On defining processes

I’m constantly thinking of processes, especially editorial processes, that allow for room to innovate. It’s difficult to quantify editorial processes because the output is creative. I’m not sure of how long form publications like the Caravan do it, and I’ve heard great things about Jonathan Shainin (who’s now with the Guardian), and how, sometimes, his feedback on an article would be longer than the article itself. Things are very different for a news and analysis publication like MediaNama, because we’re mostly doing news, and then a little more.

I’ve looked at style guides from various international publications (donated to me by a benevolent friend), and I found it surprising that the focus was significantly on maintaining parity in formats and the usage of certain types of phrases, and seeking certain types of information (when it comes to financial reporting). What they didn’t appear to focus on, was questions. This might have to do with the kind of reports they do – which are largely short, for a general audience (or a general business audience), and on the basis questions they ask. With so much information alredy at our disposal, a significant part of our work is making sense of information. Our style guides (called #NAMAstyleguide) are mostly about structuring of stories, providing formats, but more importantly, to look for information and provide an analysis that helps change perspectives on the development. As a publication, in order to make readers think, we first have to make our journalists think. Of course, other processes that we have in place ensure that a styleguide is almost never needed, and but it helps to have documentation around how we want to think. So, our style guides essentially focus on the kind of questions we want our stories to answer for readers. While some style guides are still not complete, some have options of 10-15 questions that a story can answer. Not all of them need to be answers, but I feel that questions provide a great sense of direction.

As we expand editorial (we’re currently a team of 5, though I’m going to be write less frequently), and begin working with freelancers, the ambiguity and decision making around many things makes the entire process cumbersome for everyone. The way we work has to change too – in terms of reporting structures, roles and responsibilities. I’m aware of instances, particularly around research and events, where we’ve messed up, I’ve messed up, or allowed things to be messed up. Each screw up brings with it its own learning, and it’s important to define processes more granularly, and change processes with each iteration. What I consciously worry about is the risk of templatization in a manner that doesn’t allow flexibility. Still much to figure out.

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