APME/APPM 2009

Icon

All the news from the conference in St. Louis

Workshop: What structure works best

by Mary Poletti

No one structure fits all, and no single best structure exists, Rockford (Ill.) Register-Star executive editor Linda Grist Cunningham said at the outset of the workshop “What structure works best.”

What matters is that a structure exists for journalists’ chaotic work — and what matters in that structure, Cunningham said, is who’s doing the work, whether they understand who’s doing the work, and whether they’re doing it well. The workshop’s three editor-panelists largely echoed that sentiment.

Tom Callinan

Callinan, the editor and vice president for content and audience development at the Cincinnati Enquirer, described his restructuring modus operandi as “all about the work” and his attitude toward restructuring as “stop playing newspaper.Most of the content is now hard news.

Through Gannett-mandated restructuring of his newsroom over the last year, Callinan said he had lost 60 reporters in his newsroom — but not a single public interest reporter, having, in fact, hired some of those. He now serves as the managing editor and editorial page manager, with the paper having targeted middle management in its downsizing: “We’ve whacked all of the middle management. They’re gone. …We don’t need it.” Gone, too, are the multiple meetings each day — replaced by one virtual meeting at 9:30 and a check-in at 4:30. Editors now spend much more time with reporters, including Callinan, whose direct reports now sit directly outside his office. “We don’t sit behind that closed door,” Callinan said.

Despite the difficult changes at the Enquirer, the paper is emerging from its funk and growing in its content. Focusing on hard news has helped.

George Stanley

“This has been the toughest year of my career, for sure,” said Stanley, editor of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel, which lost a third of its staff this year. But, he said, “We haven’t lost anybody doing accountability journalism…the important stuff… That’s what drives everything we do” and distinguishes them from their competitors.

There are fewer specialists at the paper in design and editing, and assistant editors have now picked up some of those responsibilities, as well as reporting duties. There are only four people in the newsroom (including editorial assistants, librarians, etc.) who are not journalists — “because we saved the journalists.”

Lisa Strattan

Strattan’s paper, the Herald River in Fall River, Mass., is far smaller than the other papers featured in the workshop — 26 people in the newsroom, including Strattan. The most formal reorganization, a year ago, accompanied a redesign and followed a set of downsizings, and the paper lost a few others this year. However, the addition of one person has added “a layer of management” — “an uber-editor who can get everything done,” to pull together the paper’s fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants mentality.

Strattan specifically addressed the paper’s status as a union shop. Apart from the paper’s four managers, everyone else is union — and the managers’ duties are quite separate from the guild members’. Communication between the paper and the guild, she said, is key.

Eliminating Sections & Content

Cunningham said her paper had eliminated features six days a week, replacing that section with a go/do section, and had all but stopped running AP content.

Callinan cited cincymoms.com as a cheap and very popular example of finding and working the source of features content rather than devoting space to features. He pointed to Examiner.com as a direct competitor with newspapers in this area, where the site hires cheap bloggers to directly compete with newspapers.

Stanley said the Journal Sentinel newsroom had stopped zoning their content geographically, with beat reporters now scouring the whole coverage area for the best stories.

Foresight

If you had known a year ago what you know now, Cunningham asked the panel, what would you have done differently?

Stanley said he would have made reporters stretch their abilities and prove their worth to save their skins.

“Going back further than a year, I think we can all agree that we should have had a stronger evaluation process,” Callinan said, in order to preserve people’s rights beyond simply union-mandated seniority. Cutting middle management had been unavoidable, but the cuts had gone awfully deep.

Managing Stress

So how do these editors and their staff handle the stress level? By keeping purpose in mind.

“Who gets to do what we do?” Strattan said.

Stanley said, “I worry about what the next six months will be like, but if you focus on doing great work” and why you want to come to work every day — “to save the world” — it is a tremendous motivator. Make everyone, including copy editors, part of big projects from the beginning.

Callinan emphasized the desire of young journalists to work in teams and work for purposeful companies. Purpose is a big deal to millennials. “We have that common cause,” he said. He emphasized the individuality of management style as well.

Cunningham touched on delegation, letting go and letting others help. She asked the panel and the audience about restructuring task forces and allowing staff to come up with ideas. Man audience members said versions of those ideas had been effective for them, as long as boundaries were in place: “You still have to know where you’re going,” Stanley said.

Advertisements

Filed under: Changing times, Photojournalism, Workshops, , , , ,

11:15 a.m.: Developments at the AP

by Mary Poletti

Associated Press management staff presented some recent developments at the news company in a large session Thursday morning.

Regionalization

VP/Senior Managing Editor Michael Oreskes talked about regionalization and the process AP undertook last year and this year of regionalizing their management. Four regional editors now oversee the East, West, Central, and South regions. The AP is still based in New York City, but the regional editors are now out in the states, “and that’s not an accident,” Oreskes said. They are focused on listening to regional news concerns as well as to “AP’s voracious need for content about the United States for the country and for the whole world.” To describe changes on the regional level, Oreskes turned the podium over to the South regional editor.

