What should we do, exactly?

What does your student media organization do, exactly? Your first answer might be, “We cover campus news.” Is that a clarion call to inspire journalists? Does it help you decide where to focus your efforts?

In his influential book, “Good to Great,” business expert Jim Collins reported on exhaustive research that found the leaders of the most successful companies focused on three important questions:

  • “What can you be the best in the world at?”
  • “What drives your economic engine?”
  • “What are you deeply passionate about?”

For student media purposes, let’s take those in reverse.

Passion. Ask a bunch of student journalists, “What should we cover?” At first, you’re likely to get the predictable answers: campus events, student government, etc. All good answers, but few will be accompanied by passion. (If you have a reporter who pounds her fist on the table and yells, “I’m passionate about covering student government meetings,” you are a lucky editor.)

In sessions designed to produce story ideas, I’ve had reporters begin by listing what they think is important to the world. You can count on environmental issues going on the list. In your newsroom, I predict that will be one of the topics that people think are important, but I’ll also predict it doesn’t usually come up in the “what should we cover” discussion. Include those “important to the world” topics when you’re looking for the answer to the “passion” question.

Driving the engine. Collins says companies need to find the key “denominator,” the unit that can be used to measure profit — dollars per this denominator. For college media newsrooms, I’d say that translates to maximizing engagement per potential member of your audience. You want audience members engaged by your content — print, online, etc. — for the most minutes out of their day, week, month. This begins with the simple fact that people will spend the most minutes with your products if you provide important and entertaining news in the best (compelling and/or efficient) manner. If you work on the business side, your job is to turn those minutes of engagement into dollars.

Best in the world. Here is the really good news for student media. You are almost certainly able to be the best at the world at covering almost everything on your campus. This doesn’t mean you have to cover everything — indeed, you can’t. But think broadly about this question. Remember the passion many people feel about environmental issues? You are in position to be the best in the world covering energy use, recycling and environmental activism on your campus.

Spend some time with a whiteboard listing your answers to the three questions — and more time on the topics that make all three lists. Attack those coverage areas — with passion!

Then see how much more exciting your answer is when someone asks, “What do you do, exactly?”

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About adviserdavid

Student media director, Georgia Southern University

Posted on June 3, 2012, in Leadership, What to cover. Bookmark the permalink. 3 Comments.

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