“Most people don’t learn from training, they learn from conversations.”
“Managers hadn’t been intentionally excluded, but they need to be actively included, especially if we are asking people who report to them to do something new in their jobs.”
“If you don’t solve for what leadership wants, it doesn’t matter what you’re bringing to the table.”
— Highlights from publishers who presented at the close of CrowdTangle’s Lighthouse Lab, August 7th.

Last spring, CrowdTangle kicked off its first 12-week local news Accelerator through the Facebook Journalism Project; we called it Lighthouse Lab in honor of “lighthouse” customers, another name for early adopters. It focused on data-driven digital innovation, specifically rolling out new apps and tools in a newsroom — be it CrowdTangle, a new CMS, or even Instagram Stories. The cohort consisted mainly of digital and audience development directors, publishers, and centralized social and marketing leads.  Participating publishers included NBC Philadelphia / Telemundo62, Sinclair Broadcast Group, Chalkbeat, Newsday, NJTV, the Canton Repository, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, Washington City Paper, Nexstar Media Group’s WTNH-TV Connecticut, Advance Local, Global News, Lee Enterprises, and Cox Media.

The program kicked off in New York in June with each publisher presenting a challenge they wanted to focus on, such as increasing evening engagement and increasing adoption of CrowdTangle. Then each publisher worked toward achieving an outcome related to that goal, aiming to share their results after 12 weeks. We modeled this approach after other Facebook Journalism Project Accelerators, where participants have seen tangible outcomes after developing new membership and subscription strategies. Each Lighthouse Lab participant received a $5,000 grant to help tackle their challenge.

After the kick-off, which you can read more about here, it became clear that the strategies you use to roll out new tools are the same strategies you can use to effect any kind of change in the workplace. The program focused on culture, empathy, and habit formation at work for an industry whose employees are constantly being asked to do more with less. Participating publishers attended sessions throughout the summer focused on workplace culture and executive buy-in, as well as best practices sessions from digitally innovative publishers such as BBC World Service, Reach plc, Expressen, and The New York Times. Participants also heard from the team at Social News Desk, on how to be a good partner to vendors, and attended a detailed session from Workplace scaled education expert Jesse Evans on how to plan a successful tool rollout, complete with documentation and a template tracker to use moving forward.

Here are some of the initial results:
There were key lessons that emerged, which are applicable in all newsrooms:
  1. Solve problems, get buy-in, listen.
  2. Clearly communicate the value proposition to all levels of the company.
  3. Identify your champions. For the tools, but also for YOU.
  4. Pivots take TIME.
  5. Build your support network.

Solve problems, get buy-in, listen. (Oh and also, be nice!)

TL,DR; Solve Problems

“Everyone needs different things … but we didn’t know because we had never asked.”
— Emily Ristow, Milwaukee Journal Sentinel

Before participants came together in June, they were asked by Marie Gilot, director of professional development at the Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at CUNY, and Laura Cochran, an expert in user research, to complete some homework — namely, to conduct empathy interviews in their newsrooms to understand current sentiment around past tool rollouts. This ended up being a key learning from the entire program.

As a result of these interviews, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel and others completely revamped their newsroom training plans, going from large open training sessions, to more targeted sessions focused on use case. They are now developing social best practices trainings tailored to individual workflows, creating clear plans for follow-ups, and implementing a plan for training champions who can do further 1:1 trainings with colleagues.

Empathy Interviews

For Ristow at the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, a recent training with reporters was the most focused and successful to date. Similarly, Elaine Piniat and Don Hudson, at Long Island newspaper Newsday, appointed 12 people in their newsroom as CrowdTangle ambassadors. Through empathy interviews with these ambassadors, they learned about reporters need and how each person would find the tool most useful. Moving forward, Piniat is developing training sessions that target those specific needs, and plans to use the grant to build out hyper-specific lists targeted to the needs of reporters in the newsroom.

Participating publishers were also encouraged to do this with their executives, as understanding the motivations of leadership is one of the key ways to be able to achieve your goals.

Lastly, being nice can go a long way. Partners have said this is an integral aspect to getting others in the newsroom to learn and work with you.

Clearly communicate the value proposition to all levels of the company.

“Next up: Communicate with leadership. Making CrowdTangle training a priority for Q3 and Q4 with goals tied to key KPIs will provide valuable buy-in.”
— Steven Ibanez, Advance Local, on one of the four steps they’re taking post-program.

Advance Local is introducing a three-step training plan including interviews with stakeholders, communication with leadership, and tiered trainings for different parts of the newsroom, while also making sure to iterate and listen along the way to increase the use of CrowdTangle by reporters and editors. They hope this approach will help their teams discover trending stories, new topics to cover, as well as represent underserved communities.

