Speech given to the AUKML conference, Oct. 1997, by Nora Paul, Poynter Institute for Media Studies.
The theme of the Association of United Kingdom Media Librarians was "Forging a Professional Relationship with the Newsroom." I gave an introductory speech and then a talk after the panel of three journalists spoke Here is the introduction, followed by the talk and a copy of the handout.
There are three key definitions for the word FORGING. Two of them are immensely appropriate for our topic today. One of them should be avoided by all journalists at all costs.
The first definition for forging is about creating Forging the act of forming or shaping out in a particular way, beating something into a particular shape, using heat and heavy mallets. This is very appropriate for our discussions today, (ok, maybe not the heavy mallets part, you could get into trouble there), but the act of forming, taking a hard substance, something seemingly unmalleable (like metal, or journalists perceptions, or firmly established routines) and shaping them into a new and useful form. Forging as a creative act, a creating act, is going to be necessary in forming a new relationship with the newsroom. It will take some heat, and effort and sweat but, most of all, it will take a plan. Think of the images you've seen of people in a forge, forging taking turns in banging out the hot metal into a new, useful object. They work in unison.
The second definition is about movement and it actually refers to two kinds of movement. There is forging as in moving ahead steadily but slowly or gradually and there is forging as in moving with a sudden increase of speed and power like a sprinter in a race. Both of these definitions work well because sometimes slow and steady and deliberate movement is needed, sometimes that burst of speed and seizing the opportunity is needed. In developing a relationship with the newsroom, you need to be able to work at both speeds.
The third definition is one I would suggest is NOT applicable to our discussion today and that, of course, is forging as in counterfeiting, faking a document although it is reportedly the advice given in some newsrooms. Supposedly seen in the news room of the Sun in London was a sign that says: 'Make it fast, make it first and make it accurate.' To which someone added in neat felt pen: 'If all else fails - make it up.'
So, as a theme for today's discussions, the word FORGING is a very good one, at least in two of the three definitions. We are going to be talking about creating, creating a plan for how to work as colleagues with our newsrooms, and we are going to be talking about movement, moving forward to a professional relationship with our newsrooms. And we aren't going to fake it.
But before we start the morning's program, I want to establish something. Is there anyone out there who is NOT clear, NOT confident about the important role the news library plays in the news organization. Raise your hand if you truly do not believe that the skills, the knowledge and the responsibility you have in your organization for understanding, organizing and using information is critical. Good, OK, you know it, I know it the role you play in your newsroom is absolutely critical to the success, the credibility and the viability of your news organization. This is increasingly true as organizations make the painful shift from the industrial age to the information age. We all know this, I am not going to preach to the choir here about it. What we are going to focus on today is how to make sure that THEY, the journalists we work with, know it.
So, let's hear from them . We have a line-up of journalists from print, broadcast and new media organizations to hear about their needs, what they would like to see the news library do. And then I'll talk with you about some ways we can create a plan and start that movement forward - ways in which we can begin forging a better, more professional, more essential relationship with our newsrooms.
This is the text of the talk given later in the morning
WHAT IS THE KEY TO FORGING A BETTER RELATIONSHIP WITH THE NEWSROOM?
Ive handed out a little questionnaire (see the handout at the end). Take a few minutes and answer it.
How did you do? Not as good as youd like? Well, you arent alone. Changing a newsroom culture is difficult, getting involved takes time but the bottom line is there is only one key to forging a better relationship with the newsroom.
It starts with M which stands for Mission How many of you have a written mission statement for the library, a statement which clarifies what the library has decided is important, its reason of being and which gives a clear sense of priorities? If you havent got a mission statement it will be difficult to keep your sense of direction, of where you are trying to get to. Once youve got a mission statement, the next step is to establish .
G - Goals, come up with the specific goals you want to attain to ensure you can meet your mission of better use of information in your organization. These goals will be your signposts of progress but to come up with the goals you must
N - Network with the newsroom it is essential that you get the newsrooms input about your set of goals, will your goals fit in with their goals? Once you know what you are about and some specific steps for getting there, you need to establish
R - Roles Roles in the newsroom, who will do what, who is responsible for what, what roles will each of you play. If the roles are not clearly defined one of two things happen, either effort is repeated, two people doing the same thing, or the ball is dropped "Oh, I thought he was in charge of that." Establish the roles. Clearly, your key role is to be the coordinator, negotiator and evaluator of all this .
