Dropping bombs in the newsroom

Janet Coats, editor of the Tampa Tribune, sat down in her newsroom to tell the staff about layoffs, reorganizations, new ways of doing business, and harsh realities and an intern named Jessica DaSilva recorded the event with appropriate admiration.

My favorite bomb: “People need to stop looking at TBO.com [the newspaper’s affiliated web site] as an add on to The Tampa Tribune. The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO.”

Another: “She stressed more than several times that if newspaers don’t change then NEWSPAPERS WILL DIE.” (DaSilva’s emphasis) She said that without change newspapers would continue their “death spiral – because that’s what it is.”

More: They laid off a sports reporter in the Tallahassee bureau because it makes more sense to have a reporter working in Tampa than one working in a city four hours away. Local is what she’s emphasizing. DaSilva said: “If they want national news, they have several national news sources to get it. Instead, the Trib should be used to give the community something they can’t get from the NY Times or WaPo. Give them their news.” Amen.

Isn’t the paper profitable, someone asked. “The Tribune hasn’t been bringing in profits for a long time… This isn’t about profit margins anymore…. We weren’t even in the black this year.” This is a reality check not just for the staff but for media-haters who think that papers are still money machines. They are becoming money-losing machines.

Competition? She told the staff to get over the idea that they should operate and judge themselves by doing the same stories as The St. Petersburg Times. Can’t afford that anymore.

I have no idea what went through the minds of the veteran staff. But I’m delighted with what went through the mind of this intern: “Through most of this meeting, I just wanted to shout, ‘Amen!’ and ‘You go girl!’ because Janet understands what’s up…. Janet, you’re my hero, and I think this is worth fighting for too.”

Whether Coats’ formula for reorganization is the right one or not I have no idea and only trying it will tell. But at least she’s trying. Mindy McAdams has the details from an email someone at the paper sent her.

It’s going to be like this:
* Managing editors
* 5-6 audience editors — keep in touch with what the print, TV, online audiences want/need
* 5 sections of reporting (all the reporters for print, TV and Web are mashed up together in these groups):
1. Deadline — for breaking/daily news
2. Data — specifically for database stuff
3. Watchdog — for investigative reporting
4. Personal journalism — stuff for people’s every day lives like weather, health, entertainment
5. Grassroots — citizen journalism….

Outside of these groups are three “finishing” groups for print, TV and online to determine what stories should be covered and with what medium.

All the reporters will be trained in gathering news for online in case there’s a need for it. They’ll be training them on the go. The focus will now be on immediacy and using mediums appropriately. The print product is going to be more enterprise and in-depth, the Web is for breaking news, etc.

They’re also straying from the beats system. They want reporting to be more fluid. Like, if the reporter who usually covers city hall has to work on an investigative piece, someone else (like an education or religion reporter or anyone) could step up to cover daily stories.

This staffer, too, recognizes the necessity, telling Mindy: “Everyone here is kind of freaking out about the change, but what else is the Trib to do? Sit back and let profits continue to drop and keep laying off employees? At least they’re doing something and trying to figure it out. That’s more than what a lot of news organizations can say.”

Here’s Eric Deggens report on the changes.