SRCCON 2018 • June 28 & 29 in MPLS Support OpenNews!

Session Transcript:
Whine & Shine: A support group for nerds, journalists and those who bridge the gap

Session facilitator(s): Hannah Wise

Day & Time: Friday, 4:15-5:30pm

Room: Thomas Swain

HANNAH WISE: So I think I’ll just start because 4:15 is the start time of this session, I believe. So hi, everyone. Thank you to OpenNews a lot having me. I just want to start by saying, I’m sorry my co-facilitator, Hannah Sung was unable to join me here and we’re both sad that she couldn’t make it and that means there’s one less Hannah at SRCCON this week. And I’ve facilitated before with very skilled public speakers, so I’m a little nervous but I think the conversations we’ll have today are really valuable and I look forward to seeing what we can come up with. A little about me, I’m a manager comma, interactives, we collaborate with journalists across the country, which is Canada and form bureaus to create informative, and data-driven visuals for CBS, our national broadcaster. The idea for the session came to me one day when a journalist who was working on a data story with one of the developers on my team came to me saying that I just want the answers to the question, but the developer just keeps waxing on and on about methodology and it’s driving me crazy; all I want is the answer to the question. And a little bit later, the developer was getting a little annoyed but the developer was just asking for one little small thing that shouldn’t take too much time, which wasn’t an insignificant amount of work. So if you’re a technical person, I’m sure you know what it’s like for someone who’s non-technical ask you for something “small” that’s not small at all. So as someone that occupies two worlds, of technology, journalism, management, and beyond, I hear a lot from the folks I work with about the stuff they love of working with their respective colleagues and their roles but also what frustrateses them. And when I commiserates with my publications, we feel like we’re living parallel lives. So there’s a lot of shared celebrations and also shared frustrations. So it got me thinking about how we can source that out, and, of course, SRCCON is the perfect opportunity to do that kind of thing. So I’m going to run us through a bunch of exercises today. A couple of short, individual ones and a large group one in a few minutes where you’re going to get out of your chairs, if you can, move about the room, and you’ll also spend some time commiserating with some people who are in similar roles, and if we have time, we’ll get into cross-functional groups to share candidates together, and come up solutions and takeaways that will help improve these collaborations when we get home to our jobs. Put simply, the goal of the session is to be able to better communicate needs to find common ground in a spite of our different functions. So let’s get started. So on your table there is a sheet and I will explain the context for the worksheet before you dive in.

So Hannah Sung who I initially was going to co-facilitate with had a friend whose boss, on her first day came to her with a document that was entitled, “How to work with Greg,” who was her boss, and it had a little bit of his personality, about how he likes to be approached at work, how he likes problems solved, what success means to him, and it got us thinking about how this could be a useful tool for us, as individuals to approach our colleagues at work. So I’m going to give you five or so minutes but I’ve got some ideas down to get you started and if there’s no room, you can use the back.

But think about, you know, your personality, your approach, how you like to collaborate. Think about these questions: how you like feedback, what does success look like? And I’ll give you about five minutes to fill this out for yourself.

[ Group Work ]

About another minute. Do you guys need a bit more time? Well, that’s definitely something you can take and hopefully is useful to you at work when you go back to your offices. So next be we are going to do our getting-out-of-our-chairs exercise. I’ve never done this before. It’s sort of a made-up exercise. It’s a bit of a riff on an exercise that I’ve seen before, so please bear with me. I hope it works. What I’m going to ask is that you all line up in a line across the room, right, like this. Like this way. I’m going to ask you questions, and I know out of it squeeze between the tables here but hopefully this will work. Mostly these will be yes or no questions or very simple questions to answer, and I will give you instructions depending on what your answer is. So the first question is: did your job exist in newsrooms 15 years ago? So and the answer — if the answer to that question is “no,” take two steps back, and if the answer is “yes,” take three steps forward.

AUDIENCE: Can you read the question again?

HANNAH WISE: Did your job exist in newsrooms 15 years ago?

AUDIENCE: Maybe one step back and one step forward.

HANNAH WISE: So if it did, three steps forward. Whoo, okay. Do you work —

AUDIENCE: Should we get back in the line?

