RYAN: Okay. Awesome. Welcome back. I’m excited to introduce to you now to Jessica Morrison. Jessica is a project manager at Chemical & Engineering News, an organization based in DC where they cover news and research in chemistry and chemical engineering. Jessica was a reporter before she moved into this project-management role, and this is a role she’s really helping her organization carve out for the first time. But before that, she earned her PhD in geochemistry. She started college in journalism but apparently the geology field trips were super cool, so she ended up with a PhD. We’re super happy to have her back to speak on journalism in a museum of chemistry of course. And she’s going to talk to us this morning about being change to a legacy newsroom. Thank you, Jessica.
JESSICA: Thank you. Good morning. Can you hear me? Is this all good? So I want you to take a second to think about how your newsroom is organized. Close your eyes, if that feels okay, picture your org chart. Now take a deep breath through your nose, exhale through your mouth, and open your eyes. This is what our business used to look like. You probably recognize a chart like this. It’s hierarchical, it’s siloed, there’s an editor-in-chief at the top, there are writers and editors all throughout the middle, there’s the layout people on one side, some online people on the other side. For newsrooms of all sizes, there’s structure here.
It’s worked for a long time. It’s supported the work of journalism because it worked okay enough. People came and went, but the processes of journalism, by and large, stay the same. This worked… well enough. And then the Internet happened. Like, it really happened.
[ Laughter ]
This is what our business looks like in 2017 because we’re all at a conference called Work, and because I spent a day with y’all yesterday I know I’m not the only person caught up in this chart, in this chaos, thinking this is out of control. It’s a lot. So I’m going to take a few minutes here to talk to you about why I think structure is so important and how this kind of thinking is starting to infiltrate in my newsroom and get you warmed up for the next sessions. So let’s dive in.
Structure is important. It’s how you organize your newsrooms, it’s how you organize your workflows, it’s how you organize your thoughts and behaviors. We have work to do. Our organizes have missions. Journalism is something of tremendous value but it’s also under attack. Unfortunately, in doing the work that we all love, too many of us are spending way too much of our creative energy trying to find that one email about that thing that we built last year that we want to build again this year, and was that a Google doc? Did you share that with me in an email, or was that Slack?
AUDIENCE: I love you! That is my life now!
JESSICA: So why doesn’t this search ever work? And since it’s online, can’t we do it faster? I know this is going up tomorrow but can’t we make the graphics a little more… interesting? So these are conversations that happen all the time. I know you have these conversations in your newsroom. I can’t speak for yours but I know that in mine we’re not prepared. We’re not equipped to handle them.
There’s a lot of change happening around newsrooms. Our workflows for print are changing in response to digital. Our web workflows are… eh. We’re updating our CMS, we’re redesigning our website, and roles and responsibilities are struggling to keep up. There are a lot of people in my newsroom who are spinning in this org chart. So how do we fix that? I don’t have the answers. A lot of us in this room have said that: we don’t have the answers. But I do have some very good questions. How do we press pause on this chaos and begin to address some of the structural legacy underlying issues thinking of us doing our best work together? How do we do that in a way that develop best practices for our industry? How do we stop doing that separately from one another? We’re all working on the same problem.
So while you think about that, I set out to get you warmed out for the next sessions in a minute. So let me tell you something about myself. I started boxing regularly about two years ago as a way of sort of…
JESSICA: Adding discipline and structure to my life. And it’s taught me things about building and maintaining structure, and working efficiently. So I’m going to ask you to do a thing with me, you know, group participation, moving around activities. So are we good? Are we ready? You’re going to do this with me? Cool. If we could do just a little bit of shadow boxing…
[ Laughter ]
I’ll walk you through this. So I have one rule, and then I have some instructions. So the rule, as you probably have guessed, is “don’t hit anyone.”
[ Laughter ]
That’s the thing that we’re doing with ours. So draw an imaginary box around yourself that extends from your front to shoulders, watch out for glasses and things in your table, you’re going to stay in your box. You’re also going to pull your punches which is generally good life advice when you’re in close quarters. So that’s your rule. The instructions are that I’m going to teach you the first two punches you learn in boxing. So ready? That’s a jab and a cross. So one and a two. So here’s what we’re going to do? There’ll be a little bit more. So I’m going to start talking about this org chart and when I call a one, I want you to throw a one. When I call a two, I want you to throw a one and a two together. Got it? Let’s practice. I’m going to turn sideways so you can kind of like — I don’t do well mirroring. So let’s practice. One, one, one, two. Remember, when I call two, that’s a one and a two together.
One, two. Okay. You’re close, okay. So you do that and I’m going to talk about this chart. Can you find yourself here? One, raise your hand if you ever feel like you’re ever pulled in too many directions, one! Raise your hand if you ever feel like you’re herding cats. One. It’s okay. You can raise your hand as many times as you need to during this exercise. Two! Raise your hand if you’ve worked extra hard so that you could be here this week. Did extra work. One. Raise your hand if you’ve been working while here. One. Raise your hand if you’re an editor, or a designer, or a developer, and you felt you had to learn something new, and potentially terrifying, every single year just to stay afloat. One.
Raise your hand if you’re a manager and you care a whole lot about the happiness of your staff. One. Raise your hand if you feel like you spend way too much time managing up. Two!
[ Laughter ]
One, and you wish you had the ability of a digital startup, two. Raise your hand if you work at a digital startup, one. And if you have definitely not got it all figured out. Two! Raise your hand if someone’s ever said to you, “Yeah, we don’t do that here.”
[ Laughter ]
Raise your hand if user politics have ever killed a good idea. Two! Raise your hand if you think we can build something better together. One. All right. That was great. Great job, everybody. That was round one. We only have 11 more to go! But that was hard, right? I was asking you to raise your hand if you identify with anything I said, and I was also asking you to shadow box by number. It’s kind of awkward and hard to raise your hand and to also shadow box. I saw some of you getting confused especially if you just learned how to shadow box. Do you see what you did there? It’s kind of hard to do one job if your job has turned into what might be two or three jobs in a better org chart. Managing expectations is important. In my newsroom we’re starting to think about how our traditional roles and responsibilities align with the expectations of project and team work that, you know, we’re hoping will help us achieve our digital ambitions. We are a friendly magazine.
So that means in many cases, being more explicit about what’s required from different people as they do team work and what’s required to achieve milestones along the way and throughout the project. It also means building a transparency so that everyone in the newsroom begins to see how interdependent our work is. I’ve been thinking about this a lot here, and as I have sort of prepped for this talk and before, how do we build legacy newsrooms that have structures that support the work that we want to do today, and the work that we want to do tomorrow. How do we build structures that support us by managing expectations and emphasizing transparency and accountability? What would that look like?
So let’s do one more round but a little bit differently this time. If you’re here today, if you’re here, you’re with me, you’re here in this room today, one. And you’re ready for a second day, a hard but encouraging work together. High-five your neighbor! Now if it feels okay, close your eyes again. A second time, close your eyes. Picture your org chart. Take a deep breath in through your nose, exhale through your mouth, and open your eyes. Let’s fix it. That’s it.
[ Applause ]
RYAN: Thank you, Jessica, that was awesome. Thank you for those questions. Thank you for getting our blood flowing. That was amazing. Can y’all help me thank Mandy and Jessica one more time?
[ Cheers and Applause ]
So we’re doing great on time this morning. It is 10:33. The first set of breakout sessions starts at 10:45. So check out the schedules and see what’s happening at 10:45. There’s signs on the doors. But let’s get going. Let’s do work together. This has been awesome. Thank you so much.