AJC editor: Layoffs "very, very difficult"

26 July 2008

The Atlanta Journal-Constitution welcomed MSCNE to its offices today to hear from Editor Julia Wallace, Editorial Board member Maureen Downey and Cartoonist Mike Luckovich. The way the AJC remodeled their newsroom last year was really interesting, and I was really excited to hear more from Wallace, especially in light of the changes they’re having to make now.

Wallace identified two big problems facing newspapers: advertising and readership. The AJC hasn’t felt the financial problems many papers face, she said, partly because they are privately owned. Their situation has been flexible, but “we are a business,” and they are trying to make it work.

She talked about the first round of changes, cutting the newsroom from 500 to 435 and the four departments, but sort of glossed over the merge this year of News & Information and Enterprise. All lot of what she said already is summed up in this interview she gave Creative Loafing. When I asked how you ensure quality investigative reporting as papers continue making cuts, she said that they’re increasing their watchdog reporting but sharing it in different ways.

She talked about their emphasis on the Sunday paper briefly, but said that while that’s the big thing now, something else could be the big thing later if readers express interest elsewhere.

As far as layoffs, they will begin at the end of this month if enough staff don’t accept the voluntary separation (Wallace: “Since there are no lawyers in the room I’ll call it a buyout.”). In the last round of buyouts, Wallace said they “lost a lot of good people, but we’re fortunate we have a lot of good people.”

Next month, “I may have to lay people off in the newsroom in the next month, something I’ve never had to do in my journalism career. I find that very, very difficult.” The goal is to get the newsroom down to 350.

Her advice to college journalists preparing to enter the job market in the next year or two was to try and spend their first five years in the business (if they are hired) at a newspaper, getting reporting skills while learning multimedia.

From talking with editors here at the conference though, many aren’t planning on careers in journalism. The job market scares people off for one, the pay secondly. Many are interested in PR or publishing. “I can’t see myself reporting for more than a few years,” they say. There’s frustration in general with many feeling they won’t be able to get jobs because they don’t have the skills (and there are a whole host of reasons why we don’t have the skills, from lack of training to lack of effort on our parts). And this is coming from college newspaper editors, a particularly dedicated bunch of those interested in journalism in the slightest. If journalism doesn’t attract them, who will it?

Tour of UGA’s The Red and Black

23 July 2008

The last part of our day included a tour of UGA‘s independent student paper, The Red and Black. I have a friend who used to be on the R&B and it’s one of the college papers I follow the most, because of the similarities between UNC, UGA and our two papers, but I’d never seen the office.

They own their own building, which is great, but of course presents its own challenges (taking care of maintenance work on your own, for example). It’s a pretty two story building that’s slightly off-campus at the top of a lovely hill. Their ad staff works on the first floor, and editorial staff is on the second floor. You can see the newsroom here.

What amazed me is how clean it was. At the DTH we have Halloween/Christmas/Valentine’s decorations from 2+ years ago that have never been taken down. This in addition to piles of papers (often trash) and general junk. Also, our well loved couch that has had oh so many sleep on it. Even just the individual decorations desks put up, whether it’s cutting out good articles and hanging them, or pictures of staff or whatever. The DTH feels very lived in, and there’s no mistaking it for a college newsroom. Still, I’m sure The Red and Black, when it isn’t the middle of the summer (when even the DTH looks lonely), is a much, much livelier place (is it even possible for a college newspaper to not be?).

The sad news of this endeavor was the disappointing news about College Publisher 5 from Ed Morales, the Red and Black’s editorial adviser. College Publisher 5 has basically been promised to us (and all the other college newspapers who host with them) as a sort of Web Jesus. It’ll post stuff for you! You can click and drag! It’s so flexible! It’s amazing.

Apparently not (No surprise – they also said we’d be switched over this summer … which is now this scheduled for the fall … which surely will be pushed back even later before it’s all over). But everyone was so excited about CP5 because really, there is a lot of room for improvement. From what he said, their experience testing it out, they found that it took almost 4 times as long to post because all of the automation has disappeared. The automatic posting apparently isn’t there yet.

