Blowing up the newsroomPosted: July 4, 2008
Since I entered grad school, I’ve been staring down the barrel of a shotgun loaded with questions:
- How can newspapers reverse falling readership and ad revenues?
- How can they compete effectively with other news providers on the Internet?
- How should newspaper journalists change their routines to serve multiple platforms?
- How can newspapers possibly maintain quality and innovate while cutting staff.
Now I’m in the middle of an 11-day assignment from Spokesman-Review Editor Steve Smith aimed at exploring some of those questions and drafting recommendations for restructuring the newsroom. The goals: to be more efficient and produce a more compelling, consistently multiplatform product.
There are eight of us, all relatively young in a newsroom notably filled with talented veterans. Most of us have come out of journalism school within the past four years. The group dynamic is solid.
This is exciting and scary as hell.
It’s strange how the people running newspapers have been talking about changing for most of my 20-year career. Yet, all they’ve really done in that time is tinker under the hood a bit.
We are tasked with doing far more than tinkering under the hood. We were picked, according to Steve, because we have a huge stake in what happens to this industry but little stake in the processes and organization that have driven this newspaper in the past.
We have constraints, as Nick notes:
[W]e can’t eliminate the print product, we can’t eliminate the new radio initiative, we can’t eliminate the community-oriented Voice sections, we can’t suggest layoffs.
It’s comforting and intriguing to watch other newspapers wrestle these questions and swing for the fences. Most recently, it’s been the Tampa Tribune. It’s shakeup is outlined on Mindy McAdams’ blog, and reporting intern Jessica DaSilva has a great account of the day Editor Janet Coats outlined the changes to the staff.
There has been grumbling within the newsroom and skepticism from without. But many staffers have quietly wished us well, and comments at Nick’s and Colin’s blogs have also been encouraging.
We’re under a tight deadline. At some meetings, we’ve got so many ideas its hard to chart a path through them.
But the biggest challenge is to be systematic, practical and yet visionary. We are supposed to blow up the newsroom, but, as I think we all feel, the model we propose must be functional. And above all, it must keep the newspaper coming off the press, the Web site (overhaul pending) updated throughout the day and our radio broadcasts filled with local content – and make all of this journalism as compelling as possible.
This may be my best, last chance to throw bold ideas into the mix and have them heard. Given the recent explosion of newspaper layoffs and Steve’s not-good-but-could-be-worse briefing Tuesday on the state of our company’s finances, I’m not optimistic that the business I went to grad school to enter will sustain me until I retire.
But now I’ve got a chance to suggest changes to help an enterprise, to quote Janet Coats, “worth fighting for.” I’ll see what I can do.