Chapter 1

Why Did I Do this Research?

Newsrooms don't do a very good job with documentation. So when people start a job, they're often left without the resources they need to understand their role in the newsroom. And when they leave the newsroom, they take all their knowledge with them. We need better examples of how we can deal with the loss of institutional knowledge. This guide will help newsrooms think about their processes, what they are doing well and could be doing better. It'll include real-world examples from survey respondents as well as a checklist for newsrooms of all sizes (small, medium, large).

Note: Some of this background comes from a piece I had previously published in June of 2016.

As a Knight-Mozilla fellow, I wanted to do some type of research during my fellowship that could benefit the news community. During my 10-month fellowship in Berlin in 2016, I've spent about eight months researching, collecting data and interviewing reporters, editors, managers and directors about their on-boarding and off-boarding processes.

In March at the National Institute of Computer-Assisted Reporting (NICAR) Conference, I was inspired to dive deeper into my research after conversations I had with friends from different newsrooms across the country. I chatted with friends (some of whom recently began their jobs) and others who were helping on-board new people into their newsroom. There was a common thread among these conversations: frustration. Often, people were frustrated because of improper documentation and the lack of a process for when someone left a position or began.

I asked around if people had thought about creating a process for on-boarding or off-boarding, besides the orientation people usually get from human resources (HR), which doesn’t always cover the files, systems and people that are important/referred to on the job. Many people I chatted with said they had thought about putting something together, but there just wasn’t enough time for them to do it. Others said they had a process, but it wasn’t enforced. Others mentioned documents they shared through email or an office wiki for storing important information or Github repositories for storing documentation.

This bothered me. And I knew I couldn't be the only one that is bothered by this. It seemed to me that we as a community should be helping each other think through these issues and how we can make these processes better and more efficient. If one newsroom has this figured out, we should be sharing this information so others can learn and make more places easier to work in.

I decided to use some of my fellowship year to spend time researching and interviewing people to see how reporters, editors and producers start and end their jobs in newsrooms all over the world. I tweeted this out.

Immediately, my notifications and emails became filled. Reporters, editors and producers wanted to know how other newsroom handle these processes. I created a survey to start collecting some information from newsrooms. I’ve heard from 221 newsrooms and 247 individuals.

For more details on the results, see chapter three on the overall results of my research.

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