Reinventing before resizing newspapers

The News & Record in Greensboro — for a long time most people’s poster child for an enlightened newspaper — announced layoffs this week. Characteristically, the paper’s blogging editor, John Robinson, dealt with the issues and emotions around this openly on his blog. He said:

Next week, we’ll begin reinventing the paper. I respect the people who left here yesterday too much to suggest that things will be the same. We’ll focus on what we can do well and what our audience values, and drop the rest. That reinvention will center on:

* Public service journalism, including enterprise, investigative and community.
* Being audience-centric, not format-centric. A faster movement into online and mobile.
* Innovation and experimentation. We can create better cool, useful stuff.

I say that every newsroom that hasn’t started this reinvention is overdue and you’d best do it before the axe falls. The News & Record is ahead of other newspapers, but it could not escape business reality. Today, Robinson added:

But in truth, there’s no villain here. Gathering and publishing information costs money, but more and more people don’t want to pay for it. Many traditional newspaper advertisers are either consolidating or going out of business. Free classifieds contribute. Corporate greed is an easy target, but it’s not the case here. While some publicly traded newspapers have high margins, we don’t. The company has done a lot to forgo Thursday’s action. Most of them I’ve chronicled here.

We’re making the transition to the new digital age. I remain optimistic about journalism. Quality journalism will not be sacrificed. Nor will investigative reporting or community building. There are potholes in the road and ditches on the sides. We have and will hit both. We learn and adjust.

This is why I think that everyone — everyone — in the newsroom should be trained in audio, video, blogs, wikis, maps, blog search, interactivity, and more, not because they’ll all do all of this but because they need to stop thinking of themselves as paper people and they need to start thinking of the new possibilities. I’d even train ad sales staff and certainly publishers in this — with lighter lessons — to open their eyes up to new ways. I’d argue that newspapers need to reinvent and reimagine themselves as new, smaller, faster, more open organizations — now. There is not a moment to waste. The axe is dangling.