Reportedly is a new global news site at Medium. (If you don’t know what Medium is, welcome to the world of medium-form online writing. Check it out.) The reported.ly site has been gearing itself up for launch recently, and I was struck by their extremely long, well-documented core values.
I’m pretty familiar with the ways organizations leverage – or pay lip service to – values to drive culture, strategy or day-to-day decisions. As part of the team that helped launch a values-based leadership culture for a regional stone company, I am a passionate believer that core values are an essential compass for highly effective organizations.
Typically, an organization will work hard to narrow their values down – both in number and in complexity. Usually, this is a well-intended effort to make the values easily remembered, and to tell the world that the leadership has prioritized. Posters, values cards and training sessions all follow.
All in all, it’s a pretty subjective game.
When I worked for a successful supermarket chain in Richmond, I remember the year every employee was asked to memorize the company’s core values. There was a race to see which store could get all of its employees to recite the mantra first. As a stubborn, punk rock college kid, I found the process silly. And in the end, no one changed behavior as a result of the memorization – we still politely walked customers to the mustard aisle, checked the freezer for a fresher container of yogurt, and carried groceries to cars with smiles on our faces. (Yes, punk rock college kids can smile.)
So, back to reported.ly.
They sort of break the rules. And I love it.
Here’s an example of one of their core values:
Collaboration with the public often leads to better journalism. We don’t have the answers to everything, and you should never assume that any journalists would. Much of the time, especially during breaking news, we’re trying to figure out what the hell is going on just as you are — so why not team up and help each other? You don’t have to be just a consumer or audience member any more. We want you to help us get a better handle of what’s going on in the world and why. Collectively, you have a greater range and depth of expertise than we could ever dream of. Not everyone needs to be a journalist in order to commit important acts of journalism.
What are the rules they break (or bend)?
- Their values aren’t a game of Scrabble. Reported.ly didn’t bend over backwards to come up with the best clever or descriptive short words to define what mattered to them. No, they’re writers. They wrote their values as phrases and sentences. (Okay, there are a few single word values in their list.) In the example above, the core value isn’t Collaboration. It’s “Collaboration with the public often leads to better journalism.” That is a statement that clarifies their position.
- It’s not about magic numbers. They don’t short list their values to keep it simple. They have 14 of them. Memorize that, checkout girl.
- Context is provided to help with sense making. They actually describe – in English! – what they mean by each of their values. It will be hard for anyone involved with Reportedly to not understand what they stand for, and what they mean. By context, I mean paragraphs.
Here’s what reported.ly can’t do easily with their core values: Put them on a wallet-sized card for their employees and board members. Ask people to memorize and recite them. Actually hang them on the board room wall and expect people to be able to read the fine print. Conduct one hour training sessions to check the “All employees understand and live our core values” box.
What they can do? Ask a diligent and passionate community of readers to understand their point of view – on their business, their beliefs about journalism and news, and about the work they intend to do in the world. Hold themselves accountable to a complex, but clearly articulated, set of expectations. Be amazing.
It will be interesting to see how things play out at reported.ly. They’re asking a lot of themselves, and of their readers. Now that’s a core value I can embrace.