforts have often been necessary to secure severance, comp time, pay increases and other worker and workplace protections that should be (but often are not) guaranteed in our business. Some unions have been recognized right away by their employers, voluntarily; others have gone to a vote. But bargaining sessions over initial contracts at places like BuzzFeed News and Conde Nast are dragging, and what unions are looking for to be codified is expanding into hiring policies, sabbaticals, paid leave for pet owners and other evolving issues. In the process, morale often drops and conflict abounds (between unions and managers but within those groups as well).

During the program, I want to dive into what is happening on both sides of bargaining efforts in our digital workforces, and explore whether there are some best practices, guidelines or other useful observations that can be shared to support management and unit members in times of intransigence and challenge.

Hillary Frey, Editorial Leader

I’m convinced that media has a future if we radically reinvent ourselves and think about what journalists can do. What strengths and competencies do we have in our publishing houses — and what can we do better than others as a result? My colleagues and I are curious. We are good at explaining facts, we research deeply, we can convey content. We have learned to ask good questions. On this basis, we should develop business models that fit our values and benefit our customers. In doing so, we should boldly take the leap into entirely new markets.

Innovation needs structure and, above all, dialog with customers. For far too long, we have stewed in our own juices and moved around in professional bubbles. I want us to develop the next products together with our community. To do that, we need to talk to our customers, understand what keeps them up at night, and what we could really do to solve a bottleneck.

Harvard Business manager has loyal customers and dedicated fans. What unites these people, as a survey just confirmed, is that they want to learn and continually develop as leaders. “Learning never stops,” wrote one reader. “I want to be a role model,” another. I’m driven by how we engage these people with each other and how we strengthen our relationship with them. Where and how might we expand and build relationships and communities? How can we inspire and excite people? How do we establish channels that are truly responsive?

Antonia Götsch, Editor-in-chief at Harvard Business Manager

It’s all about freedom. The internet and the digitalization of our society challenges the media every day to keep their important role for our democracies. A strong and independent media landscape is our task for the coming years. Fighting misinformation and fake news on the one hand and building new business models to finance the journalism of the future on the other.

Together with the class of 2021 I want to find new ways how journalism can benefit from digitalization and speed up business success for our media brands. Learning from experts, working on new ideas and creating role models for our industry during this year will help us to create a bright and better future of media.

Daniel Kempf, Managing Director pd digital, Mediengruppe Pressedruck

In a surprise to no one, what keeps me up at night is the puzzle of long term financial sustainability. More specifically, how small, independent and (not coincidentally) largely QPOC-led “niche” publications can access the money, resources and support necessary to exist and thrive as a critical part of the media ecosystem.

I also worry about the media landscape in general and who gets to be a part of it. As an industry, we’ve come to a much healthier understanding of the importance of local news in juxtaposition to national-scale legacy media. But I’d love to dig into how some of the urgency, understanding and research that have laid the foundation for that shift can be applied to community-centered independent media that never seems to be part of that conversation. How can we think about financial sustainability as a set of tools and tactics that build up the diversity of players that make up the ecosystem of the media landscape, rather than making it smaller? And as audience-centered strategies gain momentum, how might reader support frameworks look different for outlets who serve already marginalized communities?

I’m excited to use this time in the program to learn more about change management and how to create work environments that people want to be — and stay — in. And I’m especially eager to learn how to bring audience engagement strategies and product thinking to small teams in ways that prioritize for highest impact. There are metrics that can guide us and our work beyond just revenue; I’m looking forward to defining them.

Soraya Membreno, Publisher, Bitch Media

Deepfakes! I do literally stay up at nights thinking about some of the deepfake examples out there that are mind-bogglingly convincing. And with technology advancing rapidly that could create realistic doctored videos, there is an increasing worry over how these can be created for negative purposes.

This was something my team struggles with on a daily basis as we try to monitor breaking news on Twitter and various social media platforms.

Angela Moon, Managing Editor, Bloomberg LP

During the program, I want to explore new business models in journalism that offer revenue streams to us. We need media innovations, especially as a religious media company. We aim for further development in topics, distribution and monetization. Only in this way can we reach new audiences for all our publications. My goal is to promote innovation in our company — incremental or disruptive — and to involve employees.

During the fellowship at CUNY I want to get to know about new business models, find ideas to develop new journalistic products together with a team and to develop our existing products even further. I hope to get a toolbox which helps to sustainably implement innovation in our company and to create a real change of culture

Christian Moser, Chief content manager, editor-in-chief audio at Michaelsbund

The first thing that came to my mind about what keeps me up at night is getting funding for documentary projects. Honestly, I’m not joking, I constantly wake in the middle of the night in a cold sweat worrying about project funding.

In terms of the program, I’m looking forward to getting to know other members of the cohort and hearing about the challenges they face and what they’re trying to achieve in their own organizations. It will be great to have a moment to take a step back from pressing day to day deadlines and reflect more deeply on the work we’re doing and how to do things better.

Amanda Pike, Director of TV and Documentaries at Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting

I’ve spent a lot of time with strategy and news journalism. What worries me is the huge gap between the two.

My job has been to interface the management’s vision into the busy routines of the news organisation. At times the job is more like a covert operation, in which you need to connect with people, listen to hidden signals and feelings and to guide people without them even realising at times that they’re being guided, in order to succeed. It’s a tough job with a lot of opposition, but a rewarding one, when you see big things finally falling into place as envisioned and the audience enjoys themselves.

I’m hoping for a future, where strategy truly unites us as a company and drives us forward. Not by chance or by accident, but because it is a solid result of planning, ideation and has a clear priority.

Annika Ruoranen, Strategist at Yle

I want to make sure journalism finds its right audience via sustainable business models and that journalists get paid what they deserve for their work. First, journalism needs to be viable both as an industry and career choice. We need to explore all possible business models to allow for the production and distribution of quality content.

