Seven ideas for building sustainable newsrooms + staff

By on June 22, 2016

The following take-aways are from an off-the-record conversation hosted as part of ONA’s Digital Leadership Breakfast series, sponsored by the Dow Jones Foundation, held June 9 in Austin, home of ONA18. These quarterly events are designed as a forum for senior digital media leaders to exchange ideas, challenges and solutions.


  • Trei Brundrett, Chief Product Officer, Vox Media
  • Emily Ramshaw, Editor-in-Chief, Texas Tribune
  • Robyn Tomlin, VP/Managing Editor, The Dallas Morning News

Here are seven insights that emerged during our conversation about innovative ways to build sustainable newsrooms. Speakers and attendees shared ideas on how to build newsrooms — and news professionals — to succeed now and in the future.

  1. The entire newsroom has to be engaged in thinking about not just what things should look like in one or two years, but five to seven years down the line.
  2. It’s easy to get distracted by shiny objects. When considering new products, think about your audience, growth and mission. Is the initiative grounded in these areas? At Vox, they consider three issues — talent, voice and vision — before building something new.
  3. Sometimes general trial and error is the best way to test out a new platform or tool, other times it’s engaging someone on staff who has a particular interest or aptitude or working with students.
  4. Work to foster innovation, despite the daily pressure of breaking news. Hire creative and forward thinking people and put them in positions of power. Invite staff to participate in the innovation process in areas outside of their comfort zones to ferret out natural, hidden talents.
  5. Understanding your audience is critical. If you’re not hiring staff that understands “it’s not just the information in, but the information out,” you’re behind.
  6. Young digital journalism professionals sometimes arrive in the newsroom with loads of tech skills, but not sure how to find a story and tell it. If they can build a brand on social, they can direct those skills into understanding their audience.
  7. Think like a start-up. Celebrate experimentation. Look for empowerment to make changes. Praise helps. People want to be valued.

ONA’s Digital Leadership Breakfast Series is sponsored by the Dow Jones Foundation.


Jessica Strelitz

As ONA's Chief Strategic Partnerships Officer, Jessica oversees ONA’s business development strategy, including opportunities around ONA’s global conferences, events, publications and digital outreach. She’s focused on connecting leaders in digital journalism with professionals in the tech and entrepreneurial spaces.