Your newsroom budget is the single most powerful tool in managing the allocation of newsroom resources.
The budget is a projection of what you can afford in human resources, technical advantages, training and mobility.
It is imperative that you plan accurately for your future needs and that you track your progress and account for unforeseen circumstances.
The Budget Cycle
Most stations will follow a cyclical budget process on an annual basis. The process includes a planning phase, an implementation phase (the new fiscal year), and a series of tracking and adjustment phases until the process renews itself again. Be sure to make time for budget activities and not to miss any deadlines.
The planning phase requires the news director to engage station management in a visioning exercise that
- reviews past assumptions of the news department’s mission
- notes changes to the news department
- notes changes in the broadcast “environment”
All of which is helpful before discussing the resources necessary to succeed in the year ahead.
As revenue-oriented departments project what they will likely bring-in during the upcoming fiscal year, your mission-oriented department may need to negotiate what portion of those revenues should be invested in local news.
There’s never enough money to go-around, but without a robust discussion during the planning process the station may be shortchanging its strategic thinking. Don’t shortchange news: quality reporting feeds listener satisfaction.
When the news budget is set, the work of the manager is largely to see that rationing of expenses conforms to the prediction.
When unforeseen circumstances disrupt the plan, adjustments may require the department to forego some planned service — or it may require the department and its station to work together to resolve the problem so as not to cut planned services.
News directors are encouraged to engage fully in the budget process and advocate strongly for the public service value of the news department. Don’t assume other managers understand completely what you do and why you do it. Treat them to a tour of the newsroom and invite them to listen to your plans.
In the best stations, this is not an antagonistic process but a cooperative one in which all managers and all staff share a common vision of powerful journalism for the good of the community — resulting in healthy economic support.