Measuring Productivity of the News Team

There is a natural tension between a manager’s need to maximize newsroom productivity and a staff member’s need for fair and reasonable expectations. This tension can become heated when either party feels a lack of balance or a lack of understanding.

Generally, all employees want to be productive. News Directors should welcome a chance to talk openly about matters of productivity to clearly articulate their expectations. And they should listen to employee concerns to shed light on any obstacles, special circumstances or the need to adjust their expectations.

Going for Productivity Goals

What often results from conversations over productivity levels is the institution of measurable goals. While this can be tricky in the fast-changing world of news, it is not unreasonable to lay down some quantitative benchmarks to guide our work. However, be mindful that such goals need to grow out of a process that carefully considers your given resources and your programming needs. (A process might also consider your company’s labor agreements, HR rules and performance review procedures.)

When stating productivity goals, see that you articulate what is expected both from 1) your overall team, and 2) each individual. Both are necessary. The team goals speak to your station’s overall service delivery aspirations. (i.e., How many newscasts per day do we need?) The individual goals speak to the fair division of labor and the need for customization based on the employee’s role. (i.e., We’d expect more features per month from reporters than anchors.)

Goals are often stated in terms of “minimal levels.” In practice, meeting those minimal levels would result in a continuously sustainable high-quality service.

Agree on What’s Measurable

So, what is measurable when setting goals? In most cases, you’ll count employees and their available hours, and you’ll try to translate that into units of output. For radio newsrooms, the output is generally in stories or newscasts. Perhaps in “air minutes.” You might also point to the accomplishment of particular tasks (for example, # edits per week).

Of course, we’d all agree that some tasks or air-minutes take little time to prepare and others require huge investments of time. And that’s where the goals may struggle to accommodate variances in output quality and worker efficiency. But while situations will certainly vary, across time the law of averages will provide a helpful yardstick.

Sample News Goals

Here’s an example of goal setting for an overall newsroom and its three reporters and two anchors (and one editor/ND). The rationing of hours would provide at least one locally-produced spot for every newscast, and a fresh super-spot and fresh feature for every morning (except Friday). All spots and features include accompanying web posts of text and a photo. It also budgets time for two Monday morning spots.

Departmental Minimum — Per Day

1 Super-Spot for a.m. newscasts (2 plays)
2 Regular-Spots for pm newscasts (2 plays)
+ alternate versions, 1 for a.m., 1 for p.m. newscasts (2 plays)
1 Feature for am c-segment (2 plays) (except Fridays)
2 pm web posts
2 am web posts
6 newscasts in a.m. (live)
6 newscasts in p.m. (live)

Individual Minimum — Per Week

Reporter A:

1 feature + web post (18-24 hrs),
1 Super-Spot + web post (6-8 hrs),
1 Regular-Spot + web post (4-6 hrs),
1 Monday Spot + web post (4 hrs),
Beat Admin (2-4 hrs).

Reporter B:

1 feature + web post (18-24 hrs),
1 Super-Spot + web post (6-8 hrs),
2 Regular-Spots + 2 web posts (4-6 hrs each),
Beat Admin (2-4 hrs).

Reporter C (Saturday Anchor):

6 newscasts (5:00-8:30 Sat),
1 feature + web post (18-24 hrs),
1 Super-Spot + web post (6-8 hrs),
1 Regular-Spot + web post (4-6 hrs),
1 Monday Spot +web post (2-4 hrs),
Beat Admin (2-4 hrs).

AM Anchor/Reporter:

30 newscasts (5:00-9:15 am),
1/2 feature + web post (12 hrs),
1 Super-Spot or Spot + web post (4-8 hrs).

PM Anchor/Reporter:

30 newscasts (3:00-6:45 pm),
1/2 feature + web post (12 hrs),
1 Super-Spot or Spot + web post (4-8 hrs).

ND:

Admin (10-18 hrs),
2 Super-Spots or Spots + web posts (10-18 hrs),
Editing (10-18 hrs).

Notes:

The goals above are moderately aggressive but very doable for an experienced staff.

You would have to subtract from this output if the personnel were required to take on other duties such as fundraising, talk show appearances, sick or holiday time, etc. (Or, rather than subtract from the output, ideally you’d have freelance or other substitutes who would help maintain this output — while also allowing you to build your “back-up bench.”)