Some changes are immediately apparent. Each AP bureau still has its own desk, but “everyone in every AP bureau is now a reporter,” mining beats for stories. Reporting shifts have increased, with the AP’s ability to break overnight news improving with it. Editors on regional desks are closer to AP stories now than the AP had been at the national desks, with their high volume of stories. Content gets to clients now much faster than it did before the regionalization.

Other benefits have taken longer to develop. Chief among them is beat reporting. In the past, beat reporters had often worked with minimal supervision and interaction with editors, and AP bureaus did not sufficiently mine the beat for depth and breadth of stories. Now the AP utilizes border-crossing “beat teams” with a single editor for each beat topic, focusing in depth on specific topics with reporters, photographers, and videographers. A brief video showcased some of the best AP beat and enterprise reporting going on across the country, from creeks full of pollutants to corrupt politicians.

After the video, John O’Connor, the lead AP reporter from Springfield, Ill., who covered Illinois Gov. Rod Blagojevich’s fall from political grace, called state reporting “the bread and butter of the AP.” “Regardless of the times, with the resources we have at the AP, there’s always time for enterprise,” he said, describing the ways the AP had enabled him to take extra time to report out the story and obtain key documents exposing various aspects of Blagojevich’s corruption, such as his liberal use of state aircraft.

Difficult photo decisions

AP Senior Vice President and Executive Editor Kathleen Carroll introduced an audio slideshow, “Death of a Marine: A photographer’s journal,” documenting the experiences of an AP photographer embedded with a Marine unit in Afghanistan. The story garnered attention because it produced a controversial photo of the fatally wounded Lance Cpl. Joshua M. Bernard.

AP Director of Photography Santiago Lyon explained AP photo staff’s considerable reflection on the photo and its details before deciding that the photo was not gratuitous or excessively graphic, but simply “a harsh image from a harsh environment” that was fit to be distributed. Lyon cited the AP’s “journalistic responsibility to show the truth” in the face of the heat they faced from the fallen Marine’s family, from the government, and from clients who refused to use the photo.

Storytelling

Oreskes returned to the podium to introduce a segment on “New Storytelling” and the AP’s challenge of finding and using new story forms. He cited the Washington feature “Capital Culture,” which focuses on the life of the first family; the AP Economic Stress Index graphic, measuring and showing financial strain on Americans by county; and new approaches to news timelines, which were put into use with two key entertainment stories this year, the death of Michael Jackson and director Roman Polanski’s renewed legal woes.

These efforts, Oreskes said, are the result of collaboration among journalists.

To illustrate storytelling, AP Chicago reporter Sharon Cohen spoke of her story on soldiers deployed in Iraq — “The Long Haul.” Multimedia seemed to her the best way to tell the story and take readers inside “the road to Iraq and back again”: photos, audio, video of funerals, an interactive piece based on a military action report, slideshows, and combinations thereof. As an example, she showed a slideshow telling the story of a 26-year-old Minnesota Army National Guard sergeant who lost both legs after driving over an improvised explosive device (IED) in Fallujah, Iraq.

Conclusion/Q&A

The presentation ended with a time for audience questions and answers with Carroll.

Many questions focused on the hot-button topic of the fallen Marine photo. Many managing editors in the audience said they had chosen not to run the photo. One question revisited the decision to show that photo to the young man’s parents before publication. Another pointed out journalism’s historical use of graphic war photos and asked about the recent push to eliminate “dead body photos” from coverage, which Carroll said had been a pervading governmental view since the Vietnam War. Carroll briefly discussed the political fight the AP faced.

In other news, another question affirmed the quality of AP content but addressed its pricing.

Carroll ended by updating participants on the condition of AP photographer Emilio Morenatti, who was seriously injured during an embed in Afghanistan and lost a leg, and on the safety of AP staff in Baghdad.

Filed under: Changing times, , , ,

Managing change doesn’t make you crazy, clueless, or cruel

by Mary Poletti

Jill Geisler, group leader for Leadership & Management Programs at the Poynter Institute, set out to address some challenges for newsroom leaders in this climate.

Start positive, she said. What’s working? she asked the audience. What are we proud of? Responses included:

  • “Learning new things”
  • “That people are still laughing in the newsroom”
  • “We are still breaking news”
  • “Writing tighter & smarter”

Geisler used a light, pop-culture method to drive home an important lesson. What can managing editors learn from Whoopi Goldberg’s sassy lounge singer-turned-nun/choir director in Sister Act, Sister Mary Clarence? In the film, she turned a terrible choir into a unified, high-performing team. It was a teaching lesson for Geisler, and she showed a clip from Sister Act of Sister Mary Clarence’s first choir practice and urged tables to take notes on what Sister Mary Clarence did well as someone trying to lead change.