I - Information Information is flowing into your newsroom at an astoundingly rapid rate. Information, as one author wrote, is the currency of journalism. It is also something the newsroom spends a tremendous amount of money on. You want information rich newsrooms, but you want to be
E - Economical and efficient evaluating the information options, ensuring that the information is easily and effectively used is essential. This valuable information must be readily available for reporters because the goal of greater access to information is greater
A - Accuracy improving the accuracy of our reporters work through improved information access requires our diligence in ensuring that the information they use is accurate and reliable and that they use the information ethically and well but, of course, we also have to help them use it quickly because
T - Time Time is the commodity in shortest supply in the newsroom if they understand that you understand the need for efficient, accurate, timely access to information and they see that you are the one that is providing it that is the
K - Key The key to forging a better relationship with the newsroom, being a key partner in the process, a kindred spirit in the quest for journalistic excellence .
And as you can see, the key is M-A-R-K-E-T-I-N-G.
Lets say it together
M - Marketing the library
A - Always marketing the library
R - Relentlessly marketing the library
K - Keep on keeping on with the marketing of the library
E - Endlessly marketing the library
T - Tirelessly marketing the library
I - Insisting that others on the staff are out there marketing the library
N - Never stop marketing the library
G - God, is she ever going to stop going on and on about marketing the library?
No, Im not, and you cant either.
Getting out the message is your job. You cannot sit back and say, "I just dont understand why they dont use us, we have such great stuff here, we can help them so much." We have to go out there and MARKET THE LIBRARY but dont just take it from me lets hear from other news librarians.
I sent a message to news librarians through the News Lib listserv, asking them to tell me what is the biggest hurdle to a more professional partnership with the newsroom.
And they mentioned all those things weve all experienced, getting the reporters to understand what you have available, reporters who wont tell you what they are really working on, breaking down the old stereotypes. We all know the realities of our relationships with the newsroom but an interesting angle came up in a number of responses. Several of the respondents said that the biggest hurdle was our own image of ourselves. As one librarian said
"The biggest hurdle is perceptions by the newsroom staff of the library staff that we are "clippers and filers" rather than professional researchers; and in some cases, the library staff perceives themselves the same way."
The director of the Associated Press research center, formerly a writer and editor, said the biggest hurdle is
"Having a chip on your shoulder that you are the better, but unappreciated, half of the reporting team. Reporters and editors mostly do not have a perception of librarian / researchers as anything less than fellow journalists."
We have to think of ourselves that way, too. When people ask me if I was ever a journalist, I say, "Sure, I was the editor for information services at the Miami Herald." I dont have a journalism degree, I have a library science degree, but I say if you are contributing content and context to the news reporting, you are doing the work of a journalist, you are a journalist, think of yourself as a journalist.
The second question I asked the listserv community was, "In order to forge a more professional partnership with the newsroom news librarians need to ." And the answers were all about marketing, marketing their skills, knowledge and contributions to the newsroom. Marketing was the key Here are some of their ideas ..
M = MAKE NOISE, TALK IT UP, MAKE YOURSELVES NOTICED
Heres how one librarian makes noise about the library
"Were always finding opportunities to talk about how we work and how they can best use us we have a huge newsroom, so it is hard to get to each one, but we make sure we get to new hires and interns and stress how they can best help us to help them how we can be better partners."
Another said, "Our library is a separate area but it is right in the main newsroom so there is constant flow of traffic between us and the newsroom, we circulate out there, too, making a point of getting to know and talk with reporters and editors as colleagues. The result is a very collegial atmosphere."
A third told about her technique for advertising the librarys contribution
"I do posters periodically telling how research done in the library has helped stories. I cite the story (reporter, date & title) and then tell what the librarys influence was. I print them up on brightly colored paper and post them on the general message board and on the library door I also FAX a copy to our 5 bureaus so they know what library resources are available I keep a folder of stories that we helped research so I always have ideas for when its time to do a new folder " That folder would also come in handy at budget time or when trying to justify the cost of a new resource.
Some libraries keep a running list of the research questions that are being worked on on the newsroom system, along with the list of stories that are being worked on, a so-called research budget.
Sometimes you make yourself noticed by your contribution to a particular story.
"Were doing a big series on alcohol and Ive done a tremendous amount of statistical analysis on the Excel spreadsheet software using arrest rates, hospital discharge rates, etc. The editor had NO IDEA that this could be done and is astonished at the information my statistics are generating "
Im sure the editor will remember the library when the next story comes around, and hell be mentioning it to his reporters.
