Limited newsroom resources? You can still pull off big projects

Jim Pumarlo
Jim Pumarlo

Calendars are the first step in organizing your newsroom and your time—priorities. The second step is to develop a communications plan.

Nearly every editor can relate to this phone call: “Hi, I’m in charge of publicity for the Kiwanis Club. I’ve been asked to contact you to promote our upcoming flower sale.” You can insert the organization and the event.

Editors likely receive many of these calls at the last moment. Some organizations do recognize the value of connecting early with the newspaper.

Many individuals at your newspapers also have probably been part of a big community event. You’ve seen the master to-do list with tasks and due dates. Those organizations that follow the drill usually have the most successful events.

Your newsrooms should have similar communications plans if you want to find time to tackle big projects within limited resources, and if you want to be successful in delivering those projects.

Many newsrooms likely do this informally. I encourage you to put it in writing.

Communications plans should be developed hand-in-hand with your internal calendar of operations and the external community calendar of major events and activities. There naturally will be conflicts. By reviewing your calendars frequently, you can make corresponding adjustments in your coverage.

Here are a handful of items to include in communications plan:

Create a “do list” list. Identify individuals responsible for each task, and set deadlines.

Identify all the news platforms from print editions to digital venues. Use all your platforms to their potential.

Include all departments. Are there opportunities to generate advertising support? What about a special circulation promotions?

Bring the necessary folks into the conversation early to brainstorm the project – for example, photographers, page designers, copy editors, online staff. They all are critical to the overall success, plus they may offer valuable perspectives in shaping the project. In small operations, where staffs are really charged with multitasking, it may be appropriate to include other departments as well. You want to avoid surprises especially if it’s necessary to call in other individuals at the last moment.

Go beyond your news organization. Share key elements of your plan with readers, and solicit their ideas. This can be tricky. You’ll still make the final call, and some ideas just may not fit the bill. Still, it’s worthwhile to keep readers abreast and generate interest in what you are doing.

A few other items to include in any communications plan:

Don’t forget to promote it. Your news staff, and likely other departments as well, are putting all this effort into a project that you hope resounds with your readers. Use all your channels for promotion.

Conduct a post-mortem. Evaluate what worked and what didn’t work. Put the notes in a file. Even if you do not tackle the exact project again, what you learned in the process can be useful for your next undertaking.

Lastly, celebrate your successes. Tackling big projects has the dual benefit of delivering something special for your readers and energizing your staff. The event does not need to be extravagant, but it should be an opportunity for everyone to get together and acknowledge your accomplishment.

Jim Pumarlo writes, speaks and provides training on community newsroom success strategies. He is author of several books, including his most recent, “Journalism Primer: A Guide to Community News Coverage for Beginning and Veteran Journalists.” He can be reached at www.pumarlo.com and welcomes comments and questions at jim@pumarlo.com.