Mar 12, 2008

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.

Thoughts?

*updated

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Reading that memo, it seems to me no one, absolutely no one in MNG knows what to do. They are lost and don't admit it. Instead of asking everyone, employees, readers and NONREADERS (what the F*%$? does that mean, why would a non reader care) to contribute on how to move ahead into uncharted waters, why don't they count their losses, hire true professionals in the business of selling advertising and let those left standing do what they do best, write, shoot, edit, layout and fill in the space left without ads.

There is no magic potion, notion, lotion or contortion that will give you an answer to how to sell papers.

People reading and buying the newspapers are those who have a lot more expendable money and are far more educated. They want news, sports and features like they've always had.

New media delivery, 24/7, and all those fancy shmancy terms that don't mean anything are used only as a smoke screen.

You wanna have the most succesful paper in the world? Here's what you do.

GIVE IT AWAY FREE. Give everything on the web FREE. Give people free dowloads of photos and stories, give people away everything in the newspaper for free, let them print out coupons too. Circulation will jump so high, you'd think a rocket was inserted in you know where.

Once the circulation is high as a kite, everyone will clammer to advertise. There is your money you dolts! People want it FREE. Who cares about the 50¢ each copy brings you when advertisers will give you thousands of times more for each ad. You won't have enough space in the rag to put in all the ads, let alone your stories.

Look at the very successful free rag magazines that fly off racks throughout ethnic communities. There is a vast number of them and recession is a word they don't even know. Why? They are full of ads because of their circulation and because it is FREE.

And their stories are even worth the paper they're written on but people read them anyway.

Imagine giving something away free that has quality content and integrity?

There is a bold new move. Be the first one to give the paper away FREE to anyone who wants it. If you want it delivered, you'll have to pay obviously, because that process costs money. But, for the majority of people, give it away. Ever heard anyone saying no to something free?

And if the stories are there, what a bonus for the consumer, the advertisers and you check book.

I will not disclose any more of my ideas because THAT will have to be paid for.

But you must invest in the people who work for you. Treat them with respect and pay them what they're worth, a happy employee is one that will give their all day in and day out. No one in management seems to understand that when employees smile at you while pissing on your leg in these blogs, you have no where to go but down.

Anonymous said...

My thought is that this guy needs to go to PR. He's brilliant. Calling massive cuts, layoffs and insane consolidations an "opportunity" to think out of the box and open the door to the free flow of ideas is really inspiring now that I'm in PR. My thoughts are this, direct your angry readers to www.angryjournalist.com

It's a shame this is happening. This is what I have to say to all my former coworkers who live in fear every day of losing their jobs: JUMP SHIP!!! GO, GO, GO!!! You deserve better than this.

Anonymous said...

The first comment touches on an obvious point that so many in the newspaper business seem clueless about. It's called Best Practices. That is, look around. There are other newspapers that are doing some things well, and other that do other things well. You can steal their ideas. Singleton hasn't yet bought them all up and run out all their innovative thinkers in the name of pointless mediocrity. Yet.

Anonymous said...

Bringing professionals costs money.

a person with a solution will not do it with singleton's employee salary.

so its cheaper to ask the current employees what ideas they have.

Thats exactly was i have been asked during numerous meetings that we've had.

When i tell them what we need to do, they say "we dont have the resources to do that or the men power"

Exactly, thats why we are where we are.

Anonymous said...

Sorry, folks. This memo looks more like how a theme restaurant is conceptualized then a newspaper.

We now live in age of information with no context.

“It is not enough to destroy one's own and other people's experience. One must overlay this devastation by a false consciousness inured to its own falsity.”

Anonymous said...

The questions in this memo should have been asked before any lay-offs.

That they apparently were not asked or were just left unanswered doesn't say much for management. I'm embarrassed for them.

Let's start a "best suggestion of the day" prize.

Anonymous said...

All their meeting and opens doors are just an excuse for their inability to think. All top brass who knew what to do, are gone and we now have a bunch of reporters playing management.

I once saw a documentary on the moving of young elephants to an area where there were none because there were too many in their native habitat.

These young elephants, now without direction and guidance from the older, knowledgeable ones, began to cause havok. They began killing rhinos and destroying the very food sources they ate. They became rebels and were on the path of self-destruction.

Fortunately for them, scientists figured out what was happening, brought in a few adult male bulls into the same area. Within a matter of weeks, all the havok was controlled because the adult males, with all their experience, were not going to take any crap from the young ones. They began to teach them how to behave by sheer force, "guidance" and so the area was soon back to normal. No more cross-species murders, no more habitat destruction.

You see, this MNG is just like that. All our great expert leaders have been let go and a bunch of amateur rookies brought in to run a professional business. But, this is where the stories are similar. I don't think anyone is seeing this destruction and no experienced journalists will be brought in to fix our problem. Extinction I suppose would be word for our situation.

The comment about more experienced freelancers being brought in. People without a job will do anything to get their foot in the door. But if freelancers come in, that is all they will ever be. Do you think that they will be hired any time soon with the additional cost of insurance and other "perks" if they do the same work without the "perks?"

Anonymous said...

That memo is a shameful confession from the powers that be that they do not know where to go or what they're doing. And worse, they disguise it in a "OK Team! Let's all work together to come up with the answer!"

Did they consult any of the professionals when they chose the unreliable system for the LA Daily News blogs?

Were more than a handful of managers types asked to give an opinion on all the specialty publications like the "U" section for the Inland papers which became a tabloid called go.

How many people wre consulted when The Sun decided abruptly to pull it's Webcast - which was barely finding it's audience. It was given less than six months.

And how many people were consulted about making Mynisha Circle a priority for The Sun despite the pleas of readers, a readership board, some prominent members of the community, the police, the sheriff's department etc. to stop bombarding them with stories of this little girl?

How many of the good ideas these people get are they actually going to take!

Anonymous said...

Reporters are supposed to write stories, not think of ways to save sinking ships. That's what management is paid to do. They get paid a lot to do it too!

Anonymous said...

You're absolutely correct Anon (just above me). And I'm pretty sure I echo your thoughts when I ask, when are they going to start doing what they get paid to do?

Mike Rappaport said...

It is amazing to me that people are constantly trying to reinvent the wheel when it comes to journalism.

"Citizen bloggers" can never replace professionals because they aren't bound by the same strictures as far as "getting it right."

I was a journalist for 29 years -- still am, just not working -- and aside from some of the highs, things I remember the most are times I got it wrong.

One of the real problems in the business -- definitely true in LANG right now -- is that all the micromanagement and uncertainty tends to make people passive as they try to protect their jobs.

Passive reporters? Not so good.

It isn't about blogs or podcasts or anything else. If you do a good job giving people the news, you succeed.

Ask any Daily Bulletin reader what they think of the paper and all they'll talk about is what isn't covered or what isn't in the paper anymore.

We were a pretty good paper with a pretty good profit margin in 1999 -- then Singleton came in and started cutting stuff.

B follows A doesn't always mean A caused B, but in this case it's hard to ignore.

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