Newsrooms don’t have to be depressing places, we promise. (Photo by Eric Gay/AP)

Newsrooms have a long reputation for being unhappy, antagonistic workplaces. The massive downsizings since the mid-2000s and uncertainty about the future of the industry haven’t helped much.

Journalists in the United States are “less satisfied with their work,” and “much more likely to say that journalism is headed in the wrong direction than in the right one,” according to a 2014 study from Indiana University.

Look, we know journalism is hard. Many of us aren’t paid well. We work longer hours than our timesheets reveal, often at a moment’s notice and on topics that should qualify us for grief counseling. What are we left with if we can’t pull a little fun out of it?

News startups and businesses in other industries have shown that making a few thoughtful tweaks to the workplace can create more fun, collaborative and creative environments. Why haven’t legacy newsrooms followed their lead? Is it possible? Those are the questions we’ll explore during Poynter’s Fun at Work Week from August 3 through 7.

It’s past time for ink-stained wretches to wash their hands, roll up their sleeves and make some changes. Here are seven reasons we believe newsrooms should invest in fun.

  1. It’s a smart business decision. When two of this year’s Pulitzer Prize winners leave journalism for PR and marketing, you have to admit we have a retention problem. According to business consulting firm Delivering Happiness, happy workplaces see 51 percent lower turnover and 31 percent more productivity. Considering that only three in 10 U.S. workers are actively engaged in their jobs, making offices better places to be is a financial no-brainer.
  2. It leads to editorial innovation. Journalists, presumably, have fun outside of work, and tapping into those interests can be a boon in the workplace. Mic, for example, has a weekly “inspiration meeting” in which writers talk aimlessly with editors about topics that interest them, and editors suss out story ideas. Mic’s editorial director said these conversations have led to innovative articles and staff members care more deeply about their work.
  3. It’s not an expensive investment. You don’t need fancy perks to make fun happen. Making time for activities like walks, team games, or regular breaks from work can help employees avoid burnout or the dreaded writer’s block. Plus, newsrooms like HLN have discovered how incredible a few extra packs of colorful Post-It Notes can be.
  4. Anyone can do it. Jim Naughton, Poynter’s president from 1996 until 2003, summed it up best:

    The wonderful thing about having fun in journalism is that anyone can start it. Talk about empowerment.

    You do not need permission to giggle.

    It does not take a mandate from the General Manager nor a memorandum from the Executive Vice President for Cutting the Crap Out of the Budget.

    Go ahead and laugh. It’s infectious.

    Better yet, plot. Conspire to play a prank on a boss.

  5. It builds collaboration. Encouraging fun, especially through shared group activities, can lead to better employee relationships and a common sense of purpose. Gallup found that employees who care about each other are much more likely to be satisfied at work and actively engage with other employees. As the lines between editorial, product and technology departments continue to blur, collaboration is a challenge many newsrooms still need to solve.
  6. It boosts creativity. A 2010 study from North Dakota State University discovered that the more adults think or act like children, the more imaginative they become. That mindset can lead to more productive brainstorm sessions and energetic meetings. We’re all looking for fresh ideas, right? Time to bust out the crayons.
  7. It’s contagious. There’s a ripple effect to fun, which serves newsrooms well. When upper-level management creates an environment that fosters fun, employees follow their lead. And it extends beyond that. People are drawn to online communities that offer surprise and delight. Turns out, fun is an important element in building an engaged and loyal audience.
  8. We’ll focus on implementing fun and reaping these benefits throughout Fun at Work Week. Allie Mahler, from IDEO, will share tips on how small changes to physical workspaces can make a lasting impact. HLN’s Karyn Lu will explain how combining work and play can have innovative effects when building a new team or new products. Jenn Brandel, who founded WBEZ’s Curious City, will demonstrate how fun is an integral element for newsrooms looking to build engaged communities. We’ll wrap up the week by showing how newsrooms can implement fun and boost creativity and collaboration with limited resources.

    The Webinars are designed for managers and employees of all levels – more often than not, cultural change takes root at the bottom level of organizations.

    This week is an experiment for Poynter and NewsU, just as it’s a stretch for newsrooms. We think it’s a risk worth taking and suspect we’ll all learn a lot in the process. Besides, who doesn’t want to make work a better place to be?

    Could your newsroom use a dose of fun? Share your story in the comments below or join the conversation on our Facebook event page. You can register for the Fun at Work Week Webinars here.

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Katie Hawkins-Gaar is Poynter's Digital Innovation Faculty. Ren LaForme is an Interactive Learning Producer. They're both passionate about newsroom culture, innovation, strategy and other geeky…
Katie Hawkins-Gaar and Ren LaForme

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