HANNAH WISE: Nope, stay where you are. Do you work in legacy media? No, take a step back, yes, take a step forward. It’s okay if you’re not in a total line but the objective is to kind of be — end up kind of being separated from each other. The next question is: math is an important part of your day-to-day job. If it is a “yes,” take two steps back and if it is a “no,” one step forward.

AUDIENCE: No is a step forward?

HANNAH WISE: Yeah. Next question: have you watched a movie about a newsroom? And if the answer is “yes,” and your job was represented in the movie… take a step forward. And if the answer is if you’ve seen a movie but your job was not represented, take a step back. Okay. Is it easy to explain to your older relatives what you do for a living? If no, take a step back, if yes, take two steps forward. Okay. If all the power went out, and all you had was an operational landline, you could do — if you could do at least 50% of your job take two steps forward. If you could do at least 25% of your job, stay put, and if you could do 0% of your job, take two steps back. Okay. Is — in your role, you are often called upon to explain things to your colleagues. If the answer is “yes,” take a step back, and if the answer is “no,” take a step forward. We’re getting back there. Have you, at some point, worked as a news gatherer or a reporter? If the answer is “never,” take a step back. If the answer is “you did in the past but don’t currently,” stay put. And if you currently still do act as a news-gatherer or a reporter, take three steps forward. Perfect. Love you guys. “I consider myself a storyteller.” If the answer is no, take a step back. If the answer is yes, take a step forward. Nice. The next question is: do you often find yourself caught between a rock and a hard place. If the answer is no, take a step back, and if yes, take a step forward. Two more questions: are you allowed to post your political opinion publicly? Yes, one step back, and no, a step forward. And one last question… is your monitor set to dark theme? If the answer is yes, take a step back. If no, stay in place, and if you’ve never heard of that, take two steps forward. Okay. You guys are pretty well dispersed. The objective here was, hopefully, to group you guys by more traditional journalism roles, more technical roles, and more of the bridge roles. So people who kind of act as a translator between those technical and more editorial roles. Does that seem accurate to you guys? So more traditional here, more technical in the back, and then more bridge role in the middle. Yeah? Okay. Cool. So that’s wonderful to hear. And we have — so sort of the more traditional people, can you put up your hands if you feel you’re in a more traditional editorial role? Are there only three of you? Four?

AUDIENCE: I mean, traditional in existed-before-the-Internet?

HANNAH WISE: No, you’re a news gatherer or a reporter, or have been in the past.

AUDIENCE: I don’t know, never mind.

HANNAH WISE: So I would like you to gather with people in similar roles as you, whether it be traditional, bridge, or more traditional editorial and you’re going to have some commiseration. And I’ll give you some guidance once you’re in your roles and you can have a seat wherever you can. So groups of about four if possible. But you should be in similar roles. Can you guys hear me okay? I have my mic off. Is this okay?

AUDIENCE: If you need our attention.

HANNAH WISE: I do. Okay. We’re going to do some group exercises now. So what I’d like you to do for the next 15 minutes about is to talk amongst yourselves about — so we’re going to reflect on the respective other roles in the room. So we’ve got our bridge people here, our technical people here, and our traditional editorial people here. So what the bridge roles are going to reflect on, the things that we are working with the technical people, and the editorial folks, and then also what kind of frustrates us about the kind of work we do with these each respective roles. And likewise for you guys, these two are the roles, and likewise with you, and the other roles. So take about 15 minutes, sort of some pluses and minuses, celebrations, and frustrations. And you can write on sticky notes, or a big Post-It note, or whatever you’d like but frustrations and celebrations.

[ Group Work ]

I’m going to give you guys about two more minutes. Two more minutes! Okay. We’re going to wrap up this part. Thanks so much for sharing with each other. It sounds like we’ve had some great conversations and a lot of stuff that I can relate to. So I just want to highlight some of the things that came out of that conversation. Can you guys, from the editorial folks, share some of the celebrations that you came up with?

AUDIENCE: For the technical folks?

HANNAH WISE: Just a handful.

AUDIENCE: For tech, they know the best process for setting everything up in the newsroom.

AUDIENCE: We have the ability to utilize and piggyback off the resources.

AUDIENCE: For bridge people, they’re usually the first ones in and the last ones to leave.

AUDIENCE: Bridge people help expand audience, increase impact. They have access to new tools.

