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Oxford Perspectives: “Why are showers in hotel rooms so complicated?” and other questions journalists need to address

The second edition of “Oxford Perspectives – Envisioning the Newsroom in 2020”

What do audiences really want? Renee Kaplan, Head of Audience Engagement at the Financial Times, had quite a few answers. The FT tracks in detail what their readers consume, and in her after-dinner speech at “Oxford Perspectives – Envisioning the Newsroom in 2020” Renee gave the guests a glimpse of it: FT-readers devoured everything about the ups and downs of markets, they were invested in London real estate, the financial futures of their children and very interested in this one particular story: “Why are showers in hotel rooms so complicated?”, she said.

Indeed, sometimes it is the seemingly simple problems that need much more attention than anticipated. The senior journalists and media managers, who attended the Seminar in February, were well aware of this. Clear communication, team building, making employees feel valued – all these  familiar longstanding management challenges have proven to be existential in the transformation of newsrooms for the digital age.

The participants came from newspapers and broadcasters in eight countries, ranging from Brazil and Trinidad and Tobago to Finland and Sweden. At “Oxford Perspectives” they could swap notes and enrich their knowledge by listening to each other and a diverse set of speakers who presented them with the latest research on what works and what doesn’t work too well after all.

“This generation has the responsibility to remake journalism”, Alan Rusbridger, the former editor-in-chief of The Guardian, said in his opening remarks. That was because journalists had to “get off their chairs” and not only engage with their audiences but appreciate that readers with no background in journalism might be just as smart - or smarter and know more -  than them .

And what did participants learn in these two days and a half of intense listening, networking and debate? You would have to ask them, but there were a few major themes popping up throughout. Firstly, that it is not only important to collect data. You need to know what you want to do with it and use it the right way. ”The biggest challenge is not technology any longer, it is decision making”, said Nic Newman, the lead author of the Reuters Institute’s Digital News Report. Secondly, people management is critical to success, although bridging cultural differences among journalists, marketing experts and the colleagues from tech can be tricky. “Put as much effort in transforming the organisation as in transforming the product”, Lucy Kueng said, who teaches innovation and cultural change. Thirdly, while many newsrooms want diversity, the road to it is likely to be a bumpy ride. “Check your products, check your storytelling, check your staff”, Susanne Klingner, magazine journalist and podcast entrepreneur recommended. At the same time participants found out a thing or two about dashboards and the latest gadgets like personal assistants driven by artificial intelligence. These AI-helpers are supposed to help journalists deal with information overload. Fortunately, it seemed the participants of “Oxford Perspectives” managed quite well without.           

“Oxford Perspectives – Envisioning the Newsroom in 2020” runs three times a year at the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism in Oxford. For information about upcoming dates write to