Posted on January 10, 2008
Finding time to innovate
Just about every newspaper in North America has experienced staff cuts, buyouts or a hiring freeze. Editorial staff has been cut to extreme levels in some cases, reducing morale as well as (in many cases) hurting the quality of the product.
So it’s going to sound crazy if I suggest that newsroom staffers be given 10 percent of their paid time to work on their own projects.
The BBC has done this. The idea comes from Google (and maybe other technology companies; I don’t know), which gives its engineers 20 percent time to work on projects that are not part of their assigned job duties.
Switching teams at Google is a very fluid process. An engineer can be 40% on one project, 40% on something completely different and 20% on his or her own thing. That mix can be adjusted as project requirements change. Switching groups should also not have an affect on your annual review score because of arbitrary team politics. Joining a new group is more about find a good mutual fit then going through HR and a formal interview loop. When there is an important project that needs to be staffed the groups and execs will evangelize that need and someone who is interested is bound to step up.
Google Mail resulted from one engineer’s “20 percent time” work. A 2005 Business 2.0 article said: “Virtually everything new [at Google] seems to come from the 20 percent of their time engineers here are expected to spend on side projects. They certainly don’t come out of the management team.”
I admit, I have a hard time imagining that this would work in any newsroom I’ve ever seen or heard about.
But what a great idea, eh? I can easily imagine how the results could be wonderful for the end product.