The message is clear: Change or perish

Black Monday seems to be striking American newspapers on a daily basis. With almost a thousand journalism jobs lost last week alone, there seems to be a concerted effort by everyone in the industry to reinvent the medium. While noble, it’s sad these changes didn’t take place sooner. But hey, we had a good gig going for the last 150-years, why mess with what works?

It’s strange how the people running newspapers have been talking about changing for most of my 20-year career. Yet, all they’ve really done in that time is tinker under the hood a bit. Now as the revenue crisis deepens by the day, publishers and editors around the country are willing to start listening to their content producers for fresh ideas. The reimagining of our industry, no longer a covenant of the suits, will probably be shaped by those of us who have the most to lose-reporters, photographers, editors and online producers.

Yesterday at my newspaper, The Spokesman-Review, we had our annual come to Jesus meeting. My editor, Steve Smith gave all of us the gloomy news: Revenues are way down, the cost of doing business is way up and cuts need to be made. Luckily, the layoff demon has been held at bay—at least until the next round of dismal revenue projections hit. Smith asked the newsroom to just do what we always do—produce good journalism. He also let the room know that we can’t do things the way we have in the past. I, and pretty much everyone in that deadly quiet meeting got the sense that we are now done talking about change. If we are going to protect our jobs, then we need to find a way to reinvent the newsroom on a completely different multi-platform model. No job, or job title is secure. The message is clear. Change is now baring down on The Spokesman–Review newsroom like a runaway logging truck without brakes.

A few days before the newsroom meeting, editor Smith quietly invited eight of our newest, young journalists into his office. He asked each of them, who basically have no stake in the processes of the past, to suggest ways to streamline the newsroom operation. He wants them to find a way to make it more efficient, thus letting people spend more time on developing quality journalism instead of just shoveling content.

The “Great Eight” as I call them, are meeting daily to share ideas and work up a plan. What they come up with is anybody’s guess. They have been given boundaries with which to operate. No suggestions to stop publishing the print newspaper, no downsizing or upsizing the present newsroom staff. Whatever they come up with, the challenge is for management and older co-workers to really listen to what they have to say. They are the future of our business. If we don’t change fast, they won’t stick around for the sinking of the ship.

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Radio from the newsroom

Ok, here’s an unusual way to use multimedia in your newsroom. Recently my newspaper The Spokesman-Review, signed a deal with Los Angeles-based Mapleton to produce hourly radio newscasts. These two-minute long newscasts are now being broadcast on a local news talk radio station as well as on Spokesmanreview.com. (Listen to a broadcast here.)

Two veteran news radio broadcasters were hired and a state of the art radio news production studio was built  in the newsroom. Our “radio guys” as they are affectingly called, have settled in without too many cultural adjustments. The workflow changes for people in the newsroom have been pretty minimal. Reporters are being asked to record audio sound bites from some of their stories. Occasionally they are interviewed for broadcast about stories they’ve reported on.

The paper purchased 12 of the Samson Zoom H-2 audio recorders that are being doled out to reporters who are showing a willingness to help make the radio initiative successful. The headline news content being broadcast comes from stories written by newsroom reporters and from the radio broadcasters themselves.

So what’s the benefit for the newspaper to be on the radio? Brand promotion mostly and bit of ad revenue sharing. The radio studio was built to seat three additional people for live interviews. Future plans call for adding additional programming such as a public affairs and call-in type shows. It’s an experiment that has a lot of potential. We are rapidly moving away from being just a newspaper. The Spokesman-Review is now a multi-platform media company that is increasing its brand penetration into new markets. This is what I love about working for a family owned newspaper willing to take risks. Radio from the newsroom seems a bit wacky. I just figure you can’t succeed at something if you don’t take some creative risks to see what works. Time will tell on this venture.

 

Rosenblumtv.com: Rabble-rousing at its finest

You gotta love Michael Rosemblum over at Rosenblumtv.com The man knows how to make the media cogs squirm in their seats. 

The web offers not just another platform for distribution of product, but rather an entirely new calculus for how an online media company can be run. By its very nature, it changes the construct of most media businesses. Migrate your newspaper to the web completely and you suddenly lose the cost of ink, paper, presses, pressmen, delivery trucks, distribution and paperboys. Tell your writers to work from home and you can lose the building, the desks, the lights, the cleaning services and most of the management as well. Cut all those costs, and suddenly your ad based web revenue can look pretty good in comparison. Its the overhead that is killing you. Lose it. You don’t need it.

Heavy words, but alas, I think this is what will eventually befall our industry. Thankfully we’re not there yet. But if traditional newspaper advertising continues its year-after-year declines, you have to wonder when that line will be crossed–that it becomes more economically viable for publishers to cut the overhead and just publish on the web.

For this transition to happen though, a lot of blood has to be let. It will be gut wrenching for the truck drivers, paperboys, pressmen and others who will lose their jobs. But after this transition, what happens next? Will a journalism renaissance take place or will the brand names of newspaper mastheads fade into the noise of the web? 

If you haven’t perused Rosenblum’s blog you should. He pulls a lot of weight in the media industry. Rosenblum and his VNI (Video News International) colleagues of the mid-nineties were the first to push the idea of using the video journalist concept. Small digital video cameras in lieu of big broadcast betacams, One man bands. Produce from the field not from an edit suite. This new workflow has encountered a wall of resistance from traditional TV news shooters, who for some reason, are uncomfortable with losing all that weight they lug around.

