Maybe newsrooms need to kick the front page habit

Barak Obama

Charles DuhiggI recently did an email Q&A with Charles Duhigg, the New York Times reporter who wrote The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business. The interview appears Monday in The Knoxville News Sentinel (I hope you’ll read it).

One chapter of Duhigg’s book deals with civil rights pioneer Rosa Parks’ Dec. 1, 1955 refusal to give up her seat to a white passenger on a city bus in Montgomery, Ala. and how social habits helped spark and sustain the famous Montgomery Bus Boycott and played a pivotal role in creating the Civil Rights Movement.

In addition to social movements, Duhigg explores how habits — good and bad — affect companies and how some leaders have reprogrammed habits and reshaped culture within their companies. Surely, if habits can help create and sustain social movements and affect some of the nation’s largest companies, they might have some use for transformating newspapers, who have floundered in adapting to change. So I saved for this blog one question and Duhigg’s answer from the email.

Q: As a person in an industry — newspapers — undergoing great upheaval and transformation that is apparently lacking a Paul O’Neill or a Howard Schultz, are there lessons in what you learned about habits and successful companies that could or should be applied to newspapers?

Duhigg: Newspapers have organizational habits built around the front page – that’s how most newsrooms decide what is important, and it’s how editors transmit signals to reporters. As more and more readers go online, we need to figure out how to create habits that respond to more segmented audiences, and news cycles that have varying durations.

Top Photo: President Barack Obama sits on the famed Rosa Parks’ bus at the Henry Ford Museum following an event in Dearborn, Mich., April 18, 2012. (Official White House Photo by Pete Souza)

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