Journalists at NTV in Vinh, Nghệ An, holding a news meeting during a training course
Generating ideas by encouraging staff
Most newsrooms hold a morning news meeting. Some hold several meetings throughout the day.
These meetings are when the editor, or duty editor on shift, organises resources, sets out what is required, gives a clear outline of what news stories are going to be covered, and encourages ideas from the journalists attending.
Copies of the news diary should be available, including the news prospects, the planning agenda, running orders of any TV or radio bulletins, and a hand-over note from the outgoing duty editor.
The news diary will list events that are in the public domain, such as news conferences.
The forward planning prospects will be about original, in-depth journalism produced to meet the needs of your news organisation’s target audience. Please refer to our training module about itentifying the target audience and its needs.
In a large media organisation representatives of the various sections need to attend. In a small organisation it might be possible for most staff to attend.
If the news operation has a website, a representative of the interactive team should be present along with the person responsible for social media.
Representatives of the specialist units such as business, technology, health, environment, sport etc, should attend.
Specialist staff will be expected to have prepared for the meeting by digging around stories where they might be able to add value and insight.
The duty editor should ask them what is important in their particular areas of coverage.
It's important to have someone from the design team attending the meeting. Their job will be to create graphics to illustrate stories.
Ideally graphics should be consistent in style whether used on air, in print or online. They could be graphics designed to explain a point, or they might be promotional graphics to draw attention to a story.
The hand-over notes, prospects, and planning notes, left behind by the previous shift, will help the duty editor plan what resources will be needed, and what to expect from the journalists. See the training module on story weighting.
There is no point committing valuable journalistic effort to make repeat calls and carry out research that has already been undertaken by another member of your news organisation’s staff.
Engaging the audience
The team which runs the interactive element of the website, such as forums, polls and UGC (user-generated content), has an important part to play in the morning meeting.
They might choose to speak last after they have heard all the ideas being floated around.
The interactive team sets up opportunities for audience engagement, and also feeds back audience responses into the editorial process.
It’s in everybody’s interest to run interactive features that can feed off news items and which can cross-promote those items across all platforms.
Similarly, the multimedia team will have a representative at the news meeting. They need to hear what stories are being produced and ensure that any audio and video, illustrating those stories, is made available online and on mobile.
Those visiting your news website might not use the other platforms on which your news organisation's information is presented.
They might not watch TV, read newspapers, or listen to the radio.
Your presentation of their daily intake of news on one particuar device might be the only contact they have with your news brand.
That is why it is important that you don't assume they have already seen the news elsewhere.
You might also have to act as a clearing house for all the other news being covered by others.
Your audience will expect you to sift through the hundreds of news stories, pick the most important 10 to 20, and present them in a way that makes sense to their lives. Please refer to our training module about creating a journalism content value matrix.
Managing productive news meetings
Most of us have attended dull news meetings where people are slouched on chairs, lacking ideas and unresponsive when called on.
In such cases it’s not surprising that the news produced in such an atmosphere is dull and uninteresting.
But the news meeting can be the point at which energy, innovation, imagination and great ideas can flood into the news process.
First you will need to have a clear idea of the outcome you want, but you will also need to encourage participation from every member of staff.
There should be no hiding places, no scapegoats and no favourites.
There needs to be a sense that every news meeting will unearth several news story ideas in the category of "had it not been for you the world would never have known."
Your staff need to know that it's not worth turning up if they don't have original ideas to contribute.
Here are 30 tips for running a stimulating news meeting that should help guarantee a steady stream of original stories.
1: Attention: Meet standing up or sitting on hard seats, not slouching on sofas.
2: Punctuality: Be punctual and start on time, even if all have not arrived.
3: Urgency: Create a sense of urgency, and set a time limit for the meeting.
4: Pace: Keep things moving and avoid silences by injecting your own ideas.
5: Vision: Have a clear outline of what you think the news day should look like before you start the meeting.
6: Preparation: Encourage staff to read in (their own site/publication and the competition) before the meeting. They should not be catching up with what has already happened during the news meeting.
7: Alert: All attending should be totally across what you and your competition are covering and should have already thought through the next steps in the story and come up with some original angles to explore.
