Sunday, February 17, 2008

Can newspapers afford editors?

Now that pending layoffs at the New York Times and Los Angeles Times have made newsroom cutbacks all but unanimous, some managers eager to maximize the feet on the street at their newspapers are wondering if they really need all those editors.

“How many people have to read a story before it goes in the paper?” asked a senior editor at a major metropolitan daily who is struggling to sustain the quality of his news report in an era of shrinking resources. “If we have to economize, the editing process is the place. Why do we have all these people processing stories after a reporter writes it? They are not producing anything that will get us traffic on the web.”
PollPub.com VoteWhat is the minimum number of people necessary to vet a newspaper story?

None 1 2 3 or more

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This question is bound to provoke spirited discussion in every newsroom where it is broached. You can add your two cents to the debate by taking the poll at left. Before you vote, consider this:

The issue of how many editors it takes to put a story in the paper not only strikes a raw journalistic nerve but also exposes a major and growing economic disadvantage faced by newspapers, which is this: Newspapers have awesomely higher operating costs than the online publishers who are siphoning away their audience and advertising revenues.

As you can see from the chart below, a half a dozen reasonably well compensated people – or more – are likely to lay hands on an ordinary story bound for the pages of the typical metropolitan daily.

In the event the article is uncommonly sensitive – involving a matter of taste, an investigative piece or the shenanigans of a major advertiser – then untold additional eyeballs could be brought to bear, ranging from assistant, deputy and managing editors to outside lawyers and even the publisher. Beyond those worrying about the words, most routine stories also are likely to pass through hands of gatekeepers on the photo, multimedia, graphics, Internet and design desks, too.

By contrast, Google, Yelp, Everyblock and myriad other major competitive online sources for news and information collectively employ exactly zero people to author content. The bitter irony for newspapers, of course, is that publishers pay the entire (and high) cost of creating the content that these and thousands of other websites freely scoop off newspaper sites to build their own traffic, sales and highly profitable businesses. (Bloggers like yours truly, of course, are one-man operations producing more poop than scoops and no profits whatsoever.)

With print sales falling far faster than newspapers can replace them with web revenues, publishers trying to sustain their operating profits in the face of the huge embedded costs of pressrooms, real estate and delivery fleets – not to mention satisfying their creditors – are under extreme pressure to do more with fewer people.

Headcount is one of the few major operating costs publishers can readily control. And newsroom headcount is the most elastic, because the paper theoretically can be filled with wires, press releases and user-generated photos of kittens.

With the fat (if ever there were) long since trimmed from most newsrooms, the choice for many metros now may be coming down to whether to rein in news coverage or relax their traditional standards by editing out some of the editors. In some ways, this already has begun.

While it would be heretical at most major news organizations to “railroad” stories from a reporter’s keyboard directly into print, several publications, including a few surprisingly large ones, are allowing reporters to point, click and post words and images directly to the newspaper's website. If the work is good enough to slap on the web without further human intervention, why isn’t it good enough to go directly on a web press?

On the other hand, a compelling case can be made that newspapers would debase themselves journalistically, commercially and, perhaps, even fatally by abandoning the disciplined reporting and professional editing that makes their content uniquely valuable in an age of frequently impulsive, often repulsive and usually unverified Twittering.

On yet another hand, the most elaborate editing process in the industry did not save the New York Times from the embarrassment of Jayson Blair's counterfeit dispatches and Judith Miller's off-base stories about Iraq's non-existent WMDs.

All things being equal, everyone would vote for giving newspapers sufficient resources for both gathering news and checking their work closely. But things aren’t equal. Newspapers are operating at an increasingly unequal disadvantage against their online competitors.

While there is no doubt about the value of the industry’s traditional values, the question is whether the industry can continue to afford them.

Now, you may vote.

Reactions to this post

:: "Dear writer, Lord knows I’m aware that you think that I’m a supercilious twit, but you could probably be pressed to concede that I am on your side," says John McIntyre, chief of the copy desk of the Baltimore Sun in his blog here and here.

