News Leadership 3.0

March 09, 2009

New role: Conducting an information orchestra

Changes at Gazette Communications separate content creation from production may enable the organization to focus on the Web

I have said in this space that news organizations need to downsize their print newspapers. I’m not talking about the number of pages in the newspaper. I am talking about the space the print newspaper takes up in the collective psyche of the newsroom and why may be holding organizations back.

So I was happy to see this comment from Steve Buttry, a friend and former colleague in the journalism training trenches, in a blog post about the reorganization of his news organization, Gazette Communications:

“As newspapers started publishing content online, we had to change some of our work in the newsroom. We added new positions specializing in operations of the web site. We started publishing breaking news online. We published new kinds of content, such as videos, blogs and slide shows. We started covering some events live as they happened and interacting live with the public. We also started niche products such as Edge Business Magazine, Hoopla and

“But our organization remained structured and focused primarily on the newspaper product.

“We have decided that we can best meet the challenges of the future by changing our company completely. We will have an independent organization which I lead focused exclusively on developing content from our professional journalists as well as from the community. We will publish this content digitally without editing and without the limitations of products. Another organization will plan and edit products, such as The Gazette and GazetteOnline, using content from my organization as well as others.”

Buttry moves from being editor of The Gazette in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, to a new job called “Information Content Conductor.” The Gazette newspaper has a new top editor in Lyle Muller. Here’s the rub: All of the reporters and photographers (not all of the journalists as I initially stated - see clarification below) of the journalists on staff report to Buttry, which opens wide the likelihood of a nimble, Web first and Web savvy culture will emerge.

“Steve Buttry, Information Content Conductor, is responsible for creating another C3 - Content Creation & Collaboration, a networked set of blogs and information organized around topics or micro-geographical areas,” says Charles Peters, CEO of Gazette Communications. Peters offers additional explanation (with graphics) into the strategy on his blog.

Reorganizing does more than just change the way the jobs get done. It communicates priorities. It redefines culture - “The way we do things here.”

Key concepts in a reorganization like Gazette Communications is undertaking:

- Separates content creation from the production of a newspaper or other products. Print and other products can graze this content and remake it for their publications but the journalists do not have to feed a print beast.

- Information may be produced in small pieces and organized as a network of information around a geographic area or topic. It won’t necessarily be a story in the traditional news sense; perhaps it hardly ever will be.

- The digital network can include community content and content will not be edited. It will be interesting to see how this plays out. One possibility is that a self-editing community will form and participants will link, amplify and correct one another, much like Wikipedia.

- The online effort will use the Newsgarden a social news mapping platform that enables intensely local news and advertising. Mark Briggs, of “Journalism 2.0,” is CEO of Serra Media, the company that has produced Newsgarden.

- Gazette Communications is being transparent about the changes. Peters, Buttry and Muller all write blogs. This should help their users (and interested journalists around the country) to follow their progress.

I’ve been playing with possible explanations of the choice of the term “conductor.” The notion I like the most so far is the idea of the symphony conductor, taking disparate voices and forms and weaving them into a melody that makes sense and engages and encourages others to play along.

Buttry says it’s that and more:

“... editor didn’t send the message that we’re serious about thorough fundamental change. But many of the things an editor traditionally does: direct news coverage, edit, etc. really aren’t part of this new gig. So I came up with conductor, which I explained in this post. Yes, the meaning of orchestrating creative people in a unified effort is part of the meaning. But the train conductor interacts with the public to give them an orderly, satisfying experience and community interaction is going to be a huge part of our content operation. And in the electrical sense, a conductor carries energy and I think that will be a huge part of my job both in the staff and in the community.”

Conductor. Now that’s a role for an editor in the digital age.

Clarification: Steve Buttry sent me this note after I incorrectly stated that all of the journalists would report to him:
“The journalists don’t all work for me. The journalists formerly known as reporters and photographers work for me, as well as a few others. But we have some editors working with Lyle in an operation called Product Planning and Development, which handles the planning and editing of products, and will have some others in an operation called Production Services, which will handle copy editing and design. So the journalists in what used to be the newsroom will now work in three different operations. Thanks for the thoughtful post and for the support.”



Michele -

Thank you for your thoughtful comments and support.  None of us are on solid ground here, but I do believe we are heading in the right direction, with lots of invention and learning to do.

I am going to be talking about these changes today at NAA MediaXChange and live blogging beginning at 3 PM CDT during the presentation at


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

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