Thursday, July 03, 2008

Beyond upheaval

It's really impossible to understate how much fear, loathing, upheaval and [name your basest emotion here] there is in the newspaper business this week.

Last week came the waves of layoffs. Then came the OC Register's outsourcing announcement. And the latest to touch it off was Tampa Trib Exec Editor Janet Coats' meeting announcing upheaval at that newsroom.

Intern Jessica DeSilva's record of that meeting has prompted a long string of comments and reactions. The money quote from Coats that everyone is focusing on:
"People need to stop looking at as an add on to The Tampa Tribune,” she said. “The truth is that The Tampa Tribune is an add on to TBO.”
Mindy McAdams and Eric Deggans have more details. Interesting is the new setup outlined on Mindy's blog from an e-mail she got from inside the newsroom:

  • Managing editors
  • 5-6 audience editors — keep in touch with what the print, TV, online audiences want/need
  • 5 sections of reporting (all the reporters for print, TV and Web are mashed up together in these groups):
    1. Deadline — for breaking/daily news
    2. Data — specifically for database stuff
    3. Watchdog — for investigative reporting
    4. Personal journalism — stuff for people’s every day lives like weather, health, entertainment
    5. Grassroots — citizen journalism

Outside of these groups are three “finishing” groups for print, TV and online to determine what stories should be covered and with what medium.

All the reporters will be trained in gathering news for online in case there’s a need for it. They’ll be training them on the go. The focus will now be on immediacy and using mediums appropriately. The print product is going to be more enterprise and in-depth, the Web is for breaking news, etc.

This is a lot like the Atlanta model announced a year ago -- the idea of a core newsgathering operation with specialty groups taking it to each medium. It's what we've been talking about in Newsplex for more than six years. It still will be interesting to see if it works. (One of the posters to DeSilva's piece says that in Atlanta many of the reporters have gone back to tried and true beats. I don't have any independent confirmation of that -- anyone with insight, chime in .)

It's a bit ironic, perhaps, that the Trib and WFLA were one of the original "convergence" hotspots, yet much of that convergence was lip service (I can say that because I have two very good sources who have been deeply embedded in those newsrooms; I've been there at off hours when the suits aren't around and have talked to those doing the work). It has finally taken an economic crisis to force them together (as a result, for instance, all the photographers will have to shoot for all media and will have to reapply for their jobs).

(Update: And not to forget that the L.A. Times said it would cut 250 jobs -- 150 in its newsroom -- while merging print and online (a good result coming out of a bad situation), and the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel launched another surprise round of cuts. Allen Abbey, writing on Poynter's E-Media Tidbits about the L.A. cuts, may have summed it all up best: This is remarkable only in that it is unremarkable.)

There really aren't a lot of deep thoughts here, other than that we are just beginning what will be a long process of readjustment. There will be vitriol and hatred and shouting (online and in person) and pleas to a higher, noble sense of democracy and community - most likely to fall on deaf ears. We are hearing the thunder now because it is happening in the metro markets. We are unlikely to hear the anguish as it seeps ever so certainly down the ranks.

Read the comments on DeSilva's post and on another here if you really want to get a sense of the disconnect -- both generational and of newsrooms from their audiences. Or look at the comments to Timothy Egan's plea at the New York Times to "Save the Press."

Robb Montgomery has a good roundup of all that has been happening.

We are entering the maudlin. "Death of Newspaper" blogs are springing up by the day. Some of the "older" ones on which you can track what's happening: Fading to Black and Newspaper Death Watch. I used to get the RSS feeds, but it depresses me, and besides, with all the traffic floating around, I seem to eventually end up there anyway.

But this is economic reality. It is the same reality many of your neighbors may have had to go through if they worked in autos or steel, on the docks or in the meat processing plants.

Unfortunately, as it always seems, there will be a lot of cruelty in the process.

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At 7/3/08, 5:25 PM, Anonymous William M. Hartnett said...

Unless I'm very much mistaken, the AJC's reorganization never attempted to move reporters in the News and Information department away from tried and true beats. The original memo:

Maybe the commenter is thinking of The Oregonian's team reporting concept of the early 1990s?

At 7/3/08, 9:26 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...


Yeah, that's one of the reasons I put it out there to see what had developed. I do know, talking to several people at the AJC at the time, that while there wasn't going to be wholesale ditching of beats, there was envisioned some restructuring. In some respects, that's how I took the "tried and true" comment.

(We're kinda sensitive to such stuff here, having gone through The State's "circles" of the 1990s.

Anyone else have some info? Chime in.

At 7/3/08, 11:19 PM, Blogger Brian B said...

I'd be more optimistic if anyone besides Janet Coats were implementing it. I don't think the paper in Wichita ever fully recovered from her newsroom reorganization there, which involved eliminating the copy desk completely, followed by a lot of meetings aimed at finding a way to stop all these mistakes from getting into the paper.

That said, at least the Tampa folks are trying something.

At 7/5/08, 8:36 PM, Anonymous Holly Kerfoot said...

Reading this stuff makes me wonder why it is even worth trying anymore. It strikes me that everyone is flailing around for a solution and there really isn't one out there. Guess I'll just have to hope I can hang on until retirement. It's getting harder to get my enthusiasm for it all back after these kinds of announcements.

At 7/5/08, 9:45 PM, Blogger Doug Fisher said...

Yeah, that's pretty much a signal that we're at the depression stage of Kubler-Ross.

At times like these, they say one of the best things is to latch on to something that really peps you up -- whether it's concentrating on writing the best kick-ass headline of the night, nailing a trim -- or something totally outside of work. The key is it needs to be under your control.

You're not going to affect the stuff you can't control.

Use the pep that kind of stuff gives you to find the strength to do the other stuff you've got to do that can be a real downer -- burnishing the resume, getting clips organized, just assessing skills and seeing if there are any you need to add, improve, etc.


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