A = ANTICIPATE NEED, ANSWER THE UNASKED QUESTIONS
I would have called it being "Proactive" but there isnt a P in marketing so "anticipate need" will have to do.
As one researcher described it "become more proactively involved in the story development process. Historically, many news librarians have stood in the background while the story was created and become involved only when asked to perform specific research. Proactive involvement would require that we come to reporters and editors before a story is even begun and become part of the team. Or, it entails alerting them to the potential of a story idea that theyre not aware of."
Think about it, so much of the news process is done in assembly line fashion we all need to figure out how to get off the assembly line and onto the design team how to work together, early on.
R = REQUIRE RESPECT, BE PROFESSIONAL
The library director at a small newspaper in California said
"We have a little motto: We provide a service, but we are NOT servants. Projecting that we are very much a part of the news process, we are professionals, we know what were doing and well work with (not for) you, goes a long way."
Another researcher advised that we must work in the same way the journalists work in order to earn their respect
"In our newsroom, you had to be tough, work long hours, be competent and be polite, damn polite. You had to earn the right to raise hell .We have to think of ourselves as professionals whether we define ourselves as journalists, librarians, journabrarians, whatever. If we act like professionals, talk like professionals, think of ourselves as part of the newsroom seems to me we are on the road to partnership Bargain from strength."
Advice columnist Ann Landers has a line, "If you act like a doormat, dont be surprised when people wipe their feet on you." Require the respect that you earn through your professional work and contribution.
K = KEEP ON LEARNING KEY SKILLS AND NEW TECHNIQUES
The progression of the information age is going to mean constant learning,,, new programs, new techniques, new information resources. We will have to keep learning, we cannot rest on the suite of skills we have now, we have to keep BUILDING on the skills we have now.
One researcher said a marketing technique for their library was for different researchers to be identified has having a key skill his advice
"Fill a need or develop a competence. It can be an arcane thing, but have one or two things that make them have to come to you. In my newsroom I was the Consumer Price Index guy. If you wanted to adjust something for inflation, figure out how much widgets cost back in 1906, I was the man. Silly thing, really, just cross multiplication, but it helped make my reputation Yep, I was the CPI guy."
Another researcher didnt see that just databases and online research was her area of responsibility. She learned how to use spreadsheets and used it for promoting the librarys contribution. She finds any opportunity to seize what she calls the "teachable moment"
"A reporter asked me about enrollment rates for schools in our county. I asked her what shes going to do with the stats, and she knew she wanted to get at variations between towns, but she didnt really know how. I told her about this nifty program I had been learning, called Excel and showed her what Ive been doing with this series we are working on about alcohol. I said I could do similar stuff for her, getting county-wide stats, percent change from last year to this year, comparing them to the state-wide figures, etc. She was pleased, and so was I, I caught her at the right moment."
E = EMPATHIZE WITH THEM, UNDERSTAND THEIR ROLE, THEIR PRESSURES
Know that you are not the only one in the newsroom feeling unappreciated, overburdened, misunderstood. It is an epidemic. Ive heard graphic artists, the ones who do the charts and maps complain about reporters who dont give them the information theyve gathered, editors who give out the assignment at the last minute, who are feeling out of the loop. Talk to reporters and find out that they are feeling caught between demanding editors and stonewalling sources and cant get their jobs done. Pressure and lack of appreciation seem to be key elements of the newsroom atmosphere. So, do as much as you can to empathize and to understand.
One research center director said the key to forging a more professional partnership with the newsroom was for news librarians to
"Think like reporters. Good reporters have investigative minds. So do researchers but without the same focus. For researchers, detail is enough. Reporters have to constantly keep a storys "slant" in mind as they are reporting a story. Researchers need to understand and work with slant as they research. A researcher needs to know the difference between objectivity, slant and fairness as applied by reporters. Without this understanding researchers are bound to waste the time of both reporters and researchers."
He went on to say that one thing he has been thinking about doing is have researchers spend a day, two days, a week doing stories or at least putting them together and writing them. "One day spent on story structure would solve most of the misunderstanding between researchers and reporters," he said.
We did that at the Miami Herald, two of our researchers spent a week at one of the bureaus where the reporters were a constant source of frustration to the researchers. They spent the week covering city hall, wrote up a few stories and got the flavor of, and a sense of the pressure of life in the bureau. They were much more empathetic when they came back. The other benefit, of course, was that the bureau learned much more about what the library did and what the researchers know.
