Posts about newsroom

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.

Starship Telegraph

Media Guardian’s Roy Greenslade has seen the future of The Telegraph’s newsroom and operation and he likes it. Other papers, including The Times, are starting the process of merging all media. The Telegraph is using a move into a new newsroom as the opportunity to also move the processes, culture, and job descriptions of the journalists into the future.

For the journalists, this means that there will be no split of functions between print and web. And, in addition to providing text, they will also transmit audio and video for podcasts and vodcasts. And many staff are already building their new skills, appearing on camera to read their own scripts – downloaded on to a self-operated auto-cue – and cutting their own footage after barely an hour’s training.

Oh, good, my students won’t think I’m crazy when I push the end of the monomedia journalist.

Roy also reports that they are reorganizing their output into separate products.

Instead of producing articles once a day for a printed newspaper, they are going to work to four deadlines – in the jargon, “touchpoints” – throughout the day. After what appears to have been exhaustive research of modern audience needs, the paper’s team – led by Will Lewis, the managing director (editorial) – have come up with a round-the-clock schedule of differing “products”. Mornings are for text, so the concentration will be on supplying stories online. Lunchtime into the early afternoon is for video and audio. Late afternoon, drive-time, will see the production of PDF pages, what Lewis calls the “click and carry” service. This allows people to download sets of pages and then print them out, in colour or mono, in various sizes to read on their way home. Evening is then the time for “communities”, with material aimed at the bands of enthusiasts for football, gardening , travel, whatever floats their boats.

I wonder whether that structured biorhythm will become too limiting. That is, when the big story hits, you’ll want to get it out in all forms across all media and devices. I’ll be eager to watch this.

The Telegraph also announced layoffs as part of this process. It’s a necessity of the new economic realities of news and also of the opportunity for new efficiencies. Says Roy:There is a mixture of apprehension and enthusiasm for the new regime, but several of them are also very upset because of the announcement that more than 50 people will be made redundant. . . . It is sobering to learn, even after the passing of hot metal printing 20 years ago, that many articles currently pass through 12 pairs of hands before reaching the reader. That is obviously unnecessary and a key reason for job losses.

News organizations have to reexamine their own value and put their resources there. Heavy editing can improve content, yes, but it can also harm it — homogenizing it, dulling it down, slowing it up – and it’s expensive.

Who’s in charge here?

A followup to the post about the Dow Jones task force, below….

I had an email exchange with an editor I respect about the merging of print and online newsrooms and operations that tends to follow such task forces. There’s a vital issue many are dancing around:

Who’s in charge of the future? The print guys or the online guys?

At many media companies, online was started as a separate division and for good reason. If it had begun as part of the print newsroom, the editors there would have tried to mold the internet into the image of print, and the business people would have sold the internet as a valueless add-on to print. Some are still trying. At my last employer, we started separately for good reason. But today, if the entire company doesn’t become digital, it’s dead. That’s why news companies are merging newsrooms.

So who should be in charge? In many of the efforts to merge or reorganize news companies, the print people ended up in charge. They have more ballast and political clout. They are the 2,000-pound canaries. Now I don’t mean to diminish their experience, of course. But the experience of the online people is being diminished and shouldn’t be. They have worked to invent new products with new opportunities and understand this new world, but again and again, I’ve seen them shoved aside or exiled as threats. That is a big mistake.

The ballsy news company will not only give precedence to the internet but also to the people who know the internet. I’m afraid I’m not seeing that happen.

: LATER: Michael Urlocker has some advice on disruption and task forces for Dow Jones.

: Roy Greenslade chimes in.

: Matt Terenzio says:

Newspapers are more religion than business to many of their producers. We need a left turn and it’s nearly impossible to get them to budge a few degrees.

One more thing.

It is my opinion that it would be much easier and faster to get the online folks up to speed on traditional journalism and print business practices than it would be to get the print folks to understand the web.