:: "A typical print story should be read by two editors," says John Robinson, editor of the Greensboro (NC) News-Record in his blog. "Online stories are different."

:: "Old-line news outlets are full of career employees who've 'earned' an editor's chair," says Gawker. "Make those people start writing again!"

:: "The only way we can realistically continue to operate as newspaper journalists is to show how what we offer is better than what someone else offers," says David Sullivan in his blog. "That means operating behind a brand. That brand has to stand for something. Quality is a good thing to stand for."

:: Editors "are saving your ass from getting it sued off," says Nancy Nall in her blog. "Also, from becoming a laughingstock. Also, from having your bargain-basement, straight-out-of-college reporting staff embarrass you in print by misspelling the mayor’s name." She also points out, as did several other sharp-eyed readers, the typo in the chart below.

:: "Scrap the AP Stylebook...give reporters some responsibility" and "train them to write headlines," says Josh Korr in his blog. "If we’re asking journalists to become increasingly multifaceted technologically — giving reporters video cameras, making copy editors post to the Web — I think we can ask for some basic journalistic multitasking."

:: "I love to hear copy editors and their supporters talk about quality and all the battles fought, some won, some lost," says Doug Fisher in his blog. "Then, I walk away and mutter something like, 'Those poor souls; they'll never see it coming.' And they haven't, and now it is here."

:: "I didn't realize Web traffic was the only goal of a newspaper," says Bill Walsh, author of the blog called The Slot. "If that's the case, I have a one-word solution: Porn."

:: "The real question is: can newsrooms afford to continue to employ editors who operate within a traditional print-first box and have the we-know-what-are-readers-want mentality?" asks Jason Kristufek in his blog.

:: "Večernjakov ekran, Afera 'Sanaderov intervju', krah novinarstva i drugi jahači," says the headline in Zivot 2.0, a blog apparently originating from Hungary. If you know what it means, please let me know.

33 Comments:

Anonymous Anonymous said...

At the newspaper where I worked before I retired, corporate management has now decided — after decades of other kinds of attrition — to cut back drastically on the numbers of even the most lowly of copy editors, offering buyouts and early retirement and threatening layoffs for those who refuse to budge.

This is said to be necessary because the paper is moving more and more into online news and opinion, where editing is less crucial. They also say they want to put more money into what they term "content creation."

Reporters are now allowed to file directly to blogs and to the online edition, with the idea that errors in that format can be corrected quickly and (they hope) without detection.

But what corporate headquarters hasn't done is cut back on the excessive layers of the multiple types of newsroom management shown in your chart.

My old paper still has assistant managing editors and execuitive editors and associate editors and department heads and assistant department heads by the dozen.

Nobody above a certain level ever gets fired or laid off because, well, that would be wrong and would make the other executives nervous. The worst thing that happens to them is that they lose their positions and get made columnists. They never, ever, lose money making the switch.

A far better solution would be to have fewer people telling others what to do and more copy editors preventing mistakes and libel from creeping into the paper.

I am still thankful to those copy editors who saved me as both reporter and columnist, from appearing even more incompetent than I already was. Like most journalists, I needed someone between me and publication. The Internet doesn't change this, no matter how quickly mistakes can be fixed.

10:42 AM  
Anonymous nico. said...

Hi Alan,

I think the difference between online and print publishing lies in the non-definitive character of the online article.

What about crowdsourcing the editing process to online readers? They're clever enough to spot typos, challenge the weakest points of the story and suggest new directions.

With enough feedback from readers, your piece is fit to print.

But for such a process to be effective, you need journalists that respect their readers and accept the un-authoritative nature of their work.

That's why I voted '0' in the poll, but the actual number would be closer to 1000.

