Take the news out, put the new in*
In the wake of last week's staff cuts, top editors at the newly dubbed Inland Division newspapers have reportedly been telling reporters that, as they look toward the future, they don't have all the answers.
Bosses usually don't profess ignorance without a reason, so I wondered what was really going on. Then I read about the NewPaper Project.
Kevin Keane, executive editor of BANG-EB (Singleton's East Bay papers), sent out a long memo to his employees today asking them to help figure out how to capitalize on their streamlined operations. The project, he says, is "a comprehensive examination of the newsgathering priorities for Bay Area News Group - East Bay, both now and in the future."
At the outset, Keane does his best to navigate around the "do more with less" pitfall:
I will not ask you to do more with less. But I will ask you to challenge your assumptions on what readers expect of us and how to best use our time. You should consider the NewPaper Project a unique opportunity to re-examine everything, from what we find front-page worthy to how our news pages are designed and presented. Ask yourself how you would put together a locally focused news operation of our breadth and size if you were to start one from scratch.
Keane then asks a few questions to get the conversation started:
How, then, do we continue to cover the stories that readers have come to expect of us, and how do we respond to the challenges � ... Does community journalism hold the key, or do we develop a more professionally trained and reliable network of freelancers? If so, how do we best use our fulltime staff? What are our story priorities? And how should content be shared across mastheads?
Responding to the challenges means choosing between citizen journalists and freelancers? That's a radical move, if true.
A few more questions:
Perhaps we should shrink our coverage area and concentrate on what we know we can still cover well given the size of our staff. Or form regional partnerships with other media. With pressure to reduce newsprint consumption, should we combine sections on certain days? How should our papers be organized and zoned? And what elements of design should we embrace?
I'd guess that means they will form regional partnerships, combine sections on certain days, zone the fewest number of pages as possible. But that's just a guess.
Keane also includes this admonition:
We also don't want to give unfair advantage to our media competitors. So please respect your colleagues and keep all discussions confidential to allow for the free-flow of ideas and debate.
The memo has a few good suggestions, although I'm skeptical of any strategy that encourages reporters to think of ways to boost revenues or demands that they keep information confidential for the good of the corporation.