News Leadership 3.0

August 06, 2008

Let’s get local

Former newspaper manager
offers formula for improving
local news coverage

Joe H. Bullard, a former managing editor of The Denver Post, wants to see more local news in the Denver newspapers. Here’s his formula from “Getting local coverage in gear.

“I’d fire a third of the editors and convert another third of them to being reporters and give them a laptop. I’d send all my reporters home with a laptop. I would tell each of them his beat is now a circle with a radius of 12 blocks and the center of the circle is his house. I want to know everything that happens within those 12 blocks.

“I don’t want to see you in the newsroom, unless your editor or I summon you. I will count bylines. If you don’t submit at least one story a day, I will be unhappy. If you go a week without a byline, you will be fired. I will expect you to know how to use a digital camera and I expect you to submit at least one picture a day from your circle.

“Because all the reporters and editors are college graduates and have been making a good living for a good number of years, they all live in upscale portions of the metro area, which will limit the news that gets reported. This is a good thing because it would give me the opportunity to hire blue-collar reporters that care about what goes on in their neighborhoods.

“They would be much more concerned about why their Johnny can’t read and why his classroom has 39 kids, one teacher and no aide. Or why their street never gets swept, nor the snow removed. In short, we would start reporting news that is relevant to my readers.

“What do I do with all this news? Put it on my web site as a zone section.”

Is this an organizing principle for the future? Is your newsroom already doing something like this? Please share your experiences in comments.

(Thanks to Ryan Sholin for the pointer.)


July 21, 2008

Cost - benefit analysis

@ Leadership conference Creative Director compares
production effort to audience

Knight Digital Media Center‘s annual Leadership Conference wrapped up Friday but I’m still playing catch up on a few presentations and a lot of notes and ideas.

Ashley Wells of offered a highly instructive look at the cost to produce different types of multimedia—slide shows, interactives, video and map mashups. Then he projected the size of the audience it would take to make the effort worth the time. Wells was quick to note that such comparisons don’t drive journalistic decision-making. But I think they can help people think twice about how they’re using their time. The short message: Simple may be better. Click through the whole presentation here. It’s instructive.

Wells finished up by noting that online news sites operate under heavy pressure to build both audience and revenue. What does he need to accomplish that?

“Gimme a:
Flexible publishing platform with great editorial tools
Cross-functional team with cross-functional people
License to experiment with the intent to scale”

What’s your multimedia strategy and who is implementing it in your newsroom? Please share your ideas in the comments.

July 20, 2008

PEJ: State of the newsroom

New study tracks changes
as newspapers shrink, go digital
What are you doing more of, and less?

The Project for Excellence in Journalism has produced a rich study of the state of the U.S. newspaper newsrooms at a key moment in their migration to the Web.

The findings testify to the growing adaptiveness of newsrooms. At the at the same time, the report raises questions in my mind about whether newsrooms—and newspaper revenue departments such as advertising—are moving quickly and boldly enough to beat the economic clock that is undermining a key competitive advantage—large news gathering staffs.

The report, “The Changing Newspaper Newsroom,” also speaks to the determination I saw among editors at the Knight Digital Media Center‘s leadership conference last week.

“When it comes to ... the quality of the work, many of these editors express a remarkable - at times eerie - optimism despite the adversities they have faced. In general, the editors we talked to tend to look beyond what their newsrooms have lost in recent years and instead focus on the new vistas that technology has suddenly opened to them and the new energy and purpose of a faster-moving newsroom.”

What these newsrooms have lost is considerable, the report shows.

Here are two lists based on PEJ’s findings—“Less/fewer” covers reductions in staff, resources and coverage. “More” tells what’s growing.

Staff size (reductions are much sharper at large metros than at smaller newspapers.)
Age and experience of staff
Smaller news hole and newspaper size
Foreign, national news
Arts and features coverage
Institutional memory as older journalists take buyouts
Copy editing
General and specialized editing

Meanwhile, editors expect to cut more staff. More than half the the large-paper editors said they expected more cuts; nearly a third at the smaller papers did.

Community, state/local news
Education coverage
Investigative, enterprise coverage
Early-in-the-day teams that focus on Web content
Web-only editing
Database journalism
Mobile journalists
Micro sites
Staff blogs

The changing profile of the journalist
Here is what editors say are the top five “essential skills” in the newsroom:
Writing skills
Overall computer skills
Ability to file quickly
Multimedia skills
Data analysis skills

Key quotes:

On the changing print newspaper:

“In effect, America’s newspapers are narrowing their scope ambitions and becoming niche reads.”

