News Leadership 3.0

December 12, 2008

Atlanta: A new vision for the Sunday newspaper

The Journal-Constitution finds readers want lots of news - in print—on Sunday

With feedback from thousands of readers, The Atlanta Journal-Constitution believes many people who get their news online during the week still want to hold a newspaper in their hands on Sunday. That’s the premise behind a Sunday remake that will launch early next year.

I’ve been writing about the need in many newsrooms to shove the print newspaper off center stage in order to intensify a transition to digital. But I don’t think that means the newspaper goes away entirely, at least just yet. Atlanta (and others such as the Christian Science Monitor) are betting that print may have a life journalistically-engaging and revenue-producing life on the weekend.

In Atlanta, Journal-Constitution Editor Julia D.Wallace sees an opportunity to add readers to a core already devoted to the Sunday print newspaper. That core, Wallace says, is made up of people who simply like print newspapers and local news and probably will pay for the daily newspaper for some time. Wallace believes AJC can create a Sunday newspaper that will draw members of a somewhat younger group—“people who read us only online during the week and will come to us on Sunday because they appreciate that experience” of print news and advertising.

The experience promises to be different than a typical Sunday newspaper as well
.  A key finding of the research—and a surprising one—said Wallace, is that readers in Atlanta want a newsier Sunday newspaper than newsroom planners might have envisioned on their own. In contrast to a magazine-like feel many Sunday newspapers aim for, the new Sunday AJC will focus on news, hard enterprise and high story counts.

AJC also has changed it’s circulation pricing—allowing Sunday-only subscriptions for the first time at the same time the daily single-copy prices has increased to 75 cents. Elements of the new Sunday newspaper already are being introduced and the full redesign is expected to take hold when AJC starts operating new presses early next year.

To create content for the new Sunday newspaper, the AJC newsroom has formed a team of 30 journalists who will focus entirely on Sunday. They will produce investigations, Sunday cover stories and standing features such as the week in review feature. That’s a big commitment—nearly 10 percent of a staff of 325 (down from 500 a few years ago). Wallace says the staffing assures strong enterprise for every section cover on Sunday. Beat reporters also will contribute. (I think a separate Sunday-focused staff should help avoid situations in which beat reporters coming off a hard breaking news week are forced to contrive a long Sunday story that don’t plow much new ground.)

Wallace doesn’t foresee print exclusives for Sunday enterprise stories but may try publishing a few simultaneously. For now, she said, the newsroom is discussing a “Five Easy Pieces” idea that allows editors to hold from the Web until Saturday up to five pieces developed primarily for the Sunday print newspaper.

AJC’s experience may offer lessons for other newspapers down the road. The news organization has conducted exhaustive research and it is putting resources behind the effort to do it right. That promises an experiment both well conceived and well executed, a true demonstration of the potential value of the idea. Also, establishing the role and scope of a Sunday or weekend newspaper may help Atlanta figure out what print products it does—or does not—need to create during the week.

August 13, 2008

Crowding the conventions

15,000 journalists will cover
summer political conventions
Why?

I was astonished to read in Forbes that officials for the Democratic and Republican conventions expect 15,000 journalists will be on hand for each one. This number is about the same as for the last two convention seasons, Forbes reports, and some organizations report they are cutting back.

My initial reaction was very similar to that of Mark Potts, who writes:

“At a time when news budgets are being slashed because of declining revenue, how can a news organization possibly justify sending a raft of people to the conventions? (I suspect the numbers for the Olympics are about the same-and just as ridiculous.)

“The Los Angeles Times is sending 15 people to the conventions, Forbes says. And that doesn’t count journalists from other Tribune Co. papers that will be helping out. With what? Apparently, the Zellot cost-cutters missed this line item. Too bad. USA Today plans to send 34 reporters to each convention; Dow Jones is sending 23 to each. The New York Times and Washington Post aren’t disclosing their numbers, but you can believe they’re similarly inflated. The good news is that many organizations say they’re cutting back from previous convention coverage-but it’s still too much.

“Sorry, but in most cases, there’s really no (legitimate) excuse for a single news organization to send a large number of journalists to the convention. What stories are they going to get that the AP can’t supply? Hijinks of the local delegates? Inside info about what the candidates hope to do for the economy back home? Local color on Denver and St. Paul? It’s really hard to understand the need for this kind of bulk coverage.”

