Some of the best posts I see coming out of this past weekend’s Carnival of Journalism are drifting into the blogosphere after the fact, as folks not on deadline analyze what we prattled on about for a few grafs each, who did the prattling, and how to muster up some real temporal freedom in newsrooms.
Doug Fisher, a contributor to the carnival, circles back around to take a closer look at the Anderson Independent-Mail in South Carolina, a newsroom Jack Lail mentioned in his own carnival entry.
Anderson editor Don Kausler Jr. said this in Lail’s post:
“In our shrinking newsroom, we no longer have enough reporters to cover traditional beats such as government, education, business, health, etc. Now all of the reporters on our content staff are general assignment reporters. They are assigned to geographic regions, and they cover government, education, business, etc., in that region (or they wrangle content from freelancers).”
“I find myself wondering who is going to keep an eye out so that things that might be seemingly isolated or random among geographic areas don’t get overlooked as pointing to a larger pattern. This, it seems to be, puts additional pressure on the editors to see that 10,000-foot view. But even if they do, will the GA reporter thrown in to do the story have the time to develop the expertise.”
This is a hard one for understaffed newsrooms. When the shrinking-profit-margin layoff virus hit the paper I worked at in California, we cut both specialists and GA reporters working a geographic beat. They weren’t replaced, and the newsroom wasn’t re-organized to cover the losses.
And if a newsroom does give up its specialists and re-organize around geography, does it need to keep one body working on investigative, or enterprise, or education, or business — something where they can go in-depth and anchor the front page a few times a week?
Probably, but that one extra body doesn’t exist in most newsrooms.
“So perfectionism is a good place to hide: Everybody is always too busy to innovate.”
Which brings me back around to time.
My original question for the carnival bloggers was meant to find ways for newsrooms to take back some time from the print edition.
Print edition workflow is a huge timesink, as files get passed back and forth, budget lines are floated, edited, mulled over in meetings, questions are posed, and the actual process of writing gets jammed into a small space on deadline.
Michelle McLellan, writing at the Knight Digital Media Center’s News Leadership 3.0 blog, says it’s hard to let go of the newsroom culture of perfectionism:
“The research tells us that traditional print news organizations tend to reinforce perfectionism to a fault. People focus on details at the expense of big-picture thinking. Perfectionists are afraid to leave anything out, much less stop doing something. This is why stories get longer, workloads get heavier and to-do lists grow to discouraging proportions. These newsrooms also are risk-averse. So perfectionism is a good place to hide: Everybody is always too busy to innovate.”
McLellan goes on to list 10 steps to getting an individual journalist to adopt a new practice, whether it’s online or off — well worth a read, especially for those of us saddled with the task of actually talking to reporters and editors every day, trying to get them to pick up some new tricks — if they can find the time.