Posts about newsroom

Any and all media

I think this is a big deal: LA Times editor Russ Stanton said the paper will “train all editorial employees in new skills in every medium in which we work (print/web/TV/mobile/radio).” I hope that also means training everyone in new opportunities: collaboration, networks, opening up the process… (By the way, I was honored to be included in Stanton’s reading list.)

Journalists, take note

“I don’t want to hire single-platform journalists anymore,” said Paul Horrocks, editor of the Manchester Evening News, in a good report on the paper’s omnimedia conversation in the Editors’ Weblog. (Disclosure: I’m heading to speaking at the offiste for the MEN’s parent, Guardian Media Group.)

Wishful thinking

I was shocked by the willful naivete of yesterday’s New York Times editorial decrying media deregulation. Engrave this line on their tombstone:

The strategic challenge for newspapers is not cutting costs, but how to attract a larger share of online advertising and make money off the millions of people who read them free online.

They wish.

That has long been the cry of editors of papers including the Times: preserving their newsrooms as they operate now, protecting their ways. But they keep ignoring the obvious fact that most newspapers operated as uniquely profitable media monopolies but those days are clearly over. The internet is a highly competitive market where prices and margins simply will not match print — though audience size is greater. They also keep ignoring the obvious opportunities presented by the networked internet to operate more efficiently and also more broadly (start here and here as well as here). Finally, they keep ignoring the opportunities of crossing media, which leads to the next red herring from the Times as it argues against merging local newspapers and broadcasters:

For all the technological advances that have shaken American media over the last 30 years, remarkably little has changed about who produces the local news. Internet outlets repurpose and comment on the news. A few cable channels provide national news. But in many small and even medium-sized cities there are only two entities that put money into local news-gathering: the local newspapers and the TV stations.

Oh, come on. Local TV stations may put money into local news — and pull money out of it — but they don’t put real reporting into it. Newspapers like the Times used to sniff at local TV news the way they sniff today at blogs: They have long been repurposers, recyclers; they’re not even commenters. Imagine the possibilities of a print newsroom that follows the Rosenblum method of empowering every reporter to shoot video stories — and shoot them in new ways. What if that became the basis of the local TV news? What if instead of four crews on the ground in with expensive satellite trucks you had the hundred reporters of a formerly print newsroom all gathering news across media with small and inexpensive cameras? What if you had real reporting, real stories, not just reading out loud on cold streetcorners (‘police this morning are….’)? I’d start watching local TV news again (oh, it’s on in my house, but that doesn’t mean there’s anything to watch). There’s a benefit of combining, of finding new ways to do things, a benefit for the newspaper, the broadcaster, and the public. Oh, yes, and they can do all these things on the internet, too, proving that it is more than a place to repurpose and comment.

Here’s another herring in this barrel:

But you don’t get one healthy media company by combining two sick ones.

Really? Mergers are, of course, a way to create stronger companies out of weaker ones, otherwise no one would merge or acquire; old companies would just die. Certainly adding a healthy P&L to a struggling one is one way to help the struggling company. Why else did the Times buy, which is just about the only bright spot in its P&L. (Disclosure: I used to consult at About.) But I guess the Times knows what it’s talking about here: It’ learned from the company’s purchase of the ever-sicklier Boston Globe. Not all acquisitions need to be so dumb, though.

One more bullet, one more fish:

Mr. Martin’s plan, moreover, could dangerously reduce media diversity. Not only would the mergers allowed under the rule change eliminate independent voices, but they also might crowd rivals out of the news business. A study of F.C.C. data by consumer groups indicated that less news is broadcast in cities where companies have been granted waivers to the rules to allow them to own both newspapers and broadcasters.

Diversity of voices? What, happy talk voices? There’s no perspective from the community on the 5 p.m. news; the people reading it all came from elsewhere on their way to elsewhere. I could well imagine how that show could have more voices — start with giving some of those cheap cameras out to people in that community. But today, there’s no media diversity because media are homogenized, purposely bland, cherishing sameness, dreading change. You want diversity? Go to that dreaded internet thing, there you’ll find more diversity than the Times can bear.

Oh, and by the way, does New York have less news because it has cross-ownership (and doesn’t the Times Company have a dog in that fight, one it doesn’t mention in the editorial: The NY Post and its WYNY, not to mention the Times’ WQXR)? Does Chicago? Did San Francisco?

Now I happen to agree with the Times about the point of its editorial: FCC Chairman Kevin Martin’s plans for media consolidation are half-assed. We just disagree about what should be done about it. I say he should open up the media marketplace. But, of course, the Times doesn’t want that. It wants protection. It wants sameness. It wants to preserve its ways.

