The transparent meeting

I went to the only regularly blogged editorial meeting at a news organization that I know of: the morning confab at The Guardian.

It’s not quite like the newspaper editorial meetings I attended for too many years. They all want to be like The New York Times. And here‘s how Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger describes Times meetings:

It is a paper of great authority and if you ever go to the New York Times editorial meeting, it’s a bit like a religious ceremony. They meet for 45 minutes in the evening and great thought goes into what’s the lead story; what’s the second story; what’s the third story; what’s the relative typography of these. It is very serious men and women saying, This is our expert opinion and that of the hundreds of journalists that we employ who have thought about this deeply, they know what they’re talking about. ‘Believe us’ is the message. If it’s on the front page of the New York Times, it’s there because it’s important. It may be about things that you don’t think you’re interested in, you may not want to read it but this is our opinion and this is the model that’s existed again for hundreds of years.

And so now I crashed Rusbridger’s meeting. As it begins, a wall between his office and the newsroom is moved and the table is extended into a small area next door. The meeting is thus open to the newsroom and people crowd around; I’ve not seen even that level of openness in U.S. newsrooms.

It begins with Rusbridger taking a quick lap around that morning’s paper: a casual overview of what works (and, I’m sure, some days, what doesn’t). Then it turns to the essential business of the day: each editor reciting what his or her department is planning for the next day’s paper.

Then Rusbridger turned to the chief editorial writer, an impressive (and impressively young) man, to ask about the state of Blair’s tenure with local elections this week that are not boding well for Labour and with fresh political and sexual scandals whirring around them. There ensues a fascinating discussion about the current regime’s efforts to portray itself as a government of competence over ideology in the face of incompetence (over the release of foreign prisoners who should have been deported but instead stayed in the country and committed crimes). If the elections turn disastrous for Labour, they ask the now-perennial question: Will this be the last of Tony? They wonder what it would take to oust him from his own party and they say the precedent for this is Thatcher’s cabinet telling her it was time to go.

But I don’t need to summarize the meeting because Ed Pilkington, a veteran Guardian, editor, blogged it. Apart from not writing about unverified stories or scoops, I see no reason why news meetings everywhere cannot be opened up and blogged.

  • http://www.ryansholin.com Ryan Sholin

    The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash. has been blogging the daily news meeting for awhile here: http://www.spokesmanreview.com/blogs/briefing/

  • http://www.ryansholin.com Ryan Sholin

    Okay, sort of. It sometimes runs down things brought up in the meeting, but on nineteenth look, it certainly doesn’t do it every day. Decent editor blog though.

  • http://ipex2002.blogspot.com Will Pollard

    Jeff,

    I have sent a draft article for OhmyNews, not edited yet, about the We Media event and Buzzmachine. I have put a lot about Iraq into it as an example of an issue handled differently in various media. During this week the local elections in London will in my opinion reflect public opinion on Iraq. People who used to support Labour were against the support for Bush and now have low energy for going out to vote or else prefer the Liberal Democrats or some other party. That is my impression but you can check during the week. I don’t think this is off topic for a discussion about trust in media or government.

    Will

  • http://www.findbloodpressure.info sam

    news meetings have their own sanctity , and , it goes without saying , that certain modes of information cannot be regulated out to the media. however , this raises questions about the freedom of the bloggers , and , how far should the blog be allowed the liberty of expression , and , how far should it’s voice be curtailed.

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  • http://www.spokesmanreview.com Ryan

    The Daily Briefing blog at spokesmanreview.com definitely isn’t a blow-by-blow accounting of the daily news meetings, it’s more of a highlight reel of the discussion. (I work for the site, and set up that blog.)

    We decided it would be pretty boring to simply write long regurgitations of meeting minutes, and we’re not staffed such that it’s worth the time that would take anyway. But the highlight approach hits the important points, and ties in well with our Conversation blog. The Briefing blog is updated basically every weekday (we sometimes skip if staffing is really low).

    We’ve been doing the news meeting blog for a year now. Wasn’t my idea, though; I saw it being done at the Ventura County Star.

    The highlight approach also helps gives the flavor of the meeting, which, incidentally, runs much like the one Jeff describes above. Something that hardcore observers will see in the next few weeks when we start videocasting the meetings, too ;)

  • http://www.spokesmanreview.com Ken

    This is a bit of inside baseball, but we had a (for us) really touchy discussion today about the accuracy of a banner headline on Page 1 regarding the safety of a parking garage owned by the owners of our newspaper. The story involves a fatality — a car broke through a barrier, plunged five stores and landed on its roof. The woman driver died. My point of all this is that we wrote about the internal debate in our Daily Briefing blog.

    It’s easy to talk about being transparent. And it’s easy to be transparent when there’s nothing really dicey to discuss. For us, this was a test of our willingness to be really transparent. I think we passed.

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