Why great feedback is so important and how to provide it in newsrooms today

By: David Arkin
March 7, 2024
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With so much change happening in the industry, I was reminded again this week on why feedback is so critical.

Well, how about why helpful feedback is so important.

As a consultant, I’m constantly sharing ideas with clients: new ways of doing work, better tools to use and initiatives and products that could have a significant impact on a business.

One of the very deliberate things I chose to do with the consulting business is to ensure we went beyond the idea-sharing phase but deep into the implementation.

When I began consulting, I heard over and over that companies needed help getting stuff done. So while there is a lot of strategy as part of what we’re doing, I’m pretty confident many clients extended months and months beyond our original agreement because we’re helping them implement change.

So that means that the feedback we provide clients has to go beyond passer-by communication and really get into the weeds. And that’s really the feedback that drives the change we’re seeking.

Here are a few things I’ve discovered when it comes to feedback:

1. Understand who you are communicating with

Let me start off by saying what I think people don’t want and that’s feedback that is overwhelming (there’s too much of it or it’s all negative).

I had a publisher years ago who would send me a note every morning about his thoughts from that day’s edition of the newspaper. At first, I found it useful, but over time, it just became too much (because it was so nit-picky) that I began to dread opening my email to see what he had to say. It eventually turned me off so much (despite my pleas to him on how I would find the feedback more helpful and useful) that I eventually left the company.

Feedback is really a form of training, to help someone learn something new or share a different way to approach what they are doing and why. And you have to find the right way to approach it with each individual. So, you should ask the environment someone will succeed in when it comes to feedback: a group, one-on-one, once a week?

Oftentimes as leaders, we see something and want to react. But the most important thing is reacting in a way that is going to develop that person and get your business the result you want.

2. Don’t expect people to be you

It took me a while in my career to figure this out or actually accept it. But once I did, I think I became a more effective manager.

This is a really important lesson for anyone who is driving change. There’s no reason that anyone who you are working with is just going to know how to do what you do or even how to evolve it.

It’s why a detailed plan to start with is important, but also why it’s critical that you frequently review how someone is progressing in whatever new thing you have asked them to do.

And taking it in steps really works. If, for example, you want someone to start doing more in SEO, don’t ask them to do it all tomorrow, but start with writing headlines and meta descriptions better. Get that down and then introduce creating unique URLs and keyword research.

Using feedback to help get someone to that first part of the goal so they can get to the next part, feels good to everyone involved.

3. Please, be specific

Two of my favorite newsroom trainers — Jill Geisler and Elaine Kramer — who I used numerous times when I was running content at GateHouse Media, both told newsroom leaders the same thing: Be specific in your feedback.

Saying “great job on that story” means very little to someone. That person may feel good that you gave them a compliment but they are probably left wondering what about what they did was good in your opinion?

So, be specific. “I really liked how you talked to that third source in your story, it added so much more context behind the issue,” would be a more specific way to share feedback.

And when the feedback is not positive, being specific is important too. That could be sharing what you thought needed more work, but giving guidance on how to do it in the future or apply it to a story they are working on, can help make it more realistic for someone.

Feedback is hard. You have to make time for it and it has to be genuine. But the commitment to do it and do it well can have such a positive impact on your staff and the journalism you are trying to create.

David Arkin is the co founder and CEO of David Arkin Consulting. Contact him at david@davidarkinconstulting.com

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