“Together, these two developments - shorter news stories and richer enterprise - reflect part of a new, evolving role of the print newspaper in an era of growing online access to news virtually as it happens. In this environment, the role of the print edition of daily newspapers is becoming less a vehicle to convey news developments and more a source for analysis,  texture, and context to help readers better understand those developments.”

Staffing and culture:

“The culture of the daily newspaper newsroom is also changing. New job demands are drawing a generation of young, versatile, tech-savvy, high-energy staff as financial pressures drive out higher-salaried veteran reporters and editors. Newsroom executives say the infusion of new blood has brought with it a new competitive energy, but they also cite the departure of veteran journalists, along with the talent, wisdom and institutional memory they hold as their single greatest loss.”

On the quality of the journalism:

“Amid these concerns—and despite the enormous cutbacks and profound worries—editors still sense that their product is improving, not worsening. Fully 56% think their news product is better than it was three years earlier.
” ‘I believe the journalism itself is discernibly better than it was a year ago,’ said the editor of a large metropolitan daily, whose paper last year lost 70 newsroom employees. ‘There’s an improvement in enterprise, in investigations and in the coverage of several core beats.’ “

“The bottom line culturally is this: In today’s newspapers, stories tend to be gathered faster and under greater pressure by a smaller, less experienced staff of reporters, then are passed more quickly through fewer, less experienced, editing hands on their way to publication. Some editors—but far from a majority of those interviewed—said they could see the costs.
” ‘I read the stories (in my own paper) today and I see more holes, questions I want answered that are not,’ lamented the editor of a large metropolitan newspaper. ‘I see more stories…that aren’t as well sourced as I’d prefer.’ “

Editors’ view of the Web

“Although several editors voiced concerns about the web as a distraction that deflects resources from the print edition, overall, the view of the web appears to be increasingly positive.
“Editors’ responses indicated, often with a sense of surprise, that the growth of newspaper websites has also had a positive impact on the content of the newspaper itself. Interviews and survey results strongly indicated that—contrary to early conventional wisdom—the print and website versions of today’s daily newspapers can be complementary and mutually strengthening.”

“Increasingly, the web today is seen as a newspaper’s ally, not an adversary. Because of this, it is helping counter sagging morale as newsrooms shrink. At larger papers, where staff cuts have been deepest and the newsroom moods darkest, fully 57% of those surveyed say “web technology offers the potential for greater-than-ever journalism and will be the savior of what we once thought of as newspaper newsrooms.” By contrast, just 4% expressed worry that the web’s pressure on immediacy might undermine the accuracy and values of journalism.”

These news organizations appear to be making significant progress toward the Web and it’s encouraging to see how greatly it has come to be seen as an opportunity rather than a fad to be wished away. Still, the report in many ways underscores the extent to which the print newspaper still drives revenues and staffing—and that may be slowing digital transformation when it needs to be speeding up.

The PEJ report also discusses the changing relationships of newsrooms with the advertising department and with citizens. I’ll post some thoughts about those issues soon.

Meanwhile, how is your organization handling the print-online balance. What are you giving up? What are you adding?


July 18, 2008

Change. More. Faster.

@ Leadership conference
Spokane editor recognizes
need for ever bolder strokes

Steve Smith, editor of The Spokesman-Review in Spokane, has posted on his blog some thoughts about industry change and changes to come in his own newsroom following this conference. Says Smith:

“If we don’t change more dramatically and faster, there will not be an industry to support the sort of value-driven journalism that is at the heart of our craft.

“The encouraging news is that the tools we need to make the needed changes are readily available to us and that our ability to deliver quality news and information can only be enhanced…if we make the bold leaps.

“And there is the rub. Are we willing to make the bold moves.

“In the SR newsroom, we MUST understand and then embrace the notion that print is no longer our primary focus. As advanced as we are in the digital delivery of news (and this conference confirms for me that we are ahead of the industry curve, as innovative and progressive as any newsroom ), we are still too print focused.

“We need to devote FEWER resources to print. Our editors need to spend far less time worrying about print. And all of us need to be focusing on how to improve and expand the scope and quality of our digital news and information (and that includes radio).

“This is a huge cultural leap. The push back will be extreme. Work schedules will have to change. Skills will have to be refined or re-taught or learned for the first time. Many of us will have to fundamentally question what we do, why we do it and how it must be done differently.

“The editors who push this cultural change forward will not earn many friends in the newsroom. I think that understanding has been sobering for all of us.

“My hope is that our journalists will understand that we must change our practices, while holding true to our news values.

“That will be our only chance and only hope.”

Thursday, each of the newsroom teams at the conference explored key change initiatives for their newsroom. I will be posting some of their ideas over the next several days.


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

Get in touch with Michele at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

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