Reinventing the newsroom
July 2, 2008, 9:29 am
Filed under: Challenge, Journalism, News Industry

I have a job for you: Reinvent how a newspaper functions.

Sound easy? Maybe you already have ideas on how to restructure a newsroom and streamline the work flow. Can you come up with a complete proposal in 11 days?

That’s what my editor, Steve Smith, has asked me and seven other young journalists to do. We are charged to take a blank sheet of paper and come up with a way to make the Spokesman newsroom efficient while completing all if its objectives. The eight of us are meeting every day, often for several hours at a time, to work through this process.

It’s more complicated than you might think. We have a few limitations — we 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. And so far, after two days of two-hour meetings, we have made it through just three departments (photo, news and sports) simply to see how the process currently works and identify problem areas (which are basically everywhere).

Our goal, as I understand it, is to come to Steve with a report by 5 p.m. July 10. He may or may not eventually implement our recommendations (we can have many), but he has promised to take them seriously.

There is skepticism and fear in the newsroom, of course. Many veteran Spokesman employees don’t like that Steve has selected eight young journalists and put some responsibility of the future of the newspaper into our hands. We don’t have the experience, they say. Steve sees it the opposite: We don’t have a stake in how newspapers have operated for 150 years, we don’t have a stake in who is in what editor position, we don’t really even have a stake in how the newsroom is currently structured.

As Steve has said, the current structure no longer works. A strengthening focus on the web coupled with layoffs in the fall has put the traditional newsroom in disarray.

Colin Mulvany, our multimedia director, has a post on his blog about Steve’s announcement yesterday of this initiative — along with what else Steve said about the future of the Spokesman. (In short, things are bad but, relatively, not as bad as other newspapers in the country. Layoffs are not needed now but might be come fall, when the company budgets for 2009.)

Until we submit our ideas, I can’t talk much about the project. It’s not a secret, by any means, but we are asked to keep our actual recommendations to ourselves. Until then, the Young Turks, as we have called ourselves — or Team Fix Newspapers for Ever and Ever, or the Great Eight — will be plugging along drafting the future of The Spokesman-Review.


18 Comments so far
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[…] few days before the newsroom meeting, editor Smith quietly invited eight of our newest, young journalists into his office. He asked each of them, who basically have no stake in the processes of the past, to suggest ways to […]

Pingback by The message is clear: Change or perish « Mastering Multimedia

That’s pretty amazing, both that the paper is willing to undergo such changes and that they would put in the hands of young folk. It’s an excellent idea, and one more papers should be considering. It’s kinda funny; everyone always says they want change, and now you’re being given the chance to effect that. Good luck.

Comment by Dan

Stick with Team Fix Newspapers for Ever and Ever. Name length is directly correlated with awesomeness.

I’m glad that Steve Smith is putting his faith in you guys. The guy that commented on Mulvaney’s post said that younger people can be more conservative, but I’d argue that they also have a more realistic idea about what can and can’t be done.

On a side note: Can I be a total tool and suggest iterative writing for breaking or otherwise procedural news? Namely: Post what you got, start on a writethru and factor reader input into the story.

Comment by tor

[…] Nick Eaton, in Spokane, Wash. His editor gave him and seven other young journalists 11 days to write a plan. This entry was posted on […]

Pingback by Teaching Online Journalism » In hindsight, it was poor resource allocation

I’m sure your group is smart, thoughtful and far-sighted. But to exclude people because of their age is ageism: Young people are more innovative. Women are more nuturing. Fat people are jolly. Old people, like Steve, can’t come up with fresh ideas. All bogus assumptions and all have no place in a modern workplace.

Comment by Jose V. Heinert

I really think this is a great idea. I know a handful of fresh online journalism graduates who could probably find a lot solutions to these problems if they were given the chance to find them. I have faith in you guys.

And remember, you’re not alone. There are others trying to find new solutions:

Comment by Jessica DaSilva

[…] posted that his organization is throwing eight “young journalists” together to reinvent their newsroom. The eight journalists are to change how content flows through the newsroom. The catch: Do it in 11 […]

Pingback by Electric Fishwrap » Blog Archive » Industry implosion and efforts to save us

[…] honestly not sure who that is … sorry, Jose) posted an interesting comment on my entry about young people reinventing the newsroom. I’m sure your group is smart, thoughtful and far-sighted. But to exclude people because of their […]

Pingback by It’s not a closed door « Stories on the run

[…] Spokesman-Review, way ahead of the curve on the news-org/new-consumer relationship for a long time, has asked eight young journalists in its newsroom to come up with a reinvention plan, […]

Pingback by Declare your independence from the curmudgeon tribe » Invisible Inkling

[…] of the other members of the task force, Nick Eaton, has written about this at his blog. Colin Mulvany, the S-R’s multimedia leader, has also […]

Pingback by Blowing up the newsroom | Editor, revised

[…] the current system “no longer works,” as he said. I’ve tried to explain it here. Another team member, Andrew Zahler, has written about it in his blog. Mindy McAdams has referenced […]

Pingback by Newsroom reinvention update, invitation « Stories on the run

Today’s young journos are largely unqualified for the positions they hold….

Maybe in the newsroom of yesteryear. But last time I checked, we’re not cranking through a phone operator to dictate our stories, or reading the wire off a teletype. Welcome to the journalism of today.

Comment by Nick Eaton

One word of advice — bake into your recommendations the idea that some of them will be disastrously wrong. When evidence mounts that is the case with some of your ideas, they should be jettisoned and replaced with fresh efforts to do things better.

Trying things, keeping and improving what works, dumping what fails and moving on to the next efforts is what newspapers really need. The ability to try things cheaply and quickly and then improve without punishing the people who wanted to try the bad ideas.

Comment by Dave Mastio

@Dave: I think making mistakes is an important part of this process – I hope they heed your advice.

@Jose: I think it’s more a case of giving this group of stakeholders – a demo that the paper has found elusive – an environment where they can come up with ideas that might be uncomfortable to the rest of the staff and do so completely unmolested … except by trolls on their blog, apparently.

Comment by tor

[…] Eaton and seven of his young colleagues at the Spokane Spokesman-Review have been given the task by their editor (Steve) to “reinvent how a newspaper functions.” We are charged to take […]

Pingback by Our Own System » Blog Archive » Model for Innovation Exploration

Can I have your job?

Comment by blandanomics

[…] Comments blandanomics on Reinventing the newsroomLong post re: the fu… on Newsroom reinvention update,…Newspapers and Disru… on […]

Pingback by Newsroom reorginazation report « Stories on the run

[…] Nick Eaton and crew did at the Spokesman-Review. Here is what he had to work with: […]

Pingback by Electric Fishwrap » Blog Archive » Reorganizing the newsroom @ SR

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