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Seeing Your Newsroom as a System

Mapping your newsroom as a system is a flexible, collaborative tool that can help you understand your newsroom better and identify opportunities for change. Similar to mind mapping, the goal is to visualize the forces or factors at play that make up your organization and understand how they’re connected.


After you complete this exercise, you'll walk away with:

  • An initial map of your newsroom as a system

  • A way of understanding the complex cause-effect relationships between newsroom roles, processes, and deeply-held assumptions

  • Insight into opportunities for internal change



45 - 60 minutes

Materials + set-up


This exercise works best with a diverse group of newsroom staff in the room. Working with individuals from a variety of roles, beats, backgrounds, etc. can help widen your understanding of the newsroom and the different perspectives and experiences that people have. 

Materials needed: Sharpies, sticky notes, and 3 sheets of flip chart paper posted side-by-side on a large, open wall

Here's what you need to get started


Seeing Your Newsroom as a System


Identify forces


Using sticky notes, identify the forces within your newsroom that enable or inhibit the topic you’ve identified. For example, if your topic is to deepen community engagement, you would ask:

What forces enable or inhibit a deeper

commitment to incorporating our community

into our journalism?


The goal here is to identify as many forces as possible – quantity over quality. There are no wrong answers! Write one force per sticky note. Some forces could include: openness to new ideas, diversity of staff, speed of news cycle, etc. 


Use the Iceberg Model to help – try and think of forces that answer the questions at each level, especially below the water line.





Share & map


Take turns reading the forces you came up with and place them on the wall with flip-chart paper. If there are duplicates, take note and group them together. Participants should post similar forces near each other. 

Once everyone has shared their forces, take a step back. Ask yourselves: Is anything missing? Add any additional forces on new sticky notes.




These forces don’t exist in isolation. Using a marker, draw connections between the individual forces. Draw as many connections as you can.


After you're done connecting, step back and look at your map. Add any connections that may be missing. Are there any connections that need clarification?

Group discussion


Creating a map like this can help you visualize your newsroom as a system, but it's important to debrief with your group about what you created as well. Here are some follow-up questions that you should discuss.

  • What forces were the most commonly cited? Why do you think they came up so often?

  • Were there any surprising connections you drew?

  • What forces does your newsroom currently prioritize? Which ones haven't been prioritized?

  • What forces have a lot of connections coming in and out? Why do you think they have so many connections?

Now what?


Interested in going deeper? Try Analyzing Your Map.

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