Thank you, Carl Sessions Stepp!
In a column in the current American Journalism Review, Stepp provides a counterproposal for the profession that is too mired down in self-regret and waxing poetic on the past to do anything about saving itself from death.
Yes, Stepp says, there still is a place for good journalism in today’s and tomorrow’s world. Great writing and great reporting is still currency, but we need to realize our readers no longer want it by our terms.
To survive and thrive, Stepp points out, we must make the mass of information at our customers’ hands and help them make sense of it. Stress the HELP THEM. To do that, he recommends, in broad strokes:
• Make it better not worse
• Make it astonishingly, irresistibly better
• Make it easier, not harder, to use and enjoy
• Involve everyone from school kids to staff members to senior subscribers in the ultimate group science project of creating the greatest news outlets imaginable.
Two points that Stepp makes that is so important are:
1. The rank and file are ready for change. They are the ones who have been closest to the front lines for so long. They’re the ones who have survived the layoffs, buyouts and company sales. They want to change, and are willing to make the sacrifices needed to at least get back to a sense of normalcy. What’s holding them back? Stepp points out its a management system that’s afraid or unsure of its direction. Management needs to set a clear vision and commit, even if it is a leap of faith. I certainly believe in my personal instance, if our management would hold up the sword and yell “charge” was we look into the storm, our people would follow faithfully. But since there has been no clear vision dictated, many of our great talent (and young talent) have left the business and the industry. It’s a real shame.
2. It has to be a unified vision and direction. We and many other newspapers are still bogged down in border wars and fifedoms that inhibit innovation and change. Change will not occur if managers and executives are too concerned about losing or sharing some of their corporate turf. You can’t stop the clearcutting of the forest if you’re only concerned about your tree.
I hope Stepp’s column becomes required reading in the boardrooms of newspapers who are still unable to move forward. It’s too imporant to ignore, even if it does cut to the heart of what’s right or wrong about your current organization.