Second, we need to learn to use every platform available to the best of its abilities with the goal of finding the right audiences, which includes innovating and taking risks. Finally, the digital age is full of great opportunities for journalism, but it also raises two immediate challenges: misinformation and online harassment, both of which require our immediate attention.

Gabriel Sama, Independent media consultant/editor

Reclaim the media. Media is like information technology: It’s a field of permanent disruption. It is evolutionary change right in front of us. The question is: Will you go with the development, or not and be left behind?

The COVID pandemic accelerates the change in the media industry even more. Digitalization, new work, lockdowns cause also new forms of consumer behavior on the side of the readers as well on the side of the advertisers. The old model — “we create an environment for ads and wrap some journalism around it” — won’t work anymore. Nevertheless there are a lot of media managers who stick to this old business model and ruin legacy media outlets. These are the people who are talking about an economic media crisis. A crisis is a tragedy but a short one. What we live through is a normal and transformation of an industry.

To address all the changes, we have to reset the focus to good editorial teams which produce high quality content that address the needs of the recipients (readers, viewers, listeners), form a strong and thereby an attractive brand for advertisement customers. Create a high quality and highly attractive platform. Be like Amazon. To become an Amazon-like media company, journalists have to take over. They are good media creators. Now they have to become also media entrepreneurs. During the next year I want to explore ways to transform editorial teams into agile media outlets. So we can redefine the media business with our strengths analysing to extract relevant information, creativity to form new products and resilience. Because it’s a tough business, but a fascinating one.

George Sarpong, Editor-in-Chief, Computerworld Switzerland

Trust in media has hit historic lows, according to a recent survey. Even as hard-working reporters — often risking their own safety or operating under impossible workplace conditions — expose political corruption, structural racism, corporate wrongdoing, public health and safety hazards and other injustices, more people than ever apparently believe that we are purposely misleading them and spreading false information. This disconnect between journalists and those who we seek to serve constitutes a major crisis not only for our profession but for democracy itself.

At The Marshall Project, our journalists are committed to holding powerful actors accountable, including police departments, police unions, prosecutors, judges, departments of corrections and private prison companies. And getting our work in front of lawmakers and others who control policy has led to landmark changes that have improved many lives. But we’re also increasingly aware that our mission requires reaching beyond people with power to those most affected by the system. Millions of Americans are behind bars or have been in the past, have a loved one behind bars, work in prisons and jails, or are vulnerable to dangerous police interactions because of their skin color or mental health status. If they don’t trust us, how can we reach them with stories that can change their lives? If they don’t trust us, how can we tap into their expertise and knowledge to ensure that our work is accurate and relevant to those who need it most?

As the inaugural Social Impact Fellow at the Executive Program in News Innovation and Leadership at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, I look forward to exploring these questions. I am especially interested in exploring how journalists can combine accountability reporting with engagement journalism principles to maximize the impact of our work while also building connections and trust with communities. I’m excited to get started. We have lots of work to do.

Geraldine Sealey, Managing Editor, The Marshall Project

As far as identity is concerned, journalism has a demarcation problem: because anyone can publish on the internet, journalism has to give itself a clearer profile. And it is precisely this question that concerns me: how can media houses manage to give journalism a clear profile, to underline its importance for democracy and society, despite the global change in classic business models, a growing information imbalance and the ever-increasing role of social networks?

After all, the crisis has shaken up journalism in Germany. Never before has it dealt with itself so intensively, never before has the sensitivity for mistakes been so great. There is a spirit of optimism. Journalism is experimenting with multimedia forms of presentation and the automation of editorial processes. But the central challenge remains to find new ways of funding.

I am looking forward to exchanging ideas with media professionals from all over the world, to learning about the challenges and opportunities in other countries and how innovation is handled in media houses. I hope to get concrete tips from the program’s experts on how to deal with and implement disruption and innovation in large and traditional companies.

Anna van Koetsveld, Deputy Publishing Manager at Bauer Media

What keeps me up at night about journalism is the lack of creativity in how we publish the news in the digital age. There are so many ways to tell our stories and share our findings. But most news outlets do not experiment in this area. Alongside this, I also think there’s a lack of effort put into retaining readers even once they’ve landed on a site. Everyone’s chasing traffic, but the journalism industry isn’t doing enough to keep those readers coming back.

You may ask: why does any of this matter? Surely the reporting alone is enough? But putting together a great investigation, or a great video report, or a great feature, isn’t enough — if there’s no audience, there’s no impact, and there’s no change. If there’s nobody reading your fact-checked work about an important issue, then people will end up stumbling onto posts and stories that are riddled with false information, or fueled by hate. From local politics to climate change, the public needs to know what’s happening in the world around them. And in the digital age, fighting for their attention — and convincing them you are worth investing in and reading — is crucial to the survival of news.

During this program, I want to find a way to tackle this challenge. Specifically, I want to find new, innovative ways to make existing news coverage easier to find, and help the people producing the news find a wider audience. I’ve reported on the stories as a journalist, but now in my career, I’m fascinated by how people use the internet and consume information, and I believe there’s so much to be done in this space. I am beyond excited to have this opportunity to develop my skills as a leader in the journalism industry, and to have the chance to use my creative brain to figure out ways we can do things differently.

Rossalyn Warren, Director of Digital Outreach at The Global Investigative Journalism Network

Elise Czajkowski is a writer/editor who regularly writes about the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism’s executive and professional education programs. Based in New York, she was previously a Tow Knight Fellow in Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Newmark J-School. She launched a non-profit called Sidewalk News, which uses outdoor advertising to distribute local news.

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Training journalists and media leaders to navigate the intersections of product, editorial, business, and technology.

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