Grow and retain staff

Lessons from the 2024 Local News Summit

By Jim Friedlich and Vivian Schiller

April 24, 2024

It was a hellish winter for journalism. More than 500 journalists lost their jobs in January alone, and the layoffs continued into February and March. 

Speaking at the 2024 Local News Summit hosted by The Lenfest Institute for Journalism and Aspen Digital, Christopher Baxter, the CEO and president of Spotlight PA said publishers must focus on retaining their talent. 

“Reporters are the beating heart of what we do,” Baxter said. “We need to recognize that and think about how we support staff and make sure their salary, benefits, culture are fair and keeps people around.”

Here are some of the ideas shared and needs identified around how to retain talent: 

  • Leaders should be transparent with  staff members so they understand the economics of the news industry and aren’t surprised  if things go wrong. This is especially important in unionized newsrooms. 
  • Unionization is going to continue to grow throughout the field, and leaders should take steps to respect the choices of their employees and work to field a collaborative relationship with the unions. The next generation of leadership is likely going to rise through the union ranks, so by including them in management will elp grow the future of their organizations. 
  • Many news leaders have not had formal training in management or leadership. “Lots of people who work in newsrooms don’t understand organizational development,” said Blue Engine Collaborative Development Director Cierra Brown Hinton, continuing: “We need instructions on how to develop culture.” 
  • Most of the discussion on journalism jobs has focused on the number of jobs lost, but not on the quality of those jobs. Many organizations are not paying staff enough to live in the communities they’re covering and not giving them adequate training. “It shouldn’t be about how cheaply you can do it, but what you can do to support the staff and community,” said Ken Doctor, founder of Lookout Local. “More largely, we need to focus now on re-professionalizing this business, both in the newsrooms and on the business side.”

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