I think Potts is onto something in his mention of “bulk coverage.” As newsroom executives struggle to “do more with less,” they must increasingly focus on what they can provide that is unique to their franchise, rather than following the pack. I cannot think of a more “pack” event than a political convention whose speeches are carefully scripted, whose presidential nominee has been long decided, and whose vice presidential nominee likely will have been announced before the delegates convene. Providing coverage that is unique and relevant to a particular audience is key. 

I also am frustrated when I thinking about all the stories that thousands of reporters might be covering closer to home as the conventions unfold. With the troubled economy, mortgage foreclosures, health care, the federal budget deficit and rising energy costs, I don’t think it’s possible for journalists to be developing enough stories about the impact of these issues on their communities and the people who live in them. Not to mention creating and linking to resources for people in trouble and holding officials accountable for their share of the problem (or explaining why they have no share).

Linda Austin, editor of the Lexington Herald-Leader, offers a similar reaction: “I wish we could get the person power of 15,000 journalists focused on something that really needs investigating as opposed to two coronations.”

The Herald-Leader will rely on McClatchy’s Washington Bureau for overall coverage and is recruiting citizens to blog from the convention floor. “What we are trying to do is get a citizen blogger from our area who is going to each convention to write about the spectacle of it all from the average Joe’s vantage point. I’m trying to avoid the stars of our delegation and look for the people who are going who are not in the limelight,” Austin said.

Sherry Chisenhall, editor of The Wichita Eagle, will send one reporter to each convention and rely on McClatchy as well. Chisenhall thought the large numbers might reflect in part a desire for local coverage. “My assumption is that all of those journalists are not there to cover simply the nomination process. I would think that a significant percentage might be there for local same purposes we are - to localize coverage of a major national news event. I could be wrong, and perhaps the percentage of local news-focused reporters is small. But it strikes me that, even if it swells the ranks of the media pool covering the convention, there’s value in bringing big national news to the local level for a relatively small travel budget. Bloggers are probably another group that’s bringing the news pool so high, and again, I see value in that type of coverage.”

While Forbes focused on staffing for national news organizations, I checked by e-mail with editors of local and Metro newspapers, which are more apt to send one or two reporters, if any. A sampling:

The Seattle Times will send one reporter, as it did four years ago, to focus on the Washington delegation and local issues. “For regional papers, it’s as important as a networking and sourcing platform as it is a news event,” says Executive Editor David Boardman.

The Dayton Daily News will send two reporters to each convention in addition to staff blogs from home, a slight reduction from four years ago. Like Seattle, Dayton will focus on Ohio and delegates from the region. Says Editor Kevin Riley: “We really questioned whether we needed to go, and I’m still not sure it was the right decision. In the end, I like our local politicos to know we are there, and we are watching them.”

The Miami Herald will send two reporters, including one that does multimedia, says Manny Garcia, senior news editor. The two will focus heavily on South Florida stories—including whether the state’s delegation will be seated at the convention—and hot local issues such as immigration and health care. A third journalist based in the newsroom will focus on honing the convention Web package.

The Democrat and Chronicle in Rochester, N.Y., will rely on a reporter from Gannett News Service who will be covering for all New York Gannett papers and focus on that state’s delegation. Traci Bauer, Managing Editor for Multimedia/Innovation, says that’s the same practice as four years ago.

The Fort Worth Star-Telegram is sending a reporter and a columnist to both conventions to cover the Texas delegation, with a special focus on people from our area.  “We need to send someone because if we don’t then those local stories won’t be told - obviously we can count on the wires to provide the national coverage for us,” says Editor Jim Witt.

As you might expect, smaller news organizations were unlikely to send anyone. John Smalley, editor of the LaCrosse Tribune in Wisconsin, said his organization would not send anyone even to nearby St. Paul. Smalley called the 15,000 count “Totally insane and a massive waste of news resources.”

While traditional news organizations are cutting back, the ranks of bloggers are growing, convention organizers told Forbes. “More than 120 bloggers got passes for Denver, compared with about 30 at the 2004 Democratic convention. The GOP event will host 200 credentialed bloggers, compared with just 12 in 2004.”