Then, invest in training for all the copy editors left and turn them into real investigative journalists! (ok, that may be a bit overoptimistic)

12:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

If I read your chart correctly, it's misleading. I'd say very few stories make all those stops before seeing print. (Your post says as much.)
Maybe here's a likelier list of people who put serious time into a typical story in your average mid-sized newsroom: reporter > assigning editor > city desk editor > copy editor > slot.
And that's way too many.
It's easy to pick off a couple of steps in the process (just one story read on the city desk and one on the copy desk), and that will happen, however much fury it creates within newsrooms. Smaller operations probably do it that way now, or even more efficiently.
Six-deep editors are desirable if you can afford them, but newspapers can't, so new processes will occur. Everyone will streamline. Everyone will have fewer people touching copy.
It's not that multiple editors don't add anything to the process, but under these circumstances they just don't add enough.

12:49 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Why do stories about newspapers always concentrate on large, urban papers? Smaller papers have been lucky to have one or two editors look at stories before they go into print. Staff members don't receive as much training, and reporters are posting directly on the Web as small papers shrink or reorganize their newsrooms.

At least one competent copy editor should read each story before the story is published. If newspapers want to train staff members to write clean copy and to edit each other's material to make sure copy is clean, then newspapers should invest in cross-training.

If specialists work more quickly and effectively, newspapers should continue to use copy editors. Clean copy may be more credible to readers than sloppy copy. Carefully edited copy may be less likely to attract libel suits.

Newspaper corporate executives should not be given raises, bonuses or other added pay or fringe benefits until they find a way to make the Web pay for their newsrooms, and low-ranked employees of newspapers should get decent raises instead of 1 percent or 2 percent -- cutting back in the number of administrators and denying raises at the corporate level, along with cutbacks in corporate perks, should provide the money.

AP needs to stop giving away the store while redesigning its payment structure to stiff papers.

Finally, newspapers need to start examining serious economic issues frankly. Many people who "own" stock now don't control it, because their money is in a 401(k) plan, an IRA or some other fund. Professional fund managers need to be questioned about their choices and about the effects of their decisions on the long-term effect on all businesses -- not just newspapers.

5:53 PM  
Blogger Michael Josefowicz said...

My take is that the problem comes asking the wrong questions.

From the lead quote, "...They are not producing anything that will get us traffic on the web.”

If the framing of the battle is "getting more web traffic", newspapers probably lose. They have no competitive advantage. YouTube, Google, Wikipedia, + gezillions of others are much better positioned to get web traffic, faster, better cheaper.

But if the battle is about getting "interesting actionable information" (news?) to their users (readers) they do have lots of natural advantages.

To win that fight, it seems to me the jobs are:
1. Figure out what to look at (assigning editors?)

2. Look at it to get facts (reporters?)

3. Craft a well told story that weaves the facts into "interesting actionable information" that their readers will enjoy. (journalists? + editors? + columnists?)

4. Use the most appropriate forms to get the story out. I can't figure out how Google is going to get in the paper delivery business, so I would focus on that piece.

That process creates content to put on the web at a very low marginal cost. Plus if a paper uses it's blogs to get leads, instead of broadcasting in a new form, it gets much easier to figure out what to look for and who to ask to find stuff out. The richer the blogs, the easier it gets.

"Good" local copy that has a very low marginal cost is a nice thing to have when competing on the web.

So that might mean:
1.keep the people you need and help everyone else find new careers.
2. Stop mindless spending of resources on stuff like the White House Press Core and the 14th reporter on a campaign trail.
3. Figure out what you can do better than any else and focus on that.

3:16 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Well, presumably an editor would have caught the typo in your chart, for whatever that's worth.

6:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know who made your chart, but as an editor myself may I suggest you hire one of those unnecessary copy editors? The word assigning is misspelled in your chart.

anonymous

6:57 AM  
Blogger John said...

You should clarify your chart, because as it reads now it's nonsense. There isn't a newspaper in ANYWHERE in the world where anything, whether it's a story or a memo or a box of cold pizza, follows a trail like that. Your simplification further ignores that deadline stories are treated differently than short stories, which are treated differently than long stories, which are treated differently than canned stories, etc... I'll grant you that processes at newspapers could be improved, but your examples seem to miss the point.