AUDIENCE: Bridge people read the comments.

[ Laughter ]

AUDIENCE: Thanks, Stephen.

HANNAH WISE: Any frustrations that stick out for you guys?

AUDIENCE: Oh, yeah! Technical people, just in quotes… “no.”

AUDIENCE: There’s a reason!

[ Laughter ]

HANNAH WISE: We’re all friends here. This is candor. We’re airing it out. We’re airing it out. Keep it going.

AUDIENCE: When we give them a big timeline, they still wait until the last minute to do something.

AUDIENCE: Tries to dictate the control of the tools or technology even if it doesn’t necessarily have to do with what they’re doing.

HANNAH WISE: Okay.

AUDIENCE: We’re leaving!

[ Laughter ]

HANNAH WISE: You’ll have your turn! Yup.

AUDIENCE: The nature of news evolves quickly. Slow versus now. We’re the only one is dealing with the late-breaking news.

HANNAH WISE: So it’s hard when you’re dealing with a very, very short turnaround time of work whereas development cycles are a lot longer. So there’s just a tension there.

AUDIENCE: So for bridges… not much communication. A lot of duplication of projects.

STEVEN: For tech people they, uh, what’s the word I’m thinking of? It’s tough for them to do — to get anything when there’s an edge case in the newsroom. Like, one person needs a very specific thing, but that’s not — a lot of that is beyond their control what it can be. It can be tough.

HANNAH WISE: Thank you. I’m sure you have lots more on both sides of the fence. But we’ll get back to those. Bridge roles… can you share some of the celebrations of the things you loved working with your counterparts in the organizations you work at?

KATIE: We like being bridged. We like having a hand in the story and conversations with product. It’s a forward-looking position as opposed to some more traditional roles where it feels you’re sort of doing kind of the same thing. In that middle, you’re always trying to figure out how to — there’s a level of discomfort that is enticing, and exciting and keeps you motivated to keep learning.

AUDIENCE: I also say editorial at least for some bridge people — or for bridge people I work, it’s why you’re there. Like, editorial is the end product. You’re just like the… you’re the hypeman for the editorial, essentially.

HANNAH WISE: Okay. Is there anybody else in the bridge roles of stuff that you really enjoy working with your tech and editorial counterparts?

AUDIENCE: Yeah, we really like that it allows us to get to know lots of people in lots of different areas of the newsroom — lots of different stuff instead of feeling like you’re cornered in one area of the room.

AUDIENCE: Kind of along those same lines, I think a lot of us have a traditional journalism background but we’ve adapted to the technology aspects in a way that we enjoy, and straddle the fence and use those two backgrounds.

HANNAH WISE: Cool. Okay. Frustrations?

AUDIENCE: Language barriers. I guess that’s why we exist because they don’t speak the same language so we translate.

AUDIENCE: Yeah, I think editorial and tech operate, like, on completely different operating systems. Like tech is a two-week sprint to a four-month roadmap; editorial is what is breaking down where the longest stretch is, on average, one week.

ANNETTE: And so the tensions of both fall on our lapse so we’re trying to be the buffer but we suffer more from that tension.

AUDIENCE: I’d say no — very little overt clear direction from supervisors or leadership and have a lot of — leadership that’s in editorial, like an editor will be my boss, and they don’t know what a producer does and he keeps you could do it.

HANNAH: I think work is often underestimated.

HANNAH WISE: By both sides. 100%. I totally agree with that.

AUDIENCE: I really struggle with this, but you said it’s kind of a pro, so I don’t know where this fits but I sometimes struggle that I feel I know a little bit about a lot of things but not a lot really about anything. And that sort of generalist thing, I think, can be a pro and a con.

ANNETTE: Because I look at it as I get to touch a lot of projects and talk to a lot of people.

AUDIENCE: But I feel like I should be more of an expert in something.

AUDIENCE: I also think for editorial, we’re often seen as a baton pass to get it out to the world but usually we’re introduced at a very late stage in a project, and if anything, we’re supposed to be just a catalyst to empower you to get this out to the world… yeah.

HANNAH WISE: All right, tech. It’s your turn. What do you love about working with your colleagues?

AUDIENCE: Listen… if it’s —

AUDIENCE: Take cover!

