Perry: On The Importance of Newsroom Culture

Alex Perry, Columnist

Newsrooms who intentionally create a healthy workplace culture would benefit from the retention of talented, motivated and happy reporters who produce high quality coverage. 

Workplace culture typically consists of unwritten rules on the personality of an organization, resulting in the keeping of a certain type of worker who thrives in that environment. Culture is a phenomenon that’s somewhat chicken-and-egg, and can be hard to maintain in college newsrooms with high turnover.

However, with research and intentionality, newsroom leaders can nurse an environment where culture not only repairs the relationship between the publication and the community, but also improves the quality of reporting produced.

Launched in 2012, Google’s Project Aristotle aimed to pinpoint factors of highly effective teams and found culture to be a main factor. What’s incredible about the project is the way the researchers took culture, a previously amorphous concept, and defined the subfactors as equality in distribution of conversational turn-taking, high average social sensitivity and psychological safety. 

Culture was previously boiled down from “being the right fit” into something that just “exists.” However, akin to image, successful culture is crafted. 

For entities such as cable news organizations or elite universities, during recruitment periods, a certain image that reflects their environment is cultivated. This subsequently attracts like-minded individuals who align with the image of their workplace andare proud of it.  

So where do newsrooms start? Because the majority of a newsroom’s workforce are reporters, it’s easy to rely on recruitment as a filter for culture. After all, don’t elite universities maintain their culture by rejecting applicants who don’t fit and accepting those who do? 

But exclusivity is not a good look for a progessive newsroom. And the three factors Google’s research defined aren’t necessarily identities, but more so attributes that are learnable for most humans with capacity for social interaction. 

It’s essentially up to leadership to set the example when it comes to outlining the environment. According to the Harvard Business Review, “for better and worse, culture and leadership are inextricably linked.” What’s good and bad about a college newsroom is that it’s small enough that reporters witness the example that every level of leadership sets. 

As the informal faces of the newsroom, editors should be held to a higher standard because their promotions are essentially an acknowledgement of success on multiple levels. 

For example, it’s clear from coverage of the New York Times’ potential executive editor that because of their newsroom’s identity, a certain type of person is expected to represent the organization from the top. 

Ex-editor in chief of BuzzFeed News Ben Smith wrote in 2019 of the top three contenders: “They are classic Timesmen of their generation: East Coast–bred (Boston, Washington, New York), Ivy League–educated (Harvard, Yale, Princeton), star reporters and bureau chiefs (Beijing, Jerusalem, Moscow), whose ambition nobody doubts.”

The goal is to establish a newsroom culture so strong that a person who is emblematic of it deserves a title like “Timesmen.” 

Essentially, newsroom culture is reinforced by the promotion of individuals who uphold it, and the retainment of individuals who thrive in it. As media people, we should care about culture because it ultimately reflects the work we produce. 

It’s critical to shape a healthy culture that prioritizes reporters who believe in a community-centric mission. All levels of a newsroom contribute to building and maintaining an environment that boosts morale, attracts top talent and shapes an organization that not only believes in the work they do, but is also happy while doing it. 

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Twitter: @WhoIsAlexPerry

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