Skills for journalists in print and digital media.

Setting standards

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Consider this brief description of the connection between “vision” and the concrete standards and systems needed to realize the vision.

Having analyzed the process that must be put in place if the ideal is to become real, we move from visionary, concepts-based strategic planning to operational planning, the practical, logistically-based ‘skin’ that meshes with the support system in place for that vision. Less glamorous than the vision, more functional than the procedure, operational planning examines the incremental steps that eventually lead to the accomplishment of the visionary goal. Operational planning focuses on routine decisions that face us day-by-day, quarter-by-quarter, and even year-by-year.

Measurable objectives are part of that plan, as are the actions to be taken in prioritized order. The plan anticipates problems and specifies how they will be solved.

To achieve greatest effectiveness, operational planning must be easily understood by employees at any and all levels of the organization. Directions must be clear and concise. Problems that arise as the operations are executed are solved at the lowest possible level.

When operational issues are ignored, vision remains in the realm of potential.

— Marlene Caroselli, Center for Professional Development

Measurable objectives and the directions required to obtain them are based on clear standards or “defined outcomes.” A manager’s primary task is to translate the larger vision and goals of the organization into standards and the directions and systems needed to achieve results. That’s how resources are managed.

In newsrooms that can be a daunting combination of quantifying what is “good” when it comes to content and building systems that enable people to perform well under often difficult circumstances.

Frankly, many newsroom managers still frame expectations in too-familiar vague terms. “Tell me something I don’t know.” “Make compelling photos.” “Make it a reader.” Or they tell staff what they don’t want (“Boring headlines.” “Process stories.” “Dull graphics.”) without provide clear standards for what they do want.

In this time of unprecedented change in newsrooms, framing clear standards and then using them to provide  clear, precise directions and effective feedback is crucial. Not only for results, but to really manage change for the staff.

A good starting point for framing clear standards is something called SMART standards, long used in the business community to develop goals and standards that could be managed and measured. SMART stands for five qualities a good standard should have:

Specific: Each goal frames a single outcome or behavior that is observable.

Measurable: Success is described in measurable terms, be it quality, quantity, frequency, etc.

Action-oriented: The goal should contain action verbs that capture clear descriptions of behavior or performance.

Realistic: The goal should be attainable with existing skills, abilities or resources. If not, it should include provisions that will allow the goal to be met.

Time-dated: State the time frame or deadline attached to the goal.


Poor: Get more local enterprise in the newspaper.

Better: Publish local enterprise as an A1 centerpiece four times a week, averaging three from Metro and one from Sports, Business or Features.


Consider something you want to accomplish. What is the standard? If there is none, write one using the SMART approaches. If the existing standard is missing some of the SMART qualities, revise it.


Written by mroberts8

October 29, 2009 at 10:16 pm

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