AUDIENCE: But it’s a big one — Jesus! We’re efficient so we can cram it into one Post-It note. We’re motivated by empowering media. That’s it! That’s all we’ve got! We did spend some time articulating our extremely thoughtful criticism of all you all.

HANNAH WISE: I should say also that that is a safe space and —

AUDIENCE: Regardless.

HANNAH WISE: And this is a place for us to have candid conversations. We shouldn’t be making assumptions about one another’s roles or where we come from, and this will lead to a productive place. So we —

AUDIENCE: This is all based on facts and observed behaviors.

HANNAH WISE: And we are going to get to the solutioning. So this will — but I do feel like this is a necessary conversation to have.

AUDIENCE: And, in fact, it is based on fact and it’s based on frustration, that all you all are not fact based. And that… so let’s see. Wait, hold on.

HANNAH WISE: So you’re saying that journalists aren’t fact based?

AUDIENCE: Thrives on chaos.

HANNAH WISE: Thrives on chaos.

AUDIENCE: Honestly, that’s probably true.

AUDIENCE: Totally valid.

AUDIENCE: Order to the chaos that is often not well received even though we mean well and we’re trying to save you from yourselves — which is not something anything that any of my colleagues have said because I don’t want to. That they are entrenched functional silos that make it tricky to propose solutions that are more correct but would sometimes involve change in how people work, which is actually… some aspect of it is — oh, Jesus. Sorry, so the workflow sheets that you find then kind of push back into solutioning, when, really, the answer is, there are better ways to work, like, the way that you pass the sauce around makes it dysfunctional and if you’re trying to solve for, “How do we publish faster?” one of the answers might be, don’t break off the tasks in that way, or don’t have this person do this rather than this person. That is usually not well received and the problems are returned to us and they often cannot be fixed, as well, by a tool or technology by humans working better and more with one another.

HANNAH WISE: So what’s the nutshell of that one?

AUDIENCE: The nutshell is that the tech being asked to solve for problems are actually human.

HANNAH WISE: Human problems, got it.

AUDIENCE: And the fact the costs of that are not understood. And the costs are actually not fixing real problems that should be fixed with tech because it’s not like we are limitless in the resources and time that we have.

CAROLYN: And very different working culture. Like, being on a tech team is way, way different than being a journalist.

AUDIENCE: There’s a social stigma, and so there’s not empathy to understand what each of the team needs and there is this criticism in the workflow because people don’t understand the challenges each one faces.

HANNAH WISE: And when I was over there you were talking about the creativism of being technologists like the journalists have instant credibility whereas a developer who comes to the newsroom doesn’t have kind of that built-in credibility. Yeah.

AUDIENCE: Uh, that’s pretty much it.

HANNAH WISE: So I know you have a lot more that you didn’t report out, but that’s fantastic. Thank you for that. So I’m going to give you a few more minutes now, and in the etherpad, there’s a link to a shared Google doc. So I will take some notes as well, but feel free — and I would encourage you — to log in to the etherpad and click on the “shared how to work with us” document. So building on those celebrations and frustrations that you’ve just identified, I’m hoping you can start having another conversation where you’re flipping things, and looking at these frustrations in terms of solutions that you might come up with to deal with these frustrations that you have in your day-to-day jobs.

So, yeah, think about — reflect about how you would like to be worked with, approached, collaborate. Brainstorm a list, and try to reach a consensus if possible, and keep it to maybe five points on how to work with us. So as a common group in your role, can you come up with a list of maybe five items about how to work with us in your common role as a solution to those common frustrations that you have? So I’ll give you about ten minutes to come up with that.

[ Group Work ]

Okay. So we have just a couple of minutes left, so I thought we’d go around the room and share what we’ve pulled out of the last session and just share some solutions. I have to say that I think respect and appreciation seemed like a common theme in every role, which is really interesting. So I don’t — like, let’s go around table to table and see what you guys came up with. So respect and appreciation I don’t think is an actual tactic but, um, but it seems like we all need more of it, which is interesting. So hopefully we can come out of this session even with a little bit of empathy for the folks that we work with back home. But what are some solutions you all came up with?

