The deployment of the news team places complex demands on the News Director. You need both creativity and discipline, thoughtful planning and fast action, picky oversight and complete trust in others. You coordinate by setting goals, rationing resources and adjusting to changing circumstances.
As the editorial agenda-setter, you play your most influential role in the beginning — before ideas become assignments. By clarifying your department’s mission and what is relevant to your audience, you help your team know and declare what matters and what doesn’t. When the target is in focus, the team will find its aim.
Try categorizing stories using A, B or C designations. A is high importance, high impact, a must-do story. B is a story of merit, perhaps of medium importance but interesting. The B story may end up being the best you’ve got for the current story cycle. C is low importance and should be challenged as a potential waste of time. However, sometimes C stories prove to be fun or colorful, worth doing for entertainment value.
Prioritizing is sometimes a challenge of matching expectations to resources.
See Issues & Challenges → High Aspirations and Low Resources
The process of prioritization is ongoing and cyclical. Parts of it play out in the macro planning; parts of it play out in the assignment process. Meetings play a key role.
In practice, prioritization can be an inclusive process so as to benefit from open discussion, inquiry and debate. However, the ND must guard against weak or ill-informed recommendations.
Reporters always should be encouraged to offer story ideas. Many newsrooms use a story-pitch process to vet reporter story ideas.
When time is of the essence — such as during a crisis — the ND may need to minimize discussion or simply dictate priorities.
What flows from your priorities is your distribution of resources. These resources include labor, money, time and equipment. Manage them strategically.
Some rationing is established well in advance — such as staff salaries, job scope and scheduling.
Time, by far, is the greatest organizing factor in your team process. Just as your station runs on a clock, your team is driven by deadlines. News Directors will use the power of deadlines to assure timely and efficient action on the part of their team.
Wasted time can often be traced back to a lack of clear priorities.
All assignments should have deadlines.
A common challenge is setting realistic expectations for employee productivity.
Quick and meaningful communication is essential in radio news. Often, you can attain a high degree of efficiency in your team’s work if you can improve communication. Proximity helps, which is why open newsroom designs are common. If proximity between team members isn’t possible, you’ll need to allow more phone calls, email, instant messaging or walking around.
Use memos or written procedures to emphasize more lasting communication. Use focused meetings for discussion and brainstorming. Consider communication, like time, a resource that may require managing to get the most from your team.
Ideally, all team members have the equipment they need for the routine performance of their jobs. Having to share such tools as field kits, laptops, desktop editing, phones, etc. can crimp productivity, impair quality and cause conflict.
All News Directors know what is planned one hour can go out the window the next. Adjustments to your team effort may be triggered by breaking news, by the collapse of an assigned story, by a sudden illness or other unforeseen event. By dealing smoothly with adjustments, you minimize confusion and maintain efficiency.
The smooth coordination of the news team will take constant small adjustments. These usually don’t disrupt solid priority-setting and resource-rationing. However, major disruptions happen. When they do, cycle through this coordination process all over again. Chances are you quickly see the new priority… and know how to reallocate your resources.