Feedback on the reorganization report
July 15, 2008, 10:31 am
Filed under: Journalism, News Industry

UPDATED 2:30 p.m.

My post providing a link to the Gang of Eight report (PDF) and my overview of its main points has not caught on in the journalism blog network (yet?), but there has been some constructive response. Our team presented the plan Monday to the rest of the Spokesman-Review newsroom (or those who attended) and answered the expected onslaught of questions — though they were less hostile and more considerate than we expected.

On the S-R’s public “Daily Briefing” blog is a post outlining the discussion and peoples questions and concerns, along with our team’s responses. As Thuy-Dzuong Nguyen wrote:

“We don’t pretend that this is the answer,” said producer Andrew Zahler, one of the eight, emphasizing that this is only a starting point for idea-storming.

There’s been both support and criticism from inside and outside the newsroom during the brainstorm process, in which eight younger staffers were asked to conduct a massive efficiency study in 11 days and within a few open guidelines.

Thuy’s post sums up the meeting well, though it does not address a major part of our plan. While she reports that one recommendation is to change the story deadline to noon to reduce editing bottlenecks and enable more web publishing throughout the afternoon, it’s important to point out — and this is key — that reporters working on breaking news and daily stories (such as City Council meetings and the like) would operate on the current print and rolling deadlines. We don’t want to arbitrarily delay important and breaking stories a day just because we have a noon deadline in place. Our system is flexible.

The report was, of course, welcomed with skepticism — but, honestly, less than I expected. The biggest hang-up, not surprisingly, was the deadline change. That’s a hard habit to change. Other people wondered how these recommendations would actually increase creativity in the newsroom. Our answer was that our system encourages more teamwork and discussion in the newsroom and that, hopefully, creativity would follow.

On another note: “Wenalway,” a journalist who previously commented on my blog with such hate for “wholly untalented young journos” that I ended up spamming his comments, posted his response to the Gang of Eight report on his forum, Wenalway. The, shall we way, highly skeptical troll — like any good journalist — yielded some of his “old journo” bias when he commented on my friend Brian Everstine’s blog.

I was surprised that there were some productive ideas in the report.

However, there are several that make no sense and need to be scrapped. There also are some that have promise but are too flawed to get off the ground without serious revision.

So, he decided to read through the report and highlight things he thought were good ideas and things he thought were spawned of our “young journo” naivety. I will respond to a few of his questions here to clear up our team’s actual intent.

Report: The new Local Department will encompass the former City, Business, Features, 7 and Voices desks. The head of this desk will be a “strong” city editor –- addressing another staff concern that the city editor has less power than in past years –- who will oversee selection and assignment of stories for all of the sections, read as many stories as possible and report to the managing editor.
Wenalway: Um, no. This is an awful idea. This person will die of exhaustion or a stroke within six months.

The local editor is essentially an assistant managing editor, with a different name, who is more involved with line editing than in the current structure allows at the S-R. This editor has help from seven assistant local editors.

Report: This structure noticeably removes assistant managing editors across the board, placing greater authority in the hands of the local editor. The editor in chief and managing editor will
continue their present

Wenalway: “[N]oticeably removes” — Nice writing. I guess that’s opposed to non-noticeably removes. Anyway, this is an awful idea.

It depends on how you look at it: Our team has either removed AMEs from the mix or has added a few more in the flattened hierarchy. We just got rid of the title. Either way, we were responding to a general feeling from the newsroom when we opened up the floor for suggestions. Carla Savalli, the S-R’s AME for local news, half joked, “If it’s any consolation, they got rid of all the assistant managing editors without talking to any of us,” when in fact we specifically talked to all of the S-R’s AMEs. I’d also like to ask Wenalway to take a step back and ask himself why “this is an awful idea.”

Report: Stories will be copy edited before being posted on the Web, resulting in fewer copy editors working until deadline for print. …

Wenalway: … [T]he last sentence is an open door for problems. A Web copy edit and a print copy edit should be two different things. The headline styles alone are different. What are the space limitations, if any, for the Web? Do these match up with print?

No, these are not two different things. Content published online is still published for public consumption, and should be held to the same standard as newspapers hold it to for the print product. The line of thinking that web is completely different from print needs to be abandoned. This philosophy, I believe, is one reason newspapers are struggling to make it online.

Two copy desk chiefs (current news editor and deputy news editor; these two chiefs would have equal authority and both report to the presentation editor).

… Having two copy desk chiefs with equal authority = very bad.

This equal-empowerment is solely because one copy chief cannot work seven days a week. Shifts would be staggered through the week so that one copy chief is on duty every day. A 4-day, 10-hour schedule would result in one day during which both copy chiefs are at work, on which day the senior editor would assume the role.

Wenalway continued:

Also, in this sea of information about online producers, etc., I see little to nothing about the provision of tech support. This is a critical area for any newsroom, and the omission of this concept is glaring.

Our team was charged with looking only at the newsroom. Tech support is a separate department at The Spokesman-Review. Additionally, online producers would have knowledge of the website’s workings and they would answer to the online editor, who as we speak is building the new S-R website himself with the help of a few online developers, who are included in the report.

UPDATE: A thank you to fellow Murrow College and Daily Evergreen alum Kaci Boyd for her thoughts on the report. One thing intrigued me:

Report: Condense nation/world news to quick hits and direct people to best sources for these stories.

Kaci: If a newspaper starts to tell me a story, they sure as hell better finish it. I didn’t pick up the paper to have it tell me to go online or read another paper or check out a TV station.

Great point, Kaci, and one I actually agree with — to a degree. There’s a reason that recommendation was in the “minority suggestions” section. This is an idea that needs a lot of discussion, and probably a lot of reader survey. A lot — A LOT — of newspaper readers still don’t get their national news from the internet and depend on their local paper. By eliminating traditional wire coverage, we alienate a big chunk of our customer base. </update>

Anyway, I felt the need to respond to some of these concerns that are popping up around the internet. I would love to get more feedback. Though my responses here may seem a little defensive, I’m only trying to explain our rationale when formulating this report and I agree with fellow Gang of Eight member Andrew when he said, as I quoted above, “We don’t pretend that this is the answer.”


4 Comments so far
Leave a comment

It’s very possible I’ve missed it, so I apologize if I have…but you have referenced a “flattened hierarchy” in your proposal. Can you outline the current hierarchy vs. the proposed? What’s the difference?

Comment by kgreenbaum

Currently the S-R is structured as follows:

– Editor-in-chief
– Managing Editor
– Three AMEs — local news, presentation and online
– Section editors — city/biz, features/7, Voices (zoned community sections), sports
– Three assistant city editors, one of whom oversees the business section
– Two assistant Voices editors
– And the obligatory assistant editors for sports, features, etc.

Does that help?

Comment by Nick Eaton

yes, I think so. So, as I understand the difference, you’ve eliminated the layer where the three AMEs are now. Is that correct, or is there more?

Comment by kgreenbaum

I certainly didn’t mean to make that sound as rude as it may have come across, but I stand by what I said.
I forgot to include in that post that I appreciated the visual outline of what the restructure would look like.
All in all, Nick, I’d say you guys did a great job (but who am I to say? I’m just a young journo…) of this with the pressure I’m sure you had and the short amount of time to work on it.

Comment by Kaci

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