I’ve been thinking about……how to find time to think

I’ve done it in dusty office lofts, posh hotels and pub back gardens.

I’ve done it on Sunday nights over takeaway pizza, weekday afternoons over beer and at all-day sessions with coffee, pastries and lunch.

I’m talking brainstorming, strategy days and planning. Thinking time, in other words.

It’s a paradox that is as fascinating as it is depressing that modern editors and their senior colleagues will spend large chunks of their lives in meetings – and yet may feel they have less time to think, discuss and throw ideas around than ever before.

I’m spending some of this morning with a group of experienced journalists looking at how we can break that model.

In the last few months, the newsrooms that I visit appear to have made great strides in cutting out some of the tedious what’s-the-page-31-picture-story mechanics which can plague conference meetings.

Some are experimenting with weekly specialist reporters’ gatherings, morning web mini-conferences and week ahead digital planning sessions.

The secret to success is to ring-fence time when we can step briefly away from the typeface to allow  real creativity to flow.

Another paradox that fascinates and depresses me in equal measure that web journalism has incredible potential to free reporters from traditional shackles and straightjackets, and to have some real fun. And yet finding content which meets daily UB, page view and return visit targets can easily become a joyless, demotivating grind.

Whenever I run training days for reporters, I always build in an exercise which gets them to brainstorm ideas to develop new storylines and fresh coverage tactics for well-worn issues such as the NHS crisis or the green belt.

In just five or ten minutes, they always come up with genuinely interesting and innovative angles.

I’d like to see journalists getting their heads together as a team more often – daring to suggest what might seem silly ideas, and following their own instincts about what makes interesting content.

It’s a bit of a trite analogy, but it’s Bake-Off time, so I’ll go for it. Putting a day’s news coverage together is like making a cake.

It’s not easy to get the right balance of ingredients, the right level of serious and authoritative news coverage but also the right dash of the trivial and the time-wasting.

The key to getting it right is credibility and authenticity.

I’m a wet liberal, so my paper and news website of choice is The Guardian, perhaps followed closely by the Independent.

Those sites somehow manage to blend unrivalled political insight with tongue-in-cheek nonsense in a way that maintains an essential dignity and authority.

And they seem to be put together by people who are serious about having a bit of fun.

And, more importantly, by people with time to think.


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