Changing Newsrooms from the Ground Up and the Top Down

A brief interview with SRCCON:WORK speaker Jessica Morrison

SRCCON:WORK is coming up fast. In the run-up to the event, we’re publishing short interviews with the nine people selected to give talks to frame the participatory sections at the heart of the conference. Here’s our Q&A with Jessica Morrison, project manager at Chemical & Engineering News, who will speak about “bringing change to a legacy newsroom. What do you do when print workflows don’t map to ambitious tech projects and traditional newsroom roles don’t align with growing responsibilities?”

Jessica Morrison on Managing Change

Source: Hi Jessica! Would you introduce yourself to our readers, please?

I’m a project editor (which is essentially a newsroom project manager) for Chemical & Engineering News. This is a job that’s brand new in our newsroom, and I started working in this role in July after being a staff reporter for 3 years. Before that I had bylines in the Chicago Tribune, the Charlotte Observer, and Nature. And before that I got a PhD in geochemistry.

I pitched a session for SRCCON:WORK about the struggles that come with working in a legacy newsroom that has modern ambitions. This is something that I’ve seen first-hand—first as a reporter who wanted to produce data interactives, and now as a project editor who coordinates both internal and audience-facing projects.

Source: Is it possible to change a newsroom’s culture from the bottom up? If yes, how? Or if not, how can observant and beleaguered underlings help make substantive change?

You can have small wins from the bottom up, but buy-in from the top is crucial. Even with buy-in, it can be extremely challenging to change culture. Journalists tend to be independent, skeptical people (and they should be!). But that means working as part of a team might not come naturally—especially if poorly managed efforts have failed in the past. Cultivating trust is important, setting clear expectations is important, being generous with credit is important, managing change is important.

Source: What do you wish you could dig into in your talk, but won’t have the time to discuss?

I wish I could talk about how I structure my email, my to do list (on paper), and my notes to keep it all together when the newsroom is swirling around me. See me after class if you want the deets.



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