13 questions to ask before adopting new tools or changes in the newsroom

Getting people to try new things in the workplace can be challenging. But it’s nearly impossible after they’ve witnessed change after botched change tossed aside to progress’ junk heap.

As newsroom leaders, colleagues and employees, it’s our duty to keep open to change and work to make sure our coworkers remain willing, too.

There are four distinct attitudes about change in any workplace: willing adopters, cautious enthusiasts, skeptics and the fatigued. 

Willing adopters see change not as a battle to win, but as an enduring part of the job. They mercilessly hunt for new tools, workflows and ways of getting things done. Willing adopters have a habit of falling for shiny things, only to cast them away when they get bored or find a new thing to try. They are often underappreciated and viewed as tinkerers or fun-havers. They often try or do things without the knowledge or support of the rest of their workplace and tend not to spend too much time trying to convince others to join in.

Cautious enthusiasts also understand change as a necessary and ceaseless demand. Less adventurous than willing adopters, they tend to try new things only when they need them or stumble across them. They understand that new, shiny things are often not the panacea they claim to be, but are willing to give them a try regardless. Cautious enthusiasts are the connective tissue between willing adopters and the rest of the team. They often shoulder the burden of convincing more skeptical colleagues to take new approaches.

Skeptics are, unsurprisingly, skeptical of change in the workplace. They have worked through periods of relative stability and value skills and workflows that have borne deep successes in the past. They understand that some change is necessary, but view new tools and ways of doing things with suspicion. But they’re not beyond reason and can be convinced to adopt changes with examples, explanations and a dash of managerial verve. Willing adopters and cautious enthusiasts often stereotype them as “traditional” or “old-school.”

The fatigued have lost their spirits. They have given up on change. They’re often willing adopters who grew tired of the slow pace of change, cautious enthusiasts who labored to make change happen only to see much of it fall through or skeptics who were burned by a negative change or a lost promise. The fatigued will participate in trying new things, but often with half a heart and lackluster energy. It’s not impossible to pull skeptics from their doldrums but does require a lot of time, energy and well-reasoned convincing. 

Between the Try This! — Tools for journalists newsletter, chats with my colleague Kristen Hare and in-person and online presentations, I shared about 200 tools this year. I structured nearly every choice about which tool I shared and how I talked about them with the fatigued in mind. I don’t want anyone else to feel like change will burn them.

I limited my newsletter to eight items each week and never shared more than a handful of new tools among those eight. I rarely teach a tool without providing some type of guidance about how to use it. And I ask myself a strict set of questions about each and every tool before I share it, even though it meant that I cut some darn good ones in the process because they didn’t meet the criteria.

In the spirit of our duty to positive change and progress, I’m sharing the criteria I use below. Though I use it to assess tools, it works for workflows, big ideas and other types of change, too. I hope you can use it in your newsroom to cut back on wasted time and wasted energy and keep good employees from becoming fatigued.

Purpose

  • Does it further your journalism? Does it help to make your work clearer, more informative or more interesting? When choosing tools to share, I tend to focus a lot on ones that make our journalism more interesting because I see the rest of the internet as a competitor. Can I make my work more interesting than Facebook or shopping? It’s worth a try.
  • Does it save time? Journalists seem to be most interested in cutting back on the wasted time in their days. The articles I shared about automatic transcription tools were among the most highly trafficked I wrote this year.
  • Does it save money? As trends on the internet change, some of the things we once paid a lot of money for have become free. Tools like Google Analytics, Crowdtangle and Facebook Live offer services and abilities that might cost a fortune elsewhere.

Practicality

  • Is it expensive? This is the first question I ask when a pitch for a new tool lands in my inbox. There’s no sense in teaching the average journalist about artificial intelligence that can write, schedule and publish all of their social posts when that tool costs thousands of dollars a month.
  • Is there a learning curve? I shared a lot of tools that required some knowledge of coding during my first few years on the digital tools beat. Almost nobody used them. With a few exceptions, I now only share tools that somebody could pick up and use in just a few minutes’ time with no special knowledge requirements.
  • Is it easy to put in place? There are a lot of tools that require complex integrations into a CMS, or heavy developer support on the front end of the process or a massive change in workflows. Unless they offer something incredible, I try to keep them out of my recommendations. 
  • Is it sustainable? Is this something that people are going to keep using in your newsroom? Is it something you can afford for more than a few months? Perhaps most importantly, is the company who makes the tool going to stick around? When tools shut down, our articles often lose context or entirely cease to function. I’ve been burned many times by tools who sold out to larger companies and shut down and the whims of bored developers and project managers. 

Necessity

  • Does it offer something you don’t have or do? There’s no sense in adopting a tool when you already have a tool that does a similar job. But if, for example, you don’t currently have a way to track which social media users are sending traffic to your site, that’s something you should look into as soon as possible. 
  • Does it give you some type of edge over others? Some tools exist to provide insights into competitors. Get them first, analyze what they’re doing and do what you can to learn from their successes and failures.
  • Are your readers/viewers/listeners using it? Sometimes it makes sense to start using a tool, most often a platform or social network, when your audience and its audience reach a critical mass of overlap. If you’re a financial news organization aimed at business professionals, for example, it probably doesn’t make sense to get on Snapchat. On the other hand, you’re past due if you focus on news for young people.

An 'it’ factor

  • Does it integrate with other tools? Slack has been maligned for being a distraction and a messaging platform for millennials, but it’s tough to beat its ability to integrate most of the other tools we use into one handy place. I can’t individually monitor Chartbeat and Crowdtangle and Twitter every second of every day, but Slack integrations mean I don’t have to. The most important things get pushed to a channel that’s just a click away. 
  • Does it have a grand champion in your newsroom? Sometimes someone absolutely falls in love with a tool. If you nurture that interest, you might have an effective evangelist in your organization. Sometimes it makes sense to do that even when the tool doesn’t solve an immediate problem.
  • Does it turn heads? Some tools just have a “wow” factor that immediately captures the attention of your audience. These often have limited novelty, but can be hyper-effective ways to reach new audiences for a short period of time. Keep an eye out for them. Being first is important.

No tools will meet all of these requirements. Some of the best ones only check off a few. It’s most important to remember that it’s difficult to rebuild the spirit of change in a fatigued employee. 

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