Remember that the editorial page at the Times reports not to the newsroom but to the publisher’s office and then consider this a window onto its strategy or lack thereof. If I owned Times stock and if I hadn’t sold ages ago, I’d be selling now.

LATER: I’ve thought better of that last night. It was wrong and unproductive — to much the old us-v-them mindset. So I retract and apologize for it. Journalism and Times journalism are worth investment. I hope the investment is spent wisely. We need that.

Where’s the digital union?

In a lighter American equivalent to the union kerfuffle here in the London over the digital future of the news union, Time Magazine TV columnist James Poniewozik notes similar issues affecting both the TV writers’ union, which has voted to strike, and his own magazine, where union members are, incredibly, not required to work on the web (though note the union response in the comments to that post). Says James:

As somebody who gets paid to produce content, i.e., write, I can’t pretend to be unbiased. If content is platform-agnostic in this brave new media world, then money should be platform-agnostic too. (That’s not to say I agree with the WGA in every detail, not being privy to the negotiations, but I hear them on general principle.)

This kind of argument is playing out in many workplaces–mine, for instance. You may notice that you are reading this article not in a print magazine but on an electronic computing box, serviced by an Internet hose. Writers and production staff at Time Inc. are covered by a union, which just finished a drawn-out contract renegotiation. (I’m covered by the union but not a member; Time Inc. is an open shop, meaning membership is optional.) A big point of contention between the union and management has been the fact the website’s editors and production staffs are not covered by the union–although union-covered magazine staff, like me, do work for the websites as well.

The deal the company and union reached: magazine staff (like me) can’t be compelled to work for the websites, and the company will not extend union coverage to the website staff. To me–and, for instance, Jeff Jarvis–it’s a worst-of-both-worlds settlement. Instead of treating the ever-more-important websites as if they were ever more important, the magazine staffers get the right to abstain from working for them, and the company gets to avoid, God forbid, having more unionized employees. . .

His colleague Lisa Takeuchi Cullen, who covers the workplace, chimes in on the Time rule with both background and spot-on perspective:

Huh?! On the one hand, we’re told, in so many words, that our futures as content creators depend upon our ability to master the digital realm. On the other, corporate claims our digital future is still made of ether, and therefore our digital contribution can’t be quantified (and compensated).

Here’s a simple start to what’s likely to become a complicated solution. Why not write up new job descriptions for us? When I was hired as a staff writer at this company 10 years ago, the web was not even mentioned. Today, it’s a large part of my job, mainly by dint of my blog. I embrace my web duties; it’s unquestionably more work than just churning out for the magazine, but I recognize my own and my industry’s future lies here, on this blinking, electronic page. Yet I’m still getting mixed messages. One editor told me I shouldn’t “waste” more than 10 minutes a day on the blog. “The magazine comes first,” the editor told me. “It’s what pays you.”

Fine. So quantifying our web contributions remains a management puzzle, perhaps one for those high-priced McKinsey drones to figure out. But legitimize our work online by redefining our jobs. We’re all web writers now.

Yes, but avoiding new job descriptions is the goal of some in this and sidestepping the issues raised by them is the goal of others — when everyone’s goal should be to grab these new opportunities and figure them out.

Behind the lines

Here‘s a piece I wrote for the American Society of Newspaper Editors magazine. To any reader here, there’s nothing new in it; it’s notable only that I got to say it to America’s editors.

Sweetheart, get me rewrite… in Bangalore

Roy Greenslade reports that a New Zealand newspaper company, APN News & Media, is outsourcing 70 sub-editing and design jobs. I’ve been wondering for years why Gannett, say, isn’t doing this: at least its national, business, sports, and entertainment page editing can be outsourced. Oh, I know, you’ll say that people elsewhere don’t understand these markets. But the truth is that most editors I know moved into their markets and had to learn them anyway. So why not have a gigantic national copy desk (boy, would that be a fun room) and a huge national design and production desk? For that matter, why not outsource editing to the Associated Press? When I was Sunday editor of the New York Daily News, I tried hard to get Tribune Media to take over every bit of work in producing our TV listings pages, for a starter; this would have freed up headcount to do more productive things (like reporting). I’ve been arguing for sometime that the process of finding efficiencies and reorganizing newsrooms around what really matters is healthy, necessary, and long overdue. It’s about boiling a newspaper down to its essence, its true value. And what is that value? Reporting.