8: Expectations: Ensure staff realise that they are expected to find news, not be given it on a plate. If you run a new meeting like a soup kitchen, where staff will be spoon-fed and given hand-outs (news releases to rewrite), you will reduce the incentive for them to come up with their own ideas.
9: Distractions: Ban texting or phone calls (unless they are to do with a developing news story) during the meeting. Those attending should give their full attention.
10: Disciline: Discourage private conversations during the meeting; if someone has something to say, ensure they address the whole group.
11: Competition: Instil a sense of competitiveness in the meeting. People should be fighting to get their ideas accepted.
12: Clarity: Speak loudly and clearly, don’t drone. You need to make sure you are understood and that those contributing are, too.
13: Humour: Use humour where possible without trivialising the seriousness of the task in hand. Journalism should be fun as well as serious.
14: Enjoyable: Make sure the meeting is enjoyable; it sets the tone for the day. The meeting should motivate staff.
15: Participation: Generate an atmosphere of participation rather than one where people want to hide. This is best achieved by asking people how the news should develop rather than reading out a long, boring list of events that everyone is already covering.
16: Recap: If an important and complicated story has been discussed during the meeting, always recap on what has been agreed so that people are clear before moving on to the next issue.
17: Planning: Be across the day's prospects and planning diary and have copies printed out for all staff. Ensure the planning editor takes a leading role when they read out the original stories produced for the day. (Please refer to our training modules “Establishing a market differential” and “Forward planning for media organisations to ensure most efficient use of resources”.
18: Review: Spend five minutes asking what could have gone better on the last shift. Don't dwell on issues, but make sure that mistakes are corrected and your output continues to improve.
19: Congratulations: Mention where your news team beat the opposition the previous day, try to pinpoint why and celebrate success. Applaud where original journalism has triumphed.
20: Praise: Make sure you praise what was done well, not just the correspondent but the camera crew, the photographers, the producers and the editors. Blowing your team's trumpet for them is a great motivator.
21: Recognition: Show that you understand the difficulties of news gathering and what your team went through to produce the previous output. Most editors will have worked in the field; it's important your staff know you appreciate the issues they face in doing their jobs.
22: Teamwork: Stress continually that it is a team effort and everyone needs each other. Where there has been noticeable collaboration, say so and help others realise that, by working together, the quality of output will improve.
23: Responsibility: Encourage shared responsibility for all output. You are as strong as the weakest member of the team. Everyone needs to support one another.
24: Respect: Never criticise a member of staff in front of his or her peers. If you have an issue with someone, have a word with them later. Respect that there may be factors that you are unaware of, and be sure to take time to understand why problems happened. Please refer to our training modules “Managing people and setting objectives” and “Developing the potential of your staff”.
25: Correction: You have a responsibility to follow up on mistakes for the sake of those who made them and those who were affected by them, but always tackle failures in a separate meeting; they are not always best dealt with in the daily news meeting.
26: Offline: Don’t waste time with conversations that can be dealt with after the meeting. Make it clear what can be discussed in the news meeting and what should be dealt with offline.
27: Follow up: Allow time for brief one-to-one chats after the meeting ends if staff are unclear. Some may feel uncomfortable asking for clarification in public. Set aside 15 mins after the meeting for anyone who needs extra briefing. Please refer to our training module entitled “Creating a story weighting system” for some tips on how to ensure staff know what is expected of them.
28: Inclusiveness: Encourage participation, welcome ideas and don’t mock any. Some great ideas are often poorly presented at first.
29: Decisiveness: Ensure that decisions are made and move on. A presentation board gives a meeting focus and helps highlight the main points covered.
30: Complete: Don’t end a meeting with loads of loose ends. If you do, staff will be confused. They need to leave the meeting with a sense of purpose.
Sum up at the end with a clear outline of how you expect the day ahead to develop. And thank people for taking part - and mean it.
Copyright: The text, graphic and image in this training module are from Media Helping Media (http://www.mediahelpingmedia.org) and are released under Creative Commons BY-NC 4.0.
The author of this piece, David Brewer, is a journalist and media strategy consultant who set up and runs Media Helping Media. He delivers journalism training and media consultancy services worldwide via Media Ideas. He also runs a media mentoring service.