T = TURN MEETINGS INTO PROMOTIONS FOR THE LIBRARYS CONTRIBUTIONS
This is how one research center director does that
"We have a weekly budget meeting every Monday that I attend. I take advantage of the budget sheet information and offer research ideas. Often, I will do some preliminary research (without telling the reporter). I show up at the reporters desk with some research and say, "In the budget meeting I heard about your upcoming story and found a web site with some numbers that I thought might help". I always find any opportunities to be proactive and part of the process from the beginning."
Be sure to go to the right meetings and to be heard at them.
I = INSTRUCT THEM
Our roles as trainers and guides is going to grow. Whether it is the development of a series of formal training programs or a more informal approach, this role of instructor is essential. The third question I asked to the listserv group was, "Tell me about one or two things youve done that have really turned around the newsrooms perception of the library and the skills and contributions you can make." One of the answers described this training role well
"One area that immediately comes to mind is the job we do teaching our staff to use the in-house database and the Internet. Although many in the newsroom can access these tools from their desks, we have public terminals in the library where staff can use these services alongside us, and we are constantly being asked for assistance on searching, printing, etc. In the course of dealing with these questions we often have the opportunity to recommend other services and techniques."
N = NOTICE THEM, THEYLL NOTICE YOU
Remember that part about empathizing. Well, one thing to remember, too, is we all want appreciation, and we remember those who appreciate us and our work. Its true for you, isnt it. It is also true for reporters and editors.
The director of one news research center said the key to a better relationship is
"Its all public relations . Be charming, have wit, energy, and be good at the schmooze, be generous, but sincere, with the flattery. Reporters are suckers for this. When you think about it, they appreciate this much more than actual good work . Theyll come back to you for more, and you can slip the good work in."
And finally, there is G which stands for
G = GIVE IT A CHANCE
A very smart researcher summed this up well
"Like it or not, our role as news librarians was formed in the newsroom system long, long ago. Part of what we are will always be the "morgue" and the library. Changing that will only come after much, much time. We cant make the reporters change how they think of us, we can only change how WE think of us. And only by holding firmly to that idea of what we are can we begin to make some movement within the system."
And as we remember about the definition of the word "forging", it is all about movement, slow and steady and about seizing the opportunities to surge ahead with a burst of speed. I know by talking to a number of you last night that you are already doing some of these things, this essential marketing of the news library. Turn over that sheet you filled out earlier and write down a couple of things youve done lately that helped to market the library, things you did to make some noise, anticipate a need, earn respect. And then I want you to sit at lunch and talk with each other about these ways of marketing, and use the sheet to write down some of the other good ideas you hear.
You know they need you, make sure they know they need you, and what they are missing if they dont use you.
As Grateful Dead leader Jerry Garcia once said, "Somebody has to do something and its just incredibly pathetic it has to be us" . But if not us, who? If not now, when?
Thank you .
THE QUESTIONNAIRE (which was handed out in the beginning)
NEWS LIBRARIES AND THE NEWSROOM:
FORGING A PROFESSIONAL RELATIONSHIP
Answer each of the following questions with a yes or no:
Someone from our library attends daily news meetings and reporting project meetings. y n
We ask reporters and editors about their research needs and use their input when selecting resources. y n
The library is part of the new employee orientation tour. y n
We regularly let the newsroom know about contributions have made with our research through a newsletter or notices. y n
People from the library are frequently out in the newsroom talking with reporters about stories they are working on or we have a research station out in the newsroom. y n
The materials and resources in the library are organized for the newsrooms convenience, some resources are actually located out in the newsroom. y n
The majority of the work hours in the library are spent on research tasks (finding, evaluating, communicating with reporters) not on archiving tasks. y n
People from the library staff regularly contribute story ideas to editors / reporters / producers. y n
The researchers get credit on stories for which they have contributed significant research. y n
We are responsible for the training of journalists in research and Internet use and hold regular training sessions. y n
Mostly yes? Youre on your way to forging a professional relationship.
Mostly no? Youve got some marketing, planning, and image enhancement to do. Lets talk about how
IDEAS FOR MARKETING THE NEWS LIBRARY
Write down three things youve done in the past six months that have raised the visibility of the news library in your newsroom or with an individual
HOW COULD YOU TELL IT RAISED THE VISIBILITY?
Nora Paul, Poynter Institute for Media Studies
Association of United Kingdom Media Librarians conference
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Last Updated: 04/9/2001