Live-blogging seems like a great way to capture the mood and comments from delegates on the convention floor, while leaving the podium coverage to national organizations. I’d like to hear from news organizations that will be blogging from the convention. Is anyone planning to Twitter the convention, or, better yet, ask delegates to Twitter on their news feeds? Please share your plans and ideas in the comments.

(Thanks to Romenesko for the pointer to Forbes.)

 

August 12, 2008

Tools for innovators

Leadership report:
First, decide
who decides

In newsrooms, often, everyone wants to be part of the decision and no one really wants to take the final step. So decision-making can be very slow (or occasionally too fast when one person decides without meaningful input). Also, decisions that reflect consensus can be so watered down that they don’t accomplish much. RAID is a process to clarify who is responsible for making a decision and who has advisory power on a given project.

Stacy Lynch, a consultant and project manager at Media Management Center, helped implement RAID as Innovations Director at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. This is one in a series of posts about presentations and discussions at KDMC’s annual Leadership Conference last month (more explanation here). Lynch’s presentation on speeding decision-making gave a snapshot of this tool.

The acronym RAID stands for different roles:
- Recommend: Part of the team to weigh options and design recommendation(s)
- Agree: Have reviewed, weighed in and will implement (this one has implicit veto power).
- Inform: Offer subject expertise and information needed to make a decision
- Decide: Chooses among options, makes final decisions


imageimage

In her presentation, Lynch used the example of an organization looking at adding social networking to its travel site. In virtually every key part of that decision, typically, anywhere from three to five departments believe they are the decision-maker. For example, in Lynch’s “typical” slide (top), news, IT and the executive office each thinks it is the decision-maker on a final prototype. Everyone thinks they are deciding the launch date. That’s a formula for misunderstanding, conflict and delay.

The goal of RAID, Lynch says, is to have “one D on each decision. The (project development) team should have the D as often as you feel they are capable of making that decision.”

Lynch showed a better application of RAID (bottom) to the plan for the travel site. One department alone decides a given issue (the exec office decides on a final prototype, the project team decides the launch date). This model has a lot more Agree and Inform roles—which means everyone gets to have a say without bogging down the process.

Go to Lynch’s presentation for more detail.

August 07, 2008

Embrace ‘iteration’

Leadership report:
Technique untangles
new-product snags

 

Last month, Knight Digital Media Center brought together teams from 12 news organizations to learn more about digital media and make plans for moving their newsrooms forward online. Now those editors are back in their newsrooms making changes—and I will be reporting on their progress in the coming months. In the meantime, I’m preparing a report on the conference—something KDMC can put online to benefit other editors.

As I review my notes and the conference presentations, I will blog chunks of the conference materials and discussions. I hope comments from participants and other editors will enrich the final report.

Here is the report from the 2007 conference. I plan to use a similar format of lists—key takeaways, tools, quotes and questions.

I want to start with the idea of “iteration” from a presentation by Stacy Lynch, a project director with Media Management Center and former Innovations Director at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Lynch focused on decision-making and the difficulty news organizations have in making them quickly because of unproductive loops in the typical process.

“Iteration,” is one antidote. It’s a process of breaking a project into stages and launching them one at a time.

Lynch noted that it’s a model that works in other fields. “In most software development, 60-80% of work is done post ‘launch’ as new versions emerge.”

Those of us who are native to print will have a hard time imagining how that might work on the printed page. And the perfectionistic culture of newsrooms may frown on launching something that is not fully nailed down. But the process seems remarkably simple and suited to online.

Lynch used the example of building a new entertainment site to illustrate iteration:
1, Initially, launch only an events database. Fix any bugs.
2. Add a rating component.
3. Enable users to upload photos from different events.
4. Build in files associated with different performers.

“From the very beginning, say what it will have, but say it’s going to come out in different chunks,’’ Lynch advises.

The process helps prevent overspending resources at the beginning—perhaps adding features that users don’t really want. It builds in flexibility and allows you to get feedback as the project develops. Perhaps most importantly in the digital world, it speeds time to market.

Lynch presented a second tool, called RAID, to speed decision-making. I’ll write more about RAID next week.

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ABOUT THIS BLOG

Exploring innovation, transformation and leadership in a new ecosystem of news, by journalist and change advocate Michele McLellan.

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