Only one paper in the country, as I understand, is on CP5 now fully, and I’d really be interested in hearing their experiences. Most of the papers here are on CP, and as Morales pointed out, that’s really because there is no other good option now for college papers. Juliette Mullin, the Daily Pennsylvanian managing editor and I talked about this, and we’re both frustrated, but also don’t see switching away from CP as an option. The DP has talked about switching to Drupal, but her concern is continuity, and finding staff year to year that can maintain a site on their own without the system in place with CP. And as Andrew learned, learning Drupal isn’t easy either. The Savannah Morning News Editor, Susan Catron (a DTH alum!), said their paper has been hosting on Drupal and is very happy with it, but again, I don’t see our staff now having the skills to build and maintain our own site. And hosting on WordPress, as some papers do with great success, isn’t practical for a paper like us in the event we get huge traffic one day (Taheri-azar, Eve Carson, etc).

So for anyone who’s working with it now, how’s CP5? Is it as bad/good as we’ve heard? Can it walk on water, or does it sink?

Day one: Management seminar for college editors

22 July 2008

I’m blogging this week from the University of Georgia in Athens, where I’m attending the Management Seminar for College Newspaper Editors. I love Athens, and I really love getting to meet all of these other college newspaper editors from across the country. We have different challenges depending on the size and structure of our papers, but we face a lot of similar issues as well. Getting perspective from others in the same boat but who are outside your own newsroom is nice.

My plan was to do Twitter updates throughout the day, and I did two (here and here), but by and large felt guilty pulling out my phone while these professionals were giving up their time to talk with us.

We heard first from Edward Miller, the managing editor of The Newsroom Leadership Group and author of “Reflections on Leadership.” I really enjoyed the definition of leadership he gave us (from Truman): “Leadership is getting others to do what you want them to do and liking it.” When he asked for definitions from us, many described it as simply leading a group towards a common goal, but as he pointed out, getting people to do what you want is easy. It’s getting them to like doing it that’s difficult.

  • Ways to motivate: Ask “How did you do that?” and “How can you help us teach others how to do it that well?” when reporters do commendable work;
  • Give feedback, but make sure you set goals that are measurable, and work towards increasing skills/competence;
  • For difficult conversations, ask questions such as “What do you do well?” “What would you like to do more consistently well?” “What’s in the way” “How can I help?”

Then we heard from Selwyn Crawford, assistant metro editor at The Dallas Morning News, who talked about defining “news” so that it is diverse for our audiences (and diverse in more than just racial terms, but representative of all the voices on campus).

  • Who cares about an issue? What do people care about? Why do people care?
  • “I hear all the loud folk … but what is it we aren’t hearing?” – In response to one editor’s question about how to give equal coverage to the Democrats and Republicans, especially the McCain campaign, which really didn’t have a presence on their campus during the primary. Don’t accept that just because a segment of the population is quiet, that means there’s nothing to cover – often that means there is something to cover that’s being overlooked.

Next, Michael Schwartz, manager of editorial training for Cox Newspapers and COXnet. He addressed recruiting, training and retaining staff. This is a huge issue for us at the DTH. We started last fall with the largest incoming group of reporters (150+ new), and lost a significant amount even by the end of the semester.

We identified a lot of the major problems college newspapers have with this – recruiting a diverse staff (which is not unique to college papers at all), finding people with the necessary skills (the DTH is committed to being a teaching paper, but in some areas, we really don’t have the skills to teach things that we’d like the paper to be doing), combating a lack of interest (this is not so much a problem for the DTH, but a lot of the smaller, non-daily college papers seemed to struggle with this), and trying to offer incentives to get people to join (again, our reputation means this usually isn’t a problem in getting people on staff, but it is a demanding job that isn’t cut out for everyone, and too often we offer too little to convince people to stay). I really enjoyed hearing what other papers do to combat these problems, and we discussed those as well.

  • Form a recruiting committee (At the DTH, we had hoped to hire a recruitment editor, but no one applied. In the past, this task fell to writing coaches, without much success. We’re hoping our new adviser will help with this in the fall.)
  • Staff testimonials (why is joining the paper a valuable experience?)
  • Open houses (and not just to recruit, but throughout the year, to demystify the paper and make it more open in general)

Lastly, we heard from Frank LoMonte, executive director of the Student Press Law Center, who talked about legal and ethical issues. I took media law last semester, but I still really enjoyed this session and thought it did a good job of really focusing on the big issues college editors deal with on a day-to-day basis.

