News Leadership 3.0

April 21, 2008

The Miami Herald: Moving furniture, people and attitudes

Continuous News Desk symbolizes and drives change at a major metro newsroom
The Herald also puts multimedia experts in every department
What changes are you making to meet new online opportunities?

imageOrganizational change in newsrooms is a major topic for this blog and I will report on changes in structure, processes or job descriptions, that are fueling digital transitions. For starters, I’m checking in with 10 major metro news organizations whose top editors participated in last year’s KDMC Leadership Conference: Transforming Newsrooms for the Digital Future. When that session convened in January 2007, participating newsrooms were either in the midst of big changes or poised for them. They came to KDMC to test and refine their plans. Judging from follow up interviews so far, these newsrooms have changed a lot in the past 15 months.

Today’s case in point is The Miami Herald, where Rick Hirsch, Managing Editor/Multimedia cites three major changes that have reshaped how the newsroom does its work.

- Creating a Continuous News Desk “as focal point of newsroom decision making. It’s in the middle of the room, and from 5 a.m. to 1 a.m. each day, the hands-on leaders for Metro news gathering, Web design, print design, photo, video, copy editing do their jobs. It’s part of bringing on the ongoing decision making from the corners of our newsroom to the middle where we can work swiftly on immediate news (for the web, radio, text messages, e-mail alerts), executing on video and multimedia components, and developing enterprise content and presentation for the newspaper that provides its readers with context and depth they didn’t get the day before on the web.”

- Seeding multimedia experts around the newsroom. “Within each news department (metro, business, features, sports, world), there is a multimedia team that includes a high-ranking editor and reporters and researchers with key multimedia skills to oversee that department’s content on our Web sites. We want each department to have the same ownership of (and passion for) their Web channel as they have for the print section.”

- Creating a new Reader Exchange Editor position “to manage reader interaction on the web—everything from user generated content to commenting on stories. In addition, this editor has worked to develop goals, training and standards for our bloggers as we try to lift blogging as a journalistic form.”

Hirsch talks about the “corners” and the “middle” of the newsroom and I think that’s a very apt way of thinking about smart organizational and culture change. In the old newsroom, most of the action was in the “corners” or pockets of individuals or teams or departments that operated fairly independently as long as they fed material to production in assembly line fashion at the end of the day. This offered efficiency: Stories got covered and the newspaper came out. Over time, in most newsrooms, it also fostered internal competition, weakened accountability to the overall product, and focused people on details at the expense of the big picture. The Web is forcing people in newsrooms to collaborate early and often, to know their audiences and to think strategically. As we see in Miami, changing the physical layout of the newsroom is driving change in how the staff develops and displays content.

“It’s really starting to make a difference. It’s really starting to be the center of gravity for the newsroom,” Hirsch says of the continuous news desk. “Instead of having the center of gravity be the executive editor’s office or the city editor’s office, you want it to be in the middle of the room. It’s helped drive the change that we publish first online.”

And here’s some symbolism: The desk is not only in middle of the newsroom, it’s on a raised platform.

I am intrigued by the Reader Exchange Editor position, especially with all the debate and turmoil news organizations, including MiamiHerald.com, face in dealing with offensive reader comments. I interviewed the enthusiastic and savvy Reader Exchange Editor Shelley Acoca and later this week I’ll post more about how that’s working out in Miami.

Comments

The Reader Exchange Editor position is inriguing, although it’s something smaller papers (which you’ll find frequently have the same volume of comments or more), can’t afford.


Yeah, its all a part of bringing on the ongoing decision making from the corners of our newsroom to the middle…


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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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