7:50 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My story that appeared yesterday in a major metro daily was first edited for re-writes by not just one assigning editor, but two, each with different ideas of what needed to change. It was then read by the Sunday editor and the managing editor, with more comments. It was then read by the copy editor, and then the slot chief, who objected to the very same writing style that had convinced everyone else to put it on the Sunday page one log in the first place. I'm sure every reporter since time began has complained about being over-edited, but our own newspaper is a prime example of management making meaningless incremental changes in the face of Internet challenges and opportunities, rather than re-thinking the entire operation. Meanwhile, our web pages go largely unedited and unproduced, with major section fronts barely changing at all during the course of the day. At the very least, these mid-level editors with too much time on their hands should be producing web pages at the same time.

7:52 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

One thing many in the industry won't admit is that raw copy is atrocious about 80 percent of the time. Without a solid editing job by an assigning editor, the rim and the slot, much of what reporters file (at least at the newspapers I've worked at) is embarrassingly sloppy and at times borderline unreadable. And we're talking metro newspapers with good reputations here.

Does that mean all reporters are incompetent writers? I don't think so. But I think a newspaper's most precious asset - its reporting staff - has spent so much time in an infrastructure that accounts for such sloppiness that there's no incentive to change. How many times have I heard "oh, the copy desk will catch that," instead of someone taking the time to smooth out poor writing or fix an error?

Writing proficiently is a habit. If there's going to be a major push to "streamline" the editing process, which may or may not be a bad thing, there sure as hell had better be an equally strong push to improve writing standards on the reporting end. Most newspapers I'd wager are in no position to take a stand like that, unfortunately.

7:56 AM  
Blogger Michael Josefowicz said...

Maybe a reporters job is not to write great. Just to find the facts..
Then someone who is too busy to find all the facts can spend the time on writing a great story.

It actually seems implausible, to me, to think that one person has both talents or training. Of course, every once in a great while it does happen. But I can't see how it can scale. It's sort of like building a great education system based on great teachers. It's simply too hard to find masses of great anything.

In the newspaper business, one job is hunt and gather, that's the reporter...the other job is more like farming - weeding and getting the rows staight- that would be someone else.. (the editor?).

8:22 AM  
Blogger Linda said...

Writing "White House Press Core" pretty much proves why everyone needs an editor.
--a former editor at a major New York paper

9:59 AM  
Anonymous Gwendolynne Larson said...

As one commenter already said, smaller operations have been streamlining.

At The Emporia Gazette, we have 12 newsroom staffers. On the editing side, we have the managing editor (who also serves as assigning editor, city editor and department head), an editorial page editor (who also lays out local pages) and a part-time copy editor.

The copy editor reads all local content, which gets a second read by the page editor (usually the ME, EPE or sports editor, depending on the page)

To add more eyes to the process, paper proofs of local news pages are passed throughout the building to at least one person in every department, plus all newsroom employees. This is our final opportunity to correct errors before the last resort of stopping the press.

This structure allows us to put our resources into reporters — the folks who need to be out on the streets, digging up the news and reporting it.

10:23 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Someone below hit the nail on the head. It's a shock when you first start editing to realize how bad most raw copy is. That said, most of the copy I edited as the assigning editor in a bureau went straight from me to the copy desk, then to the slot. Occasionally the regional editor and 1A editor would peek over my shoulder electronically and offer suggestions, but didn't usually "edit" the piece. I don't see how you could expect quality with fewer than three editors: the assigning editor, the copy editor and the slot. Remember that the slot person is also editing the copy editor, including the headlines and captions. Thank God for that, too.

10:30 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps that's how a metro news desk might work, but I'm a metro sports copy editor. On live stories, I'm usually one of two editors who sees the story before it goes to press. Even then the slot doesn't get a good look at it because they're trying to jam through all the other stories. I haven't had any egregious errors get through in those situations, but I still get nervous. I'd love to have a little more time or a couple more eyes checking my work. Even editors would like editors.