Lee Enterprises has launched a pilot program with six major newspapers including the St. Louis Post Dispatch and the Arizona Daily Star to reintroduce “social power tools.” “We initially focused on rolling out one-product ‘better,’ but we realized we need to focus more on the big picture. Understanding empathy, psychology, and communication are key,” said Lauren Siegert, content marketing development manager on Lee’s corporate team.

Identify your champions. For the tools, but also for YOU.

“Build your brain trust: Maximize team member’s strengths, interests.”
— Joy Johnston, Cox Media

The exercise of “influence mapping,” a.k.a. figuring out who you need to achieve your goals, emerged as an important theme. Who have you already built good relationships with? Where do you need to spend more time? Who are the potential blockers? Who is an “approver” and who have you just made think they are an approver?

Joy Johnston, of Cox Media, identified building this “brain trust” as one of the top learnings of the program: “I will be doing a presentation to my team centered on fostering resilience in the face of change. The presentation will lean heavily on the many lessons learned during the Lighthouse Lab workshop.” Cox Media is transitioning to a new CMS and will use the lessons from the program in the rollout.

As for the tools themselves, many publishers are launching ambassador programs. One example is Global News, a Canadian broadcaster, which is looking at a follow-up to its successful Global News Academy course (in which a social team manager teaches newsrooms around the country about social media best practices). The follow-up will dive into social media analytics. Another is Wendy Warren, Director of Integrated Media at NBC Philadelphia/Telemundo62, who shared the learnings from the program with her executive team, and secured more resources for digital training.

A slide from professor Jeremy Caplan’s Intrapreneurship toolkit
Pivots take TIME.

“The Lighthouse Lab has made us rethink our approach when launching new tools or projects. We’re more aware of other people’s needs and challenges than we were before. Roll out new tools in pieces slowly and label it as a beta. Build small wins and get credibility. This will open doors for other things.”
— Elaine Piniat, Newsday

CrowdTangle founder and CEO Brandon Silverman spoke to the group during our final virtual conference session, and his presentation resonated with many publishers. Silverman said you often hear about startups “pivoting,” and while this can sound like an overnight gear change — it’s most certainly not. It hard, it’s painful, it takes a lot of reflection, and it’s not always clear or obvious. So for organizations making a shift in tools, or in overall culture, it can be a long and slow process.

In terms of an actual rollout, participating publishers learned from Workplace scaled education expert, Jesse Evans, that the best practice is a multi-week process of introducing the tool, nailing the value proposition, communicating rollout schedule, and incentivizing training, and then doing the training, recognizing results, and consistent follow up. Don’t underestimate the power of small wins and recognition for them, too — many participating publishers plan to use the grant toward incentives like team lunches, gift cards, and fun activities that recognize good work and help reinforce tool adoption as a company priority.

“Some in the industry rush to launch as many solutions possible to keep pace with the changing marketplace. This shifts attention to external factors; not earning buy-in and support from our most valuable asset – journalists.” said Kyle Rickhoff, of Lee, which has now shifted to a multi-week rollout process. They’re in the midst of a pilot.

Build your support network.

Lastly, similar to previous Facebook Journalism Project Accelerators, the impact of simply having a community to lean on, and knowing people who are going through the same challenges, cannot be underestimated.

“It’s amazing to have the opportunity to be able to collaborate with others in the industry and hear some great speakers assist with navigating issues that almost everyone experiences,” said Vanessa Wojtusiak, director of audience development and digital lead at Nexstar’s WTNH-TV in Connecticut. “I enjoy being able to interact with local news publishers that are experiencing the same issues as I am. There have been countless times where I’ve said to myself, ‘Phew! I’m not alone in the challenge of implementing change or getting digital buy-in!’ and then thinking differently about my approaches after useful conversations and presentations.”

Antonio Oritz, director of marketing and strategy at NJTV News, added, “It has helped me greatly towards the original challenge but most importantly given me tools, resources, and ideas to navigate myself and my organization during a period of profound change: we have two newsrooms merging, personnel changes, responsibility changes. At first it was about getting everyone in the newsroom onboard with CrowdTangle, but now it really is about being a lighthouse in the midst of the storm that is organizational change. There is something awesome about spending time thinking, learning with people who are going through their own version of what I’m going through. It’s great to have the weekly sessions and come out of them thinking, ‘I’m not crazy, this group understands’ and also stealing at least two ideas from someone every time.”

Lighthouse Lab is a program designed to help news publishers drive better adoption of tools in the newsroom. Funded and organized by the Facebook Journalism Project and CrowdTangle — and co-led by Esra Dogramaci, digital strategist and a former social/digital lead at Deutsche Welle, BBC, and Al Jazeera — the 12-week program included hands-on workshops led by CUNY Newmark school professors, Marie Gilot and Jeremy Caplan; the Facebook Learning & Development team’s Ian Saville; Workplace scaled education expert Jesse Evans; industry HR experts; and our partners in newsrooms. It also included a grantmaking program organized by Facebook, and regular reports on best practices authored by CrowdTangle.