How to implement a feedback culture in your newsroom

Morten Frich, editor and journalist from Denmark's Politiken. Photograph by Niken Christianti

Morten Frich, editor and journalist from Denmark's Politiken. Photograph by Niken Christianti

Feedback can fuel creativity, new ideas and distinctive solutions in organisations; it can stop you from making very costly mistakes when designing new products and services; it can foster engagement, collaboration, creativity, diversity and inclusion. 

This is not a new idea. 

In 1859, John Stuart Mill wrote: “The source of everything respectable in man either as an intellectual or as a moral being [is] that his errors are corrigible. He is capable of correcting his mistakes, by discussion and experience. Not by experience alone. There must be discussion, to show how experience is to be interpreted.” 

Skip forward 120-odd years and witness Linda Grist Cunningham, executive editor of the Trenton Times, N.J., reporting the findings of the American Society of Newspaper Editors' human resource survey in 1989. 

“Although we appear a happy bunch,” she said, “there is a strong undercurrent that threatens to become a tidal wave: our staff are demanding, perhaps more than ever before, that we communicate with them. They fault us in overwhelming numbers for our failure to provide clear, consistent direction, for our failures to provide feedback and more than adequate management.”

So why hasn’t much changed? And how, in 2022, do newsroom managers harness a culture of feedback in the workplace? In my three months as a Journalist Fellow at the Reuters Institute, I took a closer look at the literature on feedback and studied the case of Swedish public broadcaster, Sveriges Television (SVT) News and Sports divisions. 

SVT wanted to solve real problems for targeted audiences based on a deeper understanding of their audiences; clarified roles, goals and mandates in the newsroom; and making sure there was a shared understanding of the direction of the whole newsroom. 

What I’ve learned is that actionable feedback needs to be linked to strategy. You need to start training feedback skills in your newsroom through a number of workshops and forge real leadership pacts centred around feedback. Then you need to monitor whether feedback is habitual, fast and frequent. 

Ultimately what you probably want to aim for is feedback-seeking behaviour from journalists, editors and managers on all levels and across silos in the organisation. Leading to new team-based collaborations and agile innovation.  

This is not easy, and it will take much longer than you think. However, with the digital revolution, and the associated rapid transformations of the market and newsrooms, feedback might just be your best bet for real change and engagement in the newsroom in the quest for new and distinctive ways to meet targeted audiences needs. 

The introduction of hybrid work makes a strong culture of feedback even more pertinent, as does the war for talent in Generations X, Y, and Z. Talking about diversity, inclusion and #MeToo will not suffice. Real change in newsrooms can come from listening carefully, not only being willing to be challenged directly, but actively asking for and putting value in impromptu feedback.

In the paper below, you will find: 

  • A feedback checklist
  • Guidance on becoming a feedback leader
  • Effective ways to confront bias, prejudice and bullying
  • A roadmap to implementing a strong culture of feedback
  • Literature resources 

Implementing feedback should never be a tick-box exercise. Do it with the aim of encouraging excellence, innovation, great digital solutions, and opportunities for new business.