Certainly online stories would benefit from more editing. I've read too many stories on the Web that have factual or grammatical errors. But I hate the idea that people can fix something and don't have to publish a correction, that they can swoop in and it's like the mistake was never there. The accountability needs to be balanced between print and Web. Thanks to the Internet, news travels faster than ever, and we have to take greater care to get things right. But my boss just wants something, anything up online as soon as it happens. I can't stand that.

I don't know if I'd make it in a Web-centric environment, and because that's the way my paper and others are going, I'm thinking this isn't the business for me.

12:28 PM  
Blogger Michael Josefowicz said...

actually it was "joke" something about apple cores instead of marine corps... not a great joke but it's just a blog after all

1:03 PM  
Blogger Ken Doctor -- Content Bridges said...

Alan: Both Washington and Lincoln would be proud -- great start to the week. Much good grist here. Let me add a comment from Kathleen Carroll, exec editor of AP. I talked to her in December re their own reorg of process and she told me:

"There was one nothingburger tropical storm story, and it was handled by 46 people, and they weren't doing anything substantive, putting in code...We were all gobsmocked.[Find that in the AP Style Book]."

So AP is among those moving on your point. Fuller description on that movement here: http://www.contentbridges.com/2008/02/time-for-newspa.html

2:42 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

With all the cutbacks in the industry, I notice that even papers such as The New York Times are much more sloppily edited -- assignment editing and copy editing. As a reader, I find that poorer quality makes me less likely to want to read the paper in depth. Now, I'm more likely to skim. I say that as someone with a lot of time to read. I read almost entirely online, and news sites are getting less of my eyeball time. The industry might not know how to correlate quality with eyeball time, but that doesn't mean the connection doesn't exist. You make big assumptions that I think are incorrect about editors not driving readers to Web sites.

2:58 PM  
Blogger Michael Josefowicz said...

Perhaps the standards for editing in print should be higher than on the web. The web can be changed and changed and changed...but once it's printed the mistakes will be there as long as anyone wants to look.

Isn't it the implicit permanence of print that compels careful editing.

Typos kill the "trusted" source as fast as anything.

Meanwhile the post on the AP was very interesting. I often wonder why local papers try to compete with AP and UPI. Why not let them do what they do, and focus resources on getting the local story right.

(Just a note - my day job is NOT in the newspaper business)

3:20 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The Web has no permanence? I can find stories that have been floating around for 10 years. You can change it on your Web site, but you have no control over the early version that was lifted off your site and posted on another (and, mostly likely, credited to your news organization).
The mistakes on the Web tend to perpetuate themselves even more than those in print. I think news organizations need to edit their Web stories at an equal level as in print. And the post from the reader about equating eyeball time with quality proves that point.

3:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Re New York Times website editing: Yesterday I was surprised to learn that people in Pakistan were toting around "ballet boxes." Page one, caption to photo just below the masthead. So nice to know they're taking an interest in the arts.

6:15 PM  
Anonymous Chris Wienandt, president, American Copy Editors Society said...

Oh, my goodness, where to start?

“If we have to economize, the editing process is the place. Why do we have all these people processing stories after a reporter writes it? They are not producing anything that will get us traffic on the web,” says your unnamed “senior editor at a major metropolitan daily who is struggling to sustain the quality of his news report in an era of shrinking resources.”

What a breathtakingly short-sighted thing to say. How does he think all those stories get into the paper? Do they magically lay themselves out and write their own headlines? Do they send themselves to platemaking? And if “processing stories” is all he thinks the desk does, it’s been a hell of a long time since he spent any time in the newsroom after dark. A good bit of what we’re doing is sustaining the quality of the news report by making sure it’s factual and readable.