Trimming newspaper fat v. meat

After Howard Kurtz issued what I characterized as the common, kneejerk newsroom response to threats of cutbacks — oh, woe is journalism; ah, what will become of investigative reporting? — many of us piled on to say that newsrooms are bloated and need cutting — or more to the point, need to cut the crap so they can focus on what matters. Kurtz responds , quoting Jack Shafer and me and saying:

Not to spoil a good food fight, but I don’t disagree with any of that. Some newspapers are overstaffed. Not all budget cuts are bad. Not every newspaper in America needs to have a reporter covering the White House, or London, or attending political conventions and writing the same pap as everyone else. What’s more, lest they suffer the fate of General Motors by churning out gas-guzzlers, they need to move more boldly into the digital age, which probably requires smaller newsrooms than in the past as print circulations decline.

Here comes the ‘but’ . . .

But many of the corporate executives ordering these cuts don’t care about finding innovative ways to cover the news; they just want to please Wall Street by getting the payroll down.

But shouldn’t it be up to the editors of these newspapers to find those innovative ways to cover the news and to help the institution and its value survive the transition to the new world? Instead, we see editors stomping their feet, refusing to cut back as if there is no need to, as if it’s just some big, bad, greedy biz guys — instead of a post-monopoly market reality — forcing them to fire. Kurtz continues:

Investigative reporting doesn’t just mean maintaining separate SWAT teams. Beat reporters do important digging all the time, but that requires having a few extra days or weeks to pursue leads and pore over records. If, in depleted newsrooms, they have to churn out copy every other hour, the chances that they’ll look into the mayor’s land deal or the congressman’s favors for big contributors are greatly diminished.

But who says that kind of reporting is what should be depleted? If editors have the good sense and foresight to get rid of what’s not needed, they can put their resources where they matter: into reporting. And they can also find new ways to report. Kurtz:

Newspapers — good ones, at least — do two things that, if their staffs shrivel, no TV station, Web site or blogger will be able to match. One is to provide detailed local coverage of schools, hospitals, zoning battles and town councils. The other is holding public officials and business executives accountable with aggressive investigative work.

No one is saying that bloggers will replace journalists; let’s eliminate that red herring from the playbook. But bloggers can help. And the truth is that most metro papers and many local papers do a terrible job covering local schools and town councils; bloggers and other cooperative efforts in networked journalism could, indeed, increase a paper’s coverage as never before possible. And as for investigative efforts: Yes, we need more. Yes, we need reporters doing more. But here, again, when you open up to help, you may be able to report in new ways. Witness the Porkbusters, et al outing of Senators Byrd’s and Stevens’ secret hold on Congressional accountability legislation. I’m not saying that will replace investigative staffs but it can help, if you let it. Kurtz concludes:

They are also tradition-encrusted places that need to become less cautious, less stuffy and less arrogant. But if the critics think that a starvation diet will somehow produce healthier reporting, they are fantasizing.

The fantasizing we see in in newsrooms that believe newspapers can and should continue with business-as-usual, that newsrooms need to be as big as they are to get their real job done, and that they are doing a good job now.

I continue to believe that cutbacks will force newspapers to decide what they really are. The brave, wise, and strategic editors will get rid of the crap and invest more in the kind of reporting Kurtz properly celebrates. The wussy, job-protecting editors will do just what we see them doing: whining.

: At the end of Kurtz’ response, a bold headline said, “End of discussion.” That took me aback. Cheeky, I thought until I saw that it was the subhead over the next item. This discussion is far from over.

: See also the response of Jeff Crigler of Voxant.

Curley Q & A

Darned good story about Rob Curley, one of the two most creative people I know in the newspaper biz. Hyperlocal is where it’s at. And the big, old paper in the most trouble these days — the LA Times — reveals just why it’s in so much trouble. Read on.

: Speaking of hyperlocal, see this story about a trend in newspapers to get more local. At last.

The American newspaper is being forced to reinvent itself.

Virtually every major paper is making the shift to local coverage, often as it cuts deeper into editorial operations. Only recently, the Dallas Morning News announced it was closing its national bureaus while cutting 20 percent of its newsroom staff. It was becoming a local paper again after several decades of rising stature for its national and international coverage. More than 100 people were let go.

Similar, if less dramatic, changes are taking place at such papers as The Washington Post, New Jersey’s Bergen Record and Herald News, and the Richmond Times Dispatch. And joining them all is Gannett, the largest newspaper chain and publisher of USA Today.

“We’re going to get hyper-local,” says Tara Connell, a Gannett spokesperson.