Which was all followed by a show-and-tell of sorts, where 64 of the editors passed around copies of their paper. There’s a good mix of papers here at the conference, from tabs to broadsheets, and weeklies, twice-weeklies, thrice-weeklies and the dailies (5x a week). From informal discussions with the other daily editors, I think the DTH’s circulation is the largest, at 20,000, but as was pointed out, we also distribute off-campus, which many of these papers don’t do. Regardless of size though, we’re all still dealing with the same issues, and I think we all take it as seriously. It’s a really committed group of editors who are here this week.

Tomorrow I’m sitting on a panel talking about covering the unexpected, when tragedies (or any breaking news) hits. It’s a little weird being in Eve Carson’s hometown and talking about how we covered that awful day and the weeks afterward. I’m really proud of what we did as a paper, but it’s a learning experience I wish we hadn’t had to have.

I’m going to try to do more Twitter updates tomorrow; we’ll see how that goes though.

Print papers need to highlight online content

21 July 2008

So my mom handed me the CLT observer this morning and told me that there was a “very sweet piece” about an elderly lifeguard that I should read. So I picked up the paper – the story ran on the front of one of the inside sections, I forget which.

It’s a really nice article – Ed McCarthy is an 83-year-old lifeguard at the YMCA. He’s the world’s oldest lifeguard, and he didn’t pick up swimming until his 60s. The other lifeguards and people who swim at the pool say he’s quite the hottie in his Speedo.

There’s video to accompany the article. I watched it online early last week. Nice video, too. McCarthy talking about his job and why he enjoys it. The hottie lifeguard is interesting to listen to.

If you look at the article online, it links to the video.

If you look at the print version, at no point does it tell you anywhere (before or after the jump) that there is video if only you go online. No where. There are multiple photos, there’s a brief section of bio, and no where is there a “Hear Ed McCarthy talk about life guarding at charlotte.com.”

Why is there no online refer? Why?! You have this great online content, and you aren’t selling it! Don’t assume your Sunday reader is the 40+ thinks-the-Internet-means-going-“on the line.” If print papers want to get readers to the Web site, they have to point them there. They can’t – and won’t – find that content on their own. Give them a reason to, and maybe they will.

The “glorified Clark Kent version of newspapers”

8 July 2008

Today’s a slow news day in Salisbury (the highlight so far was a report on the scanner of gunshots in a home … that turned out to be fireworks). The newsroom is basically empty – just education reporter Sarah, county government reporter Jessie and me.

Sarah came to the Post a few weeks before I did. Now, her old roommate is leaving the paper they worked at for a job (with a higher salary) in PR. This weekend, another friend (who is getting married and moving to Charlotte) announced her plan to leave newspapering for a PR job. Sarah’s a lot like me – hard news junkie – and says she’s in newspapering for the passion, not the money. But we like to eat and sleep under a roof, too.

Sarah: Jessie, have I told you how all my friends are leaving newspapers to go into PR?
Jessie: I would say that they’re smart.

Jessie goes on to explain that the “glorified Clark Kent version of newspapers” has gone by the wayside. Newspapers are like the mom-and-pop grocery stores that were drawn out of business by megastores, or “the giant sailing ships of 150 years ago.”┬áBut she doesn’t think news is going to go away. Her theory is that newspapers just need to commit to creating better products.┬áThat’s something I think we all agree on. Journalism has always been about providing the best, most thorough information possible, in whatever form it has taken.

Nothing’s wrong with the water

6 July 2008

My summertime reading includes a history of The Charlotte Observer (up to its 100th anniversary, in 1986). Reading about the changes that the Observer has gone through puts the changes newspapers nationally are going through into perspective. (And also presents a pattern of newspapers continually refusing to change with the times.)

The book is full of inside stories and gems such as this one:

In October 1915, Coffin got a letter from William Henry Jones of Yanceyville, a recent graduate of UNC, asking for help in getting a newspaper job, preferably on the Observer. … He wrote Jones:

If you really want to start newspapering, don’t be surprised if you have to wear the same suit of clothes for two years. … Still, you’ll be mighty welcome. Come on in – there’s nothing the matter with the water except all the sewers empty into it.