The interesting thing here, is that the VJ model has been embraced by us newspaper video shooters who know nothing of lugging twenty pound tripod around or editing tape to tape. Rosenblum is a rabble-rouser, a square peg trying to change an industry one TV news station at a time. He loves to pick on Katie Couric and the whole TV news anchor paradigm:

Perhaps the last gasp of a defunct and completely out of touch management was Katie Couric’s pornographic $15 million a year salary – to work 22 minutes a night reading what someone else had written. The sheer stupidity of this, the sheer short-sightedness of it now becomes obvious to everyone. For Couric’s reported $15 million, CBS could have (could have) hired and fielded an astonishing 150 Videojournalists worldwide, paying them a quite honorable $100,000 a year to report for CBS News. CBS News could have (could have) placed itself on the cutting edge of the digital news revolution. Instead they opted to become the dinosaur poster child of the end of old media. Goodbye Tiffany Network. You blew it.

Rosenblum is moving forward with his vision. His ongoing Travel Channel Academy video workshops are full of people wanting to learn to produce video for TV and the web. He is helping newspapers integrate video storytelling into their websites. The momentum is in his favor. As the hinges on the foundations of traditional media start to break away, those of us that have embraced the VJ model will hopefully be left standing long after Ivory towers have come crumbling down.

 

The Crabby Journalist

Update Two: Looks like the comments on AngryJournalist are being moderated now. Disregard update one. 

Update: Well, it seems the non-journalists have found this blog and trashed it with inappropriate comments. So never mind. I guess we will have to keep our stress bottled up.

 I found a link to this new blog called the AngryJournalist.com over at MultimediaShooter.com. It is a place for journalists to anonymously vent about their jobs toiling at newspapers. Man, they’re some crabby journalists out there. It’s true we like to bitch about our jobs, but hearing some of these stories just makes me cringe.

A sample of what’s posted:

” Editors who micro-manage the hell out of your beat and drink coffee with your sources and then give you tips from “little birdies” that always turn out to be bogus.”

The Social Networking Universe and why it is important for the survival of newspapers

 

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When I get in front of a crowd, I become a whole different person. I’m kind of shy in real life, but I explode with passion when I get to talk about things that I believe are important, like multimedia. 

Today was a multimedia training day at The Spokesman-Review. A photographer, two web producers and two mobile journalists got to hear me pontificate about where I see multimedia headed in the future. They also got an in-depth tutorial on the fundamentals of video storytelling. It was a lot for people to digest in only three hours. I’m essentially taking the nine-day Platypus Workshop and condensing it into two, three-hour days. Tomorrow, my co-workers take what they learned and apply it to editing their videos with Final Cut Express 4.

As multimedia editor, I will need everyone I train to quickly start producing video. If we are to build any synergy with our video initiatives, then I need content, and not just any content. Quality video storytelling, well thought out, creatively shot, and expertly edited. It’s a high bar for sure, but I think we can get there. We have some pretty smart people at The Spokesman-Review who are up for the challenge. I am not adverse to failure either. I told my co-workers that you don’t become an expert in video storytelling overnight. You will grow from your failures as long as you strive to make each video you produce a little better than the next.

There was an open invitation to the rest of the newsroom–for anyone interested in learning about video, and video production–to come and sit in. I was happy to see a decent turnout, but it was less than I had hoped for. I started my presentation explaining how the web, with the rise of social networking sites, is drawing away readers from the traditional outlets like TV and newspapers. I told them that our readers of the newspaper are changing and so should we.

I created two graphic slides for my presentation. The first one showed the logos of a dozen social networks—You Tube, Facebook, MySpace, WordPress, etc. I explained that within these networks, people are not only socializing, but they are creating digital content. Lots of it. Video, music and photography. Many former readers of my newspaper are now content producers in a big way. And with the Web 2.0 tools (RSS feeds, tagging, commenting, embedding) at their disposal, they are sharing their content, not only within their own networks, but with other social networks as well. YouTube videos are being embedded in WordPress blogs and photo slideshows from Flickr are passed from one network to another I explained. My second slide showed connecting arrows running between all the icons of these social networks. “It is not about an individual social network anymore,” I said. “It’s about the social networking universe and we desperately need to tap this.” My final slide showed The Spokesman-Review Logo with an arrow pointed up towards this expanding web universe.

The problem I see in my newsroom, or any newsroom for that matter, is a lack of understanding of how the Web is rapidly evolving. If many of the readers who have bolted from newspaper are now creating their own multimedia content, how can we, with our focus still on text based thinking, ever hope to be apart of that visual conversation? That, I told my small audience, is why video storytelling is so important. Video speaks the universal language of the social networking universe. We talk a lot about being web-centric at my paper. But unless you are tapped into the social networking universe, I don’t believe you can really understand what being web-centric means.

I will be honest with you, until I started this blog, I barely understood the concept myself. I was shocked by how many people Mastering Multimedia has reached in such a short amount of time. But what really opened my eyes was how people are finding this blog. RSS feeds, tags, Goggle Reader, blog rolls, and links from other social networks. It’s about sharing. It’s about a conversation. It’s about Web 2.0.

I now understand. I have been a producer of web content for years on a creaky CMS that only partially takes advantage of the Web 2.0 tools available on any WordPress blog. I just didn’t see the big picture of why this is important for all of us in the newspaper industry to grasp. If I didn’t get it, then how will my non-blogging co-workers, who are already apprehensive about change, ever understand?

If you haven’t already, my advice is to get an education in Web 2.0. Start a blog. Feed it. Share it. Our very survival as an industry will be predicated on how well we interface with this expanding social networking universe.