As to “not producing anything that will get us traffic on the web,” I hope I speak for all copy editors who write Web heads when I say: Quite the opposite is true. What do you think is driving traffic to those stories where all you can see is the hyperlink? It’s the headlines we wrote. (Well, the subject matter does have something to do with it, too, I’ll confess.)

Several people have remarked on the gross improbability of the workflow your chart depicts, so I won’t flog that dead horse much further. But it doesn’t advance the argument to support it with evidence that’s just flat not true.

As to the value of copy editors in general: We’re the people saving reporters’ and columnists’ bacon when they write “$500 billion” instead of “$500 million” and the figure strikes us as … um … a little high. We’re the people wondering if the 60-year-old guy in the story was really an undergrad 30 years ago like the columnist said. (He wasn’t.)

It’s true that errors on the Web can be fixed in an instant. But they won’t be fixed if no one notices they’re there. (Or do we really want our readership pointing out errors that editors would have caught?) And wouldn’t it be better for our credibility (which surely has something to do with driving traffic to our Web sites) if the mistakes weren’t there in the first place?

6:46 PM  
Blogger Mark said...

An alternate path: Hire more editors and fire some reporters. In the age of the internet, newspapers need to realize that they can best serve their readers by both creating content and bringing together content created by others.

A typical story might involve an editor scanning other publications, the web, public documents, press releases, reader web comments, etc. looking for story ideas. That editor (or a different one) could then gather material from other online sources to fill out the story a bit. Then the editor hands it off to a reporter, who makes a few phone calls, visits the scene, etc. to gather new and unique information. The story then gets edited and goes on the web, where yet another editor incorporates reader feedback and reactions from other media into the ever-evolving story.

In general, I think reporters waste far too much of their time reinventing the wheel on every story.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Brian Cubbison said...

I spoke about some of these issues with Mark Murphy, the best slot editor I ever worked with, for the ACES newsletter. It was based on this blog post, "Web first, edit later."

http://blog.syracuse.com/newstracker/2007/10/web_first_edit_later.html

Righteousness is not enough. The world is changing. A reporter who posts to a blog is taking care of layout, pagination and even headline writing. Copy editors must figure out exactly where they need to be. The journalism is not in the pica pole.

Print was never perfect, as anyone knows who wanted to make a change in a story after the trucks have left the building. Online publishing gives copy editors new powers. Use them for good.

7:14 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What is a "typical metro"? I ma referring to the graphic on this post.

I think most papers are small and probably have 2-3 people who look at reporters' copy, including the copy editor/page designer.

12:31 AM  
Anonymous J. Craig Anderson said...

"By contrast, Google, Yelp, Everyblock and myriad other major competitive online sources for news and information collectively employ exactly zero people to author content. The bitter irony for newspapers, of course, is that publishers pay the entire (and high) cost of creating the content that these and thousands of other websites freely scoop off newspaper sites to build their own traffic, sales and highly profitable businesses."

There's no point in parroting the many insightful rebuttals already posted here, but the above statement brought to mind a point I haven't seen made enough lately in this age of blog worship: Google et al rely on newspaper journalism to produce the content they aggregate and sort. Blogs, too, generally do little more than riff on the labors of print journalists. So many bloggers seem to be gleefully anticipating the demise of newspapers, but don't they realize that if the host dies, the parasites die with it?

10:45 AM  
Blogger Michael Josefowicz said...

To J Craig Andersen.
Nice point. But there are at least two kinds of bloggers. For example, my bet is that Alan, who runs this blog, already has a day job. He's just trying to use the blog to figure out what to do next.

Someone like Daily Kos wants to make the blog his day job. My impression is that Huffington also has decided to make her blog a day job for lots of people. As far as I can tell she has made the investment in reporters and columnists to bring some value to the table.

So, my take is that what you say applies mostly to the folks in the blogosphere who are attempting to invent a cool day job for themselves. For those I agree they are probably adding to the noise, rather then clarifying the news. It's just what people are focused on. and how much they are prepared to invest. The easiest thing in the world, if you have the gift of gab, and a little common sense is to be a "pundit".

