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Why You Should Hold a Newsroom Retreat


a photo of people meeting at a newsroom retreat

A newsroom manager needs to control the clock and the conversation to have a successful news retreat that's casual, yet focused.

Photo © Keith Brofsky / Getty Images
A newsroom retreat helps media managers review their performance and plan for the future, away from the constant deadline pressure of putting out a print, broadcast or online news product. By taking yourself and a few key staff members out of the newsroom for a day, you'll be amazed at the problems that can be solved and the ideas you'll generate.

Newsroom Retreat: Get a Pulse of Your Newsroom

Often, the top newsroom managers are the last people to know of personnel, equipment or technology issues in the newsroom. Employees tend to complain to each other, but never include you, the news manager, in their conversations. Then you get the blame for not fixing problems.

In the case of a television station, the news director leads the newsroom. She can gather key news anchors and news producers for an all-day session to take a pulse of the newsroom and its issues. Involving both groups gives her a perspective from people who are on camera and behind the scenes.

The key is to only invite a few trusted employees to share retreat ideas. Invite everyone and it turns into an ordinary staff meeting. The conversation should be focused, honest and confidential. Take time to realize the retreat do's and don'ts. Avoid allowing your talks to turn into a gripe session. Ask everyone to come with ideas and solutions.

The news director should plan a strict schedule on topics and stick to time limits. For a TV newsroom, it might include an hour on how your station compares to your competition, another hour on improving live reporting techniques and an hour on whether training is adequate.

A hotel conference center is an ideal location. You want to be out of the newsroom to avoid interruptions and to keep the rest of your staff members from wondering what's going on inside your conference room all day.

Newsroom Retreat: Boost Morale

It should be an honor for those you invite to your newsroom retreat to attend. Besides getting a free lunch, they get to spend quality time with you in a management setting, even though they may not be managers themselves.

Consider those you think deserve this treat. But it is a work meeting, not just a casual get-together. Before the meeting is over, shift the discussion on how these people will help you reach your goals.

The reward should include responsibilities. Watch how your invited staff members respond to certain issues. That will be a good indication on which tasks you should delegate to which person. Someone may be more interested in helping you manage your website than in organizing newsroom gear.

Leave your employees feeling empowered to not just talk about the problems in your newsroom, but to also have the authority to fix them on their own. The additional workload you shift to them can be a positive force for change that boosts morale in your entire newsroom, because you're not seen as the only one who can make something better. That takes some pressure off of you.

Newsroom Retreat: Plan for the Future

A newsroom is a terrible place to do long-range planning, because you're just trying to meet that day's deadline in putting out your news product. This one-day escape is the opportunity to look toward the future.

As the entire media industry has evolved over the past ten years, find out from your invited staff members how your newsroom has responded to the changes. You may find you have staff members in outdated roles who need to be shifted elsewhere. Entire job descriptions may need updating. Maybe you'll discover you're willing to give up a vacant news reporter position in order to hire a social media manager.

Evaluate your plans for the next five years. Ask your tech-savvy team members whether your news product's output to mobile devices is adequate. Even if you're cutting edge today, decide how you can stay ahead of your competition. Delegate someone to investigate new tools and methods to distribute news faster.

Setting goals usually involves money. Take time to evaluate your budget. If you don't feel comfortable discussing every line item at your retreat, make mental notes of how you'll move resources or whether you need to ask your own bosses for a larger budget. The retreat is a good starting point for when you later spend days locked in your office crunching numbers.

A newsroom retreat won't solve every problem in a day's time. But holding a regular newsroom retreat gives any media manager one more tool to use in leading a news department.

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