This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can sign up here.
Earlier this year, before the morning news meeting, Gabriel Escobar scribbled out a list of three words he was banning from those meetings.
- Sunday story
"It says a lot about how we think about the news," said Escobar, editor of the Philadelphia Media Network, which includes the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Daily News and philly.com.
I spent a day in the newsroom two weeks ago. And the morning news meeting I saw didn't include any of those words or many others that come from print.
Instead, they focused on current news, how the audience was responding, what opportunities they'd missed and what they were working on.
It was still a morning news meeting, but it felt dynamic and responsive instead of staid and traditional.
You can't talk about being digital while thinking about something else, Escobar told me later that day.
"It’s a small indication that at least part of our collective brain is still too focused on print," he said.
The list wasn't meant to carry a "he-who-shall-not-be-named" draconian weight to it, but instead offer a direct way to point out things that weren't working as they are working to change.
The morning he started listing words in their outdated lexicon, Escobar went around the table and asked people to come up with more. That list is now 14 words long. (You can see some of them in a GIF near the end of the newsletter.)
Tomorrow, you can read more about how Philly is unlearning and changing after years of tumult.
In the meantime, here are a few other things we've nominated for the list of things worth banning:
We have to think differently about our audiences.
We have to think differently about how we do our work.
– Asking someone in the newsroom to help you with something you're not great at. Offer a skills swap, because you certainly have something to teach them, too.
– Experimenting with different tools and platforms in your life outside of work. Getting comfortable with something and understanding the language people in that community use is actually fun. Doing it with kid or dog pics and videos can help take away the "this has to be perfect because it's journalism" feeling.
– Ask the people in your life what they read, where they get it, what makes them click something and what makes them scroll. This doesn't mean you have to dumb your work down. But who cares how smart it is if no one is reading?
We have to think differently about newsroom culture.
– If you could write a list of words that should be banned in your newsroom, what would you include? What would your co-workers include? What would your editors include? Agreeing on a few is a small change that could lead to big changes in how we think.
– "Learning culture" is certainly a buzzword, but they're basically places where people are open, figuring things out and sharing with each other. That sounds kind of nice, right?
– Now let's put it all together. What would happen if we listened to our audiences more, stayed nimble with our approach and actively challenged outdated ways of working?
Thanks for letting me write "unlearning" so much, and thanks to everyone who has taken part in this conversation, either through interviews, comments or just reading.
Originally, I'd planned to move onto another topic, but it feels like we need to spend real time with some of the things that came up around unlearning.
I want to start with culture.
Talking about culture can feel eye-roll worthy, especially when it's all just talk. So instead, I'd like to dig into what forces actually make a culture in a workplace and what forces can change it.
Between now and then, give yourself a moment's respite and read about how local journalists are teaching themselves new skills (and feeling pretty OK, too). National Press Foundation has an all-expenses-paid seminar on public health. And later this month, Poynter has a Webinar on writing sharp headlines for social.