Teaching Examples

Exploding the newsroom
October 7, 2006, 2:45 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

“We no longer have an online department. It has ceased to exist,” said Pankaj Paul, managing editor for niche and new initiatives at The News Journal in Wilmington, Delaware (circ. 116,779; see Gannett profile of this newspaper).

The News Journal has achieved what many in the journalism field today consider the ultimate goal: The newspaper has become the Web site. Or the Web site (Delaware Online) has become inseparable from the printed paper container, which is now only one of many means (including mobile text-message alerts) of getting information out to their community.

Number of people in the News Journal newsroom who could post online in 2005: four.

Today, 50 of the approximately 140 people working in the newsroom can (and do) post online. Paul’s goal is to have about 65 newsworkers able to post to the site.

This removes a severe bottleneck they used to face. As a result, the Web site continually features dozens of fresh updates throughout the day. The News Journal has streamlined other, formerly print-only work flows to create new efficiencies, and these allow the journalists to produce more, period.

Why do six people need to edit and fact-check the same AP wire story, for example? Paul said they don’t. Asked who edits the Web site, he replied, “Everyone is our newsroom is an editor of what’s on the Web site.” In other words, if it’s wrong, fix it.

So goes Gannett

You’re looking at the future of all 90 Gannett newspapers, according to various people I’ve talked with here at the Online News Association convention in Washington, D.C. One told me (not for attribution): “They are determined not to end up like Knight Ridder.”

Paul said the 24/7 training techniques used at the News Journal have been adopted at all of the Gannett newspapers.

The News Journal launched its 24/7 newsroom at the beginning of this year. They are not fully staffed in the middle of the night (far from it — although there’s always at least one person on the clock) — but the journalists do start work much earlier in the morning to serve the commuters in the area. They are already posting updates in earnest by the time the readers are smacking their alarm clocks.

The Delaware Online traffic map updates itself and is available round the clock, thanks to 41 webcams installed in the field and a Google Maps mashup.

How they get things done

The News Journal is not focusing resources on producing big multimedia packages. The “Losing Stephen” package cost them “$3,000 in overtime,” Paul said. They’re not planning to repeat that experience. Instead, they use Soundslides to produce more packages faster with fewer person-hours behind them.

All of their photographers have Macs and use iMovie and Garageband to edit video and audio.

So far they have added one multimedia editing workstation in each department in the newsroom, with plans to add more as the money becomes available.

Some journalists have told Paul, “This is not what I signed up for,” and left. Asked what “this” referred to, he ssid it isn’t so much the technology as the 24/7 mind-set. “We don’t ask them to keep working after they go home,” he said, but the pace has definitely increased.

Good news for circulation

The print paper has improved as a result of all this change, Paul said. Circulation used to be falling by 3 to 4 percent (I didn’t catch the time frame) and has now stabilized at a loss of less than 1 percent. Paul didn’t say how much of that is churn.

We’ll see “a big change” at Delaware Online on Nov. 14, Paul said, although he did not provide details about the next stage of evolution would be.

“This is a newsroom that six months ago couldn’t figure out what to do when breaking news happened. Most people didn’t know how to send a text message” Paul said. “It has been a very positive experience for our newsroom.”

I’m eager to hear from the people in the trenches at The News Journal. We used to hear a lot of rah-rah from the Tampa Tribune and Media General about their wonderful “converged” newsroom, but in fact many of the journalists on the line did not sing the same happy tune — and their TV, newspaper and online still have not achieved real integration of the kind described by Paul.

Update: The number of Gannett-owned newspapers has been corrected, thanks to a thoughtful reader who fact-checked me.

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6 Comments so far
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“We no longer have an online department. It has ceased to exist.” I believe that the 7 people who work in the online department at the News Journal may have a problem with that statement.

Comment by Victoria Grimme

Thanks for this post. It’s encouraging stuff for someone starting out in the business in the online side.

I’d like to know more about how the journalists there reacted to this change as it was beginning.

Comment by Angela Grant

“This is a newsroom that six months ago couldn’t figure out what to do when breaking news happened.”

Anyone who has ever worked in a newsroom should be offended by that statement. All journalist are at there best when breaking news happens … that’s when they are most in there element.

It sounds to me like this Paul character is the type of person who’d take credit for any new or progressive change, as long as he can back out of taking credit for any mistakes. I feel sorry for anyone working beneath him.

Comment by Anonymous

This is what I’ve always talked about. If you say “I believe it,” and say it enough times, it comes true.

Comment by santaclaus

I’m curious as to whether Mr. Paul knows how to post online.

And what does he mean when he said reporters do start earlier during the day? Do they leave earlier, too?

Comment by Anonymous

There’s no evidence to support the assertion that better integrating the Web site with the newsroom has resulted in reduced circulation declines. It’s a baseless claim. And none of what I read implies any strategy to drive more readers to the newspaper. If anything, it’s a strategy to drive more readers to the Web site. Sure, Paul and his crew deserve credit for some changes that sound impressive from here. But reducing circulation declines isn’t one of them.

Comment by Lucas

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