News Leadership 3.0

December 11, 2008

Wichita: Letting go and moving on(line)

Eagle editor drops a feature tab to move more resources online

Last week, I wrote that the printed newspaper isn’t going to vanish right away. But I suggested smart newsroom leaders shove the newspaper from the newsroom’s center stage as they move their shrinking resources across an ever-expanding array of platforms for news.

That may mean discarding one or another print product while focusing on still another as a very specific opportunity to reach a very specific audience with a product that pays. Today and tomorrow, I will describe a couple of efforts that reflect these ideas, one at The Wichita Eagle and another at The Atlanta Journal-Constitution. Leaders from each of these newsrooms participated in Knight Digital Media Center leadership conferences. (Here is our latest leadership report.)

Sherry Chisenhall, editor of The Wichita Eagle and attended the Leadership Conference last July.

One thing that stuck with her from the conference was an admonition by consultant Stacy Lynch to “beware the sucking sound of print.” Lynch was referring to the intensive demands of the print product and their grip on the attention of traditional newsrooms that must cross the digital divide.

Chisenhall returned to Wichita and quickly looked a features tab the newspaper that she created a few years ago (and one that her publisher really liked). Chisenhall decided that wasn’t good enough. After all, the tab sucked in several shifts of editing and design time but did not attract enough advertising.

She decided “I’m going to give it up. It’s too much. There’s not enough payoff. We’re not making any money on it. There’s so much time involved. We just kept tweaking and tweaking trying to get advertising there.”

That’s another way of saying “the sucking sound of print” .... Tweaking and tweaking something that just isn’t good enough to keep.

Chisenhall quickly consolidated features sections. That move freed one young editor to move to online and focus on interactivity of “You’ve got to find those people and you have to put them where you need them most,” said Chisenhall, whose moves came amidst newsroom layoffs.

Chisenhall started thinking about stakes in the ground—the most important work. “I think developing interactive is one of them.”

On the most-valuable end of the spectrum as well, said Chisenhall, was the practice of doing background investigations on all major political candidates in Wichita’s area, which yielded findings of candidates who had not paid taxes and been involved in domestic violence complaints. “That is the most basic public service. It’s an enormous effort. That is a stake in the ground.”

“We try to be great at 12 to 15 to 20 things,” Chisenhall said, when perhaps only a few really matter.

Chisenhall drew a parallel with a friend fighting from a serious disease. “You sort of have permission to not try to do everything. You say ‘Let’s just do what’s most important.’”

Wise words from Wichita.

Tomorrow: Atlanta re-examines its Sunday newspaper.


Commenting is not available in this section entry.


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).

More Leadership at KDMC:
Leadership Seminars | Annual Leadership Reports

Support is provided by:

John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

USC Annenberg School for Communication

McCormick Foundation

Donald W. Reynolds Journalism Institute


@michelemclellan on Twitter

Recent Entries





Tag Cloud