Media Moves

This is a drill. This is only a drill

September 8, 2015

Posted by Allen Wastler

Allen Wastler 2Practice makes perfect. Luckily for business journalism, there are plenty of opportunities for practice.

The trick is taking advantage of those opportunities so when lightning strikes, you’re prepared.

Every week various economic numbers are released. Some have peripheral importance, others have medium importance, and some are very, very important.

But every one of them is a chance to test a business news team’s execution skills. This is especially true for what’s become the predominant arena for breaking business news, the Internet, where a number of elements may have to come together.

How do you do the drill?

  • Identify who does what (alerting/Tweeting, writing, editing, posting, graphics, Facebooking, etc.)
  • Set the order in which the tasks get done.
  • Name workarounds for possible breakdowns (what if email goes down, again?).
  • Measure performance.
  • Debrief afterwards: What went right, what went wrong, what could have been better.

In my experience teams that go through this procedure with the scheduled numbers, large and small, execute better on the unexpected events, like an out-of-the-blue Fed rate hike (they’ve done those, you know).

Sometimes there’s some cultural resistance (“I’ve been writing for years…of course I know what to do” – cue eye roll). But the results tend to overcome such objections (“Hey, we got the jobs number up 20 seconds faster this time around”).

It helps to also point out this type of teamwork and collaboration is what gives mankind an edge over machines, as noted by Fortune’s Geoff Colvin in his recent book “Humans are Underrated.” His chapter on the military’s reassessment of its drilling practices to stress teamwork is particularly apropos. Given the worries about journalism and machines, this should strike a nerve.

General news has its share of scheduled events, too, that could be used for execution drills. But not with the regularity of business news.

And I would argue that business news outfits need execution skills more than general news, since the bar for what matters is much lower for markets than it is for average readers.

Of course the pressure for speed and execution varies for some newsrooms. And as noted in last week’s column, each platform has ways to exercise a one-two punch: speed and context. Strategies include experts on set (broadcast), pre-written copy (digital), and broad day-after analysis (print).

Subscribe to TBN

Receive updates about new stories in the industry daily or weekly.

Subscribe to TBN

Receive updates about new stories in the industry.