STEVEN: I mean, most of ours go around communication. If we can’t do it it’s not — if we’re not going to regularly communicate, we can’t expect regular communication in return. But a lot of it is just, you know, if we give a long deadline, we don’t know how long it’s going to take because we don’t know. We don’t know how it will take something and that’s good to know so that we can set our own deadlines sort of around that. One of the things is, you know, we know that this is a chaotic business and it is, you know, that’s inherent. We’re not going to be able to get rid of the chaos, especially these days. And so some of it is the regular communication can sort of help the bridge people to communicate things one way or the other without having to speak because they know. If we talk regularly, they’ll know that there’s chaos happening. And they’ll be able to communicate to the other side, and it’ll just be easier that way. Some of it is, you know, part of this is we need a large overhaul of how newsrooms work. I mean, we spoke —

HANNAH WISE: It seemed like that was a very common response, as well.

STEVEN: We spoke in our — like, in the original session about the pros and cons about the other groups, and one of the things that we talked about was actually a con of our group, which is that a lot of people in legacy media do not treat the others as journalists which is, like, a really tough culture problem that is on us to solve, and if we can solve that, a lot of these problems fix themselves.

AUDIENCE: Can I piggyback on that for a second, when we were lining and you asked how many of us feel we’re stolers, and almost every said yes. It seems that to traditional reporters, editors, they don’t necessarily see us the same way. We don’t necessarily get the same bylines and stuff like that but we all feel like we should be involved in that.

HANNAH WISE: And, actually, I wanted to piggyback on something that we were just talking about at the tech table was finding allies in our respective roles is so important, too. So I think — and they can help — our allies can help evangelize one another’s causes, and frustrations, and motivations because I think if you can find traditional journalists who really recognize you, in your bridge role as being a journalist, and you, as a developer as being a journalist, I think, that can help proliferate in our organizations and can help us move towards a stage where we are on the same page and we’re all — and, again, the whole purpose of this session is to recognize is that, yes, we are in different roles, but we are working towards a common goal and it’s an important goal.

AUDIENCE: I was also gonna say, I think it’s I think it’s pretty fair to say because when I’m talking to reporters who say, I don’t know what you do on a day-to-day basis, and I think for bridge people, there’s a fair amount of communication in regards to, like, we don’t want to fish for you; we want to teach you how to fish. We want to show you how these online communities work. At least — I’m in audience engagement. I want to show you how this audience works so that you can be empowered to impact those communities, and report on them, and get the news out there. And also, I don’t know your journalism as well as you do so I shouldn’t write your tweets because that is a bad idea but I can workshop with you in terms of what is the best way — like, what’s the crux of your message. And, yeah, I think for bridge people, I think there is a fair amount that can be done on both sides in terms of communicating more with how, like, the online ecosystem works and how, like, you can take advantage of it, and how engineering can understand newsroom org to properly build products for them instead of sometimes engineering just builds a product, and then it comes to the newsroom. So then, anyways…

HANNAH WISE: Yeah, I oftentimes feel like we’re fixing a moving train. You can’t stop the news, and so it’s really difficult to actually take a pause in our work to do this kind of education and foster these kinds of — just this kind of understanding but I think if we can all go back to our newsrooms and try to do that a little bit more, then I think it’ll go a long way for more understanding. Did anybody else have anything to add? We only have a couple more minutes.

AUDIENCE: One thing that I have noticed a little bit where I have worked is — and I wish we could do more of is a lot of product and engineers, like, sit throughout the newsroom. Like, we’re not as siloed off as some places like Annette, and I think we’re forced to see in a more organic way to see each other as human. And I think that’s a great way to —

HANNAH WISE: That’s a great idea. Yeah.

AUDIENCE: Don’t you think we’re kind of in a temporary time zone between traditional media running a certain way, and digital being the force of our — of the times. I think we’re going to move towards a position where there’s a common understanding and appreciation, and, you know, a lot of technology becomes like magic and you don’t notice it but we’re figuring out those new processes and pathways.

HANNAH WISE: I think so. We’re out of time but thank you so much for sharing with me and sharing with each other. I hope it’s been a useful session and I hope that we can go back and continue to learn from each other and improve how we work and communicate and improve our work and our workplace satisfaction. So… thank you. And I hope you all had a great SRCCON!

[ Applause ]