The most interesting phenom to me, re newspapers, is the idea of using blogs NOT to give news or another channel to broadcast blah, blah, blah

I wonder if anyone knows of any newsaper (journo organization) any where who is actively using blogs to find leads to great stories?

Not what the self appointed pundit "says", but seraching for interesting data points they reveal.

That seems a no brainer. It's a much cheaper, easier way for an assignment editor to use their trained discriminating taste to find something that the wire services can't.

Plus it gives a pretty good reason to invest in the managment and thought it takes to get a blog working predictably.

2:00 PM  
Blogger Kay said...

Congratulations! You have discovered a way of provoking people to write comments. Actually one doesn't even need a newspaper, why just editors? If one is perfect, all what one needs is oneself. Unfortunately, my friend, that is not the case (in case you really believe in the nonsense you wrote

8:06 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think newspapers need editors more than ever. What they don't need is staff writers and reporters. In theory, staff writers spend all their time researching deep, excellent stories. In reality, most of them spend 90% of their time watching TV and griping about how terrible their lives are. Then they furiously call a few sources and churn out mediocre articles before deadline. Freelancers do better work for much less money and usually care a lot more about their subjects. Motivated, hungry freelancers should be the wave of the future, with solid staff editors in place to assign and edit content. Huge, lazy, unhappy reporting staffs are helping to kill newspapers as much as anything.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Michael Josefowicz said...

Dear March 3 Anonymous,
As the President has advised us, let's stop playing the blame game.

That good advice plays out for newspapers something like this. To succeed again, newspapers need first great owners. Then great editors. Then great reporters. Then a state of the art pressroom. Finally an efficient logisitics system to deliver the stuff.

While that's being assembled they need some great people to come up with a way to make enough money to keep everyone happy without detroying what made them great in the first place.

The thing about great people is that they can usually do the work of 5 good people.

Newspapers have the same problem as any other public company trying to succeed in today's environment. The environment has changed so rapidly it's taking a while to adapt. While enterprises adapt, stock values go down, more than up.

That means everyone has to make the paper a great place to work.But, without throwing money at the problem.

Meanwhile it's hard to find great people. Then it's very hard to keep them happy. Then it's pretty hard to get good people to be great.

As the President has demonstrated,
"Thinking is hard work."

3:40 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

We've got a circ of 19,000 daily...seven reporters
11 copy editors.
one managing editor
one city editor
one editorial page editor
one lifestyle editor
one entertainment tab editor
one person whose job it is to "coordinate coverage."
one night city editor
one editor working solely on one suburban tab
one special projects editor

1:54 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Forgot to mention eight of the editors mentioned above can give assignments to the reporters.
Of course, any ad rep can get any reporter assigned to do a "story" about any business the rep. is courting.

11:03 AM  
Anonymous Michael J said...

Here's a model that seems to be working.

the link to the story at Seattle Weekly.
http://www.seattleweekly.com/2008-07-16/news/betting-on-black/

Some excerpts:

"The supposed decline of print media is not in fact an industry-wide phenomenon. Community newspapers have generally been profitable ventures for some time, and over the past decade have attracted the attention of media giants looking for publications that can positively contribute to the parent corporation's bottom line."

"Tempelmayr says Black generally doesn't like to meddle with the editorial side of his papers. For the most part, he doesn't even read the vast majority of his papers, a task he outsources to his son Frasier. With more than 100 newspapers, doing so would probably take up most of Black's day. He says his local newsrooms are quasi-independent entities whose only directive is to cover local news as they see fit."

"At his non-daily properties, you'll generally find an editor, a reporter or two, and maybe a photographer."

so there is 1 editor, 2 reporters, maybe a photographer for 1,000,000/100+ newspapers = 10,000 circulation each.

Plus central adminstration amortized over all the papers.

So maybe the problem is that business models that work, just don't support the head counts of the legacy business.

Not pretty, but if that's what it is, then that's what it is.

1:00 PM  

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