There’s a lot the journalism industry can learn from startups, but if I could pick one thing that newsrooms should mimic, it’d be the adoption of an agile development process.
The basic tenant of agile software development is that progress can be made iteratively and incrementally, based on two week cycles. Even if your newsroom doesn’t have a development team, the concepts around agile development can be applied to any news or technology project.
The principles guiding agile are captured in the “Agile Manifesto“ — ideas that can and should apply, even if you’re not a tech company or startup. I’m not the first to write about this — it’s a concept that has been covered over and over again. Read more about “Agile Storytelling: The Brian Boyer Way” for how and why newsrooms should be more like open-source software developers. Journalism.co.uk has also written extensively about agile and deadline-driven development for newsrooms.
Below is a refresher on the four principles of the agile manifesto that could radically change how newsrooms approach projects and planning.
Individuals and interactions over processes and tools
To me, this principle relies on trusting members of your team to make good decisions, and only requiring as much process as is absolutely necessary. This could mean cutting back on meetings and worksheets, but it doesn’t mean halting communication.
Working software over comprehensive documentation
This one goes back to phrase much-touted in journalism circles from Matt Waite: Demos, not memos. In the time it would take to write out a 40-page requirements document and hold multiple meetings to revise those documents, you probably could have already launched a first version and determined whether it’s successful, then worked to improve it or ditch it for some other idea. The priority should be to ship a working product to market and to use your resources and brainpower to do that as best as you can — not waste brainpower with excessive documentation that is, often times, constantly changing.
Customer collaboration over contract negotiation
Although this approach is more for contractors or people who offer software as a service, we can still think of it in a newsroom sense. I’d rephrase it for the newsroom as “cross-departmental collaboration over negotiation.” Rather than trying to negotiate down to the lowest-common denominator for multiple stakeholders in a project, you can collaborate to make something better for both parties.
Responding to change over following a plan
This one is perhaps the absolute most important principle for a newsroom to understand: the way people consume news is constantly changing, and we have to be able to anticipate that change and react to it as nimbly as possible if we want to stay relevant. Sticking to that plan or timeline isn’t as important as shipping something that’s important and useful for your readers.
If you’re interested in the agile process, you can look into getting agile certification.