Five Things to Rethink the Newsroom: Choose Your Mission.

In the fall of 2005, I entered college. At the time, the following things were true:

  • Facebook was available only to those with a college email address. Photos could only be uploaded in the form of a profile picture.
  • YouTube was just six months old, and it had yet to make a splash nationally.
  • WiFi was far from ubiquitous.
  • Among the largest photo-sharing sites was Webshots.com.
  • The inventors of Twitter were still working at Odeo.
  • The iPhone did not exist.

In five years, the way information is filtered and distributed has completely changed. It’s time for the newsroom to change with it.

Where it needs to start is with a mission statement.

Consumers are asking tough questions these days. They’re asking, “Why do I care about what you do?” and, “What do you offer that nobody else does?” There’s no universal answer to these questions.

To get those answers, every media organization needs to consider these three questions:

1. What are we doing?
2. Where are we going?
3. Why is what we do essential?

A good mission statement will define your greatness. What is it that you makes your news organization great? What do you do best? Maybe it’s covering breaking news or high school sports or the arts. Maybe you’re the government watchdog.

Whatever it is, know this: your brand is a promise.

Two years ago, Warren Buffet said those words at his annual shareholders meeting in Omaha. He mentioned two brands: RC Cola and Coca Cola.

What Buffet noted is that Coca Cola conjures up certain emotions in consumers. They think of Coke and remember certain times in their lives, times of great pleasure or joy.

They do not just drink Coke; they love it, and they trust it.

But no one, Buffet, suggested, would say the same about a generic brand of cola.

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Ultimately, media organizations are no longer just competing against themselves. They’re competing against anyone who has a publishing platform — a WordPress blog, a Twitter account, a Vimeo page — and who distributes information via that platform.

The best bloggers and Twitterers all do one thing well: they build a loyal audience from the ground up. They define what it is they’re going to deliver, and they find a niche in the market.

Established media outlets can do the same, because there is still something powerful about the trust that exists between a respected news organization and the public.

The first step to rebuilding that trust starts with finding that mission statement: Who are you, and what are you going to do?

Whatever it is, come out and say it. Tell your audience what you’re doing. Be transparent. And put it at the heart of your newsroom. It’s the only way we’ll know whether or not you’re living up to your own standards.

The rethinking of your newsroom starts from here.