Newsrooms must invest in middle-management if they are to navigate the existing challenges of the news industry, warns Lucy Kueng, a media strategy expert, in a keynote speech at Newsrewired today (15 November 2023).
Jane Barrett, global news editor of Reuters, chronicled these challenges well in the opening remarks: independent journalism being challenged, a compromised funding model, varying expectations of four generations in the workplace, keeping staff’s mental health in check amid abuse and threats to safety.
These issues are not occurring in a vacuum. Generative AI brings further turbulence to public trust and content creation, so are changing expectations and preferences of news consumers.
The modern consumer is spoilt for choice, in terms of topics, mediums and platforms. This “explosion of choice” is fantastic for them, but tough on news organisations to manage. They cannot really be everywhere and do everything; ‘mass media’ has been totally redefined.
Instead, it is a better long-term strategy to focus on your distinct speciality and added-value for news consumers, says Kueng. Across the team, it must be well-understood who your competitors really are, and where your team must outperform them.
“The way to power through these challenges is with strong leadership,” says Kueng. Unfortunately that comes at a cost of mounting pressure and spinning plates.
Middle-managers are getting burnt out because they are in effect doing three jobs: being great journalists, managing change and hitting targets, and coaching younger staff inside the newsroom – without necessarily being given the right training to succeed.
The most successful news organisations are actively investing in giving middle-managers what they need to weather these storms.
Without this focus the most valued talents in media organisations are left unsupported and unfulfilled, and therefore at risk of moving on. Beyond training, what people with the ability to pull off big projects truly want are agency and recognition.
“They want to be given big interesting projects to get their teeth into, that matter to the organisation and they can want autonomy in how they do it,” says Kueng.
“They’d also like people to acknowledge how much they are contributing.”