Newsroom reorganization report
July 12, 2008, 6:39 pm
Filed under: Journalism, News Industry

Here it is, the moment you’ve all been waiting for.

As I mentioned here, I was one of eight young journalists at The Spokesman-Review, in Spokane, asked to conduct a study to find new ways to structure the newsroom to increase efficiency and productivity. We had 11 days to turn in our report, and we met eight times for as long as six hours a day to come up with a plan.

Our editor-in-chief, Steve Smith, has posted our report on his S-R blog, “News is a Conversation.” Check out the link to his post.

I had asked the group to rethink the newsroom to take into account the realities of our downsized world. I thought a group of young journalists with fewer ties to the past and with their careers ahead of them might generate some ideas that could help drive change discussions in our newsroom.

But it’s important to keep in mind this most important point: This report is NOT a plan. It is a series of ideas and possibilities suggested by one group of journalists after 10 days of intensive study. Because they were asked to look at structure and process, there is not much discussion about content. Obviously, we must deal with content as we move our conversations forward.

Another member of our team, Andrew Zahler, wrote a similar post to mine on his blog.

Here is the LINK TO OUR REPORT. It’s a PDF file.

Here are the main changes:

  1. Restructure the newsroom workflow for most content, shifting deadlines for non-daily stories to noon. Except for breaking news (including City Council meetings, for example) and sports, the newsroom essentially functions like it would if the S-R were an afternoon newspaper. Breaking news and sports would continue to operate on the current deadline structure. This deadline shift would ensure content can be published to the website throughout the afternoon and would encourage better coordination for multimedia and online production. It would also reduce editing bottlenecks at the end of editors’ shifts, and would require more copy editors during the day and reduce the number at night.
  2. Create a universal reporters pool by combining the existing City, Business, Features, Voices (community extras) and 7 (weekly alt tab) desks. This excludes Sports. This allows stories produced by any writer to be used in any section of the newspaper, instead of having reporters assigned to specific sections. It would also increase staff content in the Voices and eliminate duplication of stories across such sections. The desk is led by a local editor and eight assistant local editors. The assistants are in charge of a reporting topic but not of a specific section of the newspaper, and are assigned as follows: breaking news, watchdog, life, culture, money, Washington hyperlocal, Idaho hyperlocal and wire. The sports department remains independent, though sports features can be shared among sections if deemed worthy.
  3. Create a hybrid universal copy desk, combining the day (features) and night desks. Because of the deadline shift, more copy editors would be required during the day than the night, and shifts would be staggered. Copy editors would read stories before they are published online, upholding the integrity of website. The idea is that the S-R is no longer just a newspaper, but a news organization that produces content to be published on multiple platforms: online, print and radio. The sports copy desk, due to its specialization, is not included in the universal copy desk.
  4. Combining the multimedia and photo departments into a Visuals Department.
  5. Flattening the newsroom hierarchy, as depicted in the organizational chart.

There are further (and more radical) ideas in the “additional suggestions” section of the report, and a few more in the “minority suggestions” section.

Please feel free to comment with your questions and I will try to answer them as best I can. Please keep in mind I am one of eight committee members and cannot speak for the entire group.

And as Steve said in his blog:

Those who merely want to insult the study group by challenging their youth, calling into question their professionalism or calling them names are asked to take their comments elsewhere.


9 Comments so far
Leave a comment

Thanks for sharing this with the world, Nick. One question which doesn’t really have anything to do with the topic at hand.

For me, when I hear some interesting tidbit that might be relevant to the news world (like a newsroom budget cut for example) I might be tempted to post it on my blog. How do you have that conversation with your editor about what you can blog about on your own time? Does your newsroom have a policy on blogging on your own time?

Comment by Kate Martin

My basic rule is: If Steve writes about it on his public blog, it’s fair game. That’s why I felt OK posting this report. It also helps that the S-R started a “transparent newsroom” initiative several years ago. The paper does have a policy on blogging, but it didn’t have the policy when I was hired a little more than a year ago. Since then, I’ve heard there is a blogging policy, but no one is informed of it and I have no clue where to find it (it’s not in the obvious places, such as the employee handbook). Also, I have not gotten any grief about what I write on here, even though my editors know about it, read it and, in some cases, comment on it.

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