Ready, set, change!

As I settle into my first day of a two-week vacation, I find it a struggle to relax. I guess my first step at unwinding should be to stop reading Romenesko. Today had yet another parade of layoffs stories and paper doom scenarios. Then I caught this blog post by my editor Steve Smith, who is at a Knight Digital Media Center symposium in Los Angeles:

This Los Angeles conference has been both sobering and encouraging.

Sobering because the pace of change in our industry is faster and the nature of that change more extreme than any of us imagined. Hearing from specialists in electronic/digital media organizations other than newspapers has made it crystal clear that whatever we have done to this point is dangerously inadequate.

If we don’t change more dramatically and faster, there will not be an industry to support the sort of value-driven journalism that is at the heart of our craft.

The encouraging news is that the tools we need to make the needed changes are readily available to us and that our ability to deliver quality news and information can only be enhanced…if we make the bold leaps.

And there is the rub. Are we willing to make the bold moves?

In the SR newsroom, we MUST understand and then embrace the notion that print is no longer our primary focus. As advanced as we are in the digital delivery of news (and this conference confirms for me that we are ahead of the industry curve, as innovative and progressive as any newsroom), we are still too print focused.

We need to devote FEWER resources to print. Our editors need to spend far less time worrying about print. And all of us need to be focusing on how to improve and expand the scope and quality of our digital news and information (and that includes radio).

This is a huge cultural leap. The push back will be extreme. Work schedules will have to change. Skills will have to be refined or re-taught or learned for the first time. Many of us will have to fundamentally question what we do, why we do it and how it must be done differently.

Editors around the country are all facing the same dilemma—how hard to push for change and at what pace? I have a feeling my own newsroom will be a radically different place by next year. Right now at my paper, Editor Steve Smith has instructed task forces made up of newsroom staff to look at content and newsroom structure. The first report on structure by young members of the newsroom was well received. Now a new group, made up of mostly of newsroom veterans is looking at ways to improve the content produced for both online and the print. What Smith does with these recommendations is anybody’s guess. Hence the queasy feeling many in the newsroom feel right now. Fear of the unknown can be such a morale killer. At the same time this is really a unique time in history to be involved in the reimagining the newspapers.

At The Spokesman-Review, we’re about to launch a brand spankin’ new website built from the ground up. It will allow us to showcase content in ways our old failed site could never do. If we are to truly become a web-centric newsroom, then a systematic shift of how we produce content will have to take place. That means everyone in the newsroom will have to master online skills such as:

  • Ability to post content to the web from the field.
  • Gather and edit audio, with the ability to send from the field
  • Reporters will need to learn to shoot and edit basic video.
  • For visual journalists, advanced video storytelling (writing narration scripts) and editing will be the norm.

What all this really means is that word people will need to be more visual and visual people need to master words better.

For all this change to take place, there has to be a solid plan to retrain the newsroom. I was talking to a director of multimedia at a large paper recently and he said that training has become a huge part of their newsroom culture. Everyone was mandated to take three classes a year to learn something new. If my own newspaper’s newsroom is to evolve, then mandatory training has to be provided. There also has to be a change in the tools each journalist has in their toolbox. Right now reporters are chained to their desks working with large desktop computers. That’s so last century. Transition them laptops with cell phone data cards and get them out of the newsroom and into the community.

Our newspaper photojournalists will need to change too. Right now, they shoot mostly with the print product in mind. With our new site, visuals will become a huge part of the content. The way a photographer approaches an assignment will have to change. No longer will they shoot for that one decisive moment, instead, they will need to capture a variety of images that can be showcased as a well-edited online gallery.

Some of these changes are about to take place in the coming weeks. In my office sits boxes of video cameras and accessories. Four newsroom reporters, who volunteered to make a radical change in their job descriptions, are about to undertake a brave new journey into the multimedia universe. Each is being equipped with a video camera, Macbook Pro laptop and Final Cut Express video editing software. For three days, I will train them in the fundamentals of video shooting and editing. After that, their success will rest in how well they integrate video into their present word driven workflow. I have high-hopes for these mobile journalists. They will be riding on the crest of a huge tsunami of change.


3 thoughts on “Ready, set, change!

  1. Colin, don’t stop blogging, because reading your enthustiastic posts is truly inspiring.

    What your colleagues and your newspaper is currently going through is thrilling to be watching from the sideline. While the majority of companies realising they’ll need to take dramatic measures in order to survive keep their mouth shut, you guys share your steps forward with us. Wonderful. There are a lot of lessons to be learned from this stance. I reckon Kodak could have learnt a lot from you if your blog had been written 10 years ago.

    So, keep writing and sharing. We’ll all produce better newsrooms in the long run. Your crowd should probably be able to take some of the credit when that moment arrives.

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