After the film, she asked what the audience wrote. Some responses included:

  • recognizing that all of the nuns were different and empowering them to find their individual voices
  • starting out by organizing
  • putting the right people in the right places
  • not alienating the previous leadership and turning it into a group struggle
  • giving the group some of their passion
  • letting them fail at first
  • starting small
  • accepting old leadership at first before putting it down
  • taking small steps
  • using humor
  • coaching — and using coaching language (Geisler: We all used to be really good at something before we became managers, and we’re still tempted to show off every once in a while.)
  • making expectations clear
  • encouraging listening to one another
  • calling out underperformers without humiliating them
  • making clear why what they’re doing matters

Sometimes we get so busy “feeding the beast” in the daily hustle and bustle of the newsroom, Geisler said, that we forget to make it clear why what we’re doing matters.

Organizations differ, but change challenges are similar, as are solutions (that can be customized to your newsroom), Geisler has learned from the large volume of “change literature” she has read, much of which she quoted and cited during her presentation.

Geisler shared five key principles on which she hoped to elaborate: education, emotion, motivation, collaboration, and communication.

Education: We are constantly learning. “Learning something new makes us temporarily incompetent,” a quote Geisler shared read, and that learning anxiety makes people push back — “I won’t get it,” “I’ll look stupid,” “I have to drop what works,” “I’ll be the outsider,” “I’ll permanently lose credibility.” We choose to change when our survival anxiety becomes greater than our learning anxiety. A lot of managers think that means scare tactics, but that doesn’t work. Don’t increase survival anxiety (it’s high enough right now), reduce learning anxiety. Make training a priority. Understand how adults learn. (How, for example, did you learn how to use your new cell phone?) Put training into action ASAP, and have an immediate follow-up plan for its use. Reward risk-taking. Provide role models — and be one.

Emotion: Yes, it exists in newsrooms! We hope for optimism, but we get anger, sarcasm, or frustration because newsrooms perceive their managers as threatening or as jerks. You are managing the space between the platforms, with all the emotions that brings. The emotions of change are inwardly focused: shock, numbness, denial, blame, anger, and depression. Start moving from the inward to the outward. Understand emotions — theirs and your own. Allow people to let off steam (within reason). Don’t react to emotional outbursts in kind. Remember the power of symbols — for example, do something with all those empty desks, and maintain certain newsroom traditions. (And don’t hide out in your office with the door closed for too long!) To focus change emotions outward, bring the best of the past forward, make the process transparent, orient to the future, and be realistic while sharing genuine optimism. John P. Kotter wrote, “Changing behavior is less a matter of giving people analysis to influence their thoughts than helping them see a truth that influences their feelings.” People don’t analyze>think>change, they see>feel>change. Quick wins, new stories, and role models are key to helping people see, then feel, then change.

As an example of the success of a newsroom, Geisler shared about the recent success of a veteran Milwaukee Journal Sentinel reporter, which reinforced a strong sense of mission and really boosted morale in the newsroom, sending a message about the strength of the newspaper.

Motivation: Geisler urged the audience to remember a time when they couldn’t wait to get to work and respond with their memories, like Election Day, the day of a new product’s launch, working on a big stretch assignment, the day after 9/11, and more. The common thread in those memories, Geisler said, is not the extrinsic reward (not so many of those these days), but the intrinsic motivators — what drives us. The key intrinsic motivators, according to Kenneth W. Thomas, are competence (doing more of what we’re good at), choice (letting everyone in the newsroom contribute to big ideas), meaningfulness (“boy, Sister Mary Clarence told us about that” — reminding people of the meaning of what they do), and progress (giving constructive feedback to reporters). In terms of feedback, knowledge workers like reporters value autonomy, the right kind of feedback (non-controlling and attentive, among other things), and a voice in designing their work, especially when it involves change. Which brought Geisler to…

Collaboration: Innovation requires collaboration, Geisler said. According to Keith Sawyer, “group genius generates breakthrough innovation.” According to Lynda Gratton, “boundary spanners” are key — staffers who naturally network, build bonds, exchange information, and solve problems. Geisler encouraged the audience to identify and acknowledge theirs. What do managers do that creates and/or encourages those people? To foster collaboration, Geisler shared what she called a simple tip: Discover what makes a great day at work for others — boss expectations, professional standards, peer values, personal goals.

Communication: Communication fuels change. Relentlessly communicate about that change, Jeffrey Pfeffer and Bob Sutton wrote. “Leaders manage meaning,” Warren Bennis wrote. “They find ways to make dreams apparent and alive to others.” Communicating relentlessly — in many ways, not just in meetings, but in conversations, word of mouth, and what Geisler called “meetings before/after the meeting” — is the key to making change apparent and alive. Remember, with regard to change communication, that what you’ve known for a while, reporters and newsroom employees are just now processing. Information is currency. People don’t hear well when their emotions are engaged. Even stupid rumors need to be addressed.

Geisler ended with a mash-up of motivational film speeches — “40 Inspirational Speeches in 2 Minutes.” “I don’t know if you can rise to that level of inspiration every day, but try,” Geisler said. “Journalism needs it.”

Jill Geisler presents techniques for managing change
Jill Geisler, group leader for Leadership and Management Programs at the Poynter Institute, challenged editors to foster communication among their staff to motivate them in times of innovation and change, Oct. 28, 2009, in St. Louis, Mo. (APME 2009 Coverage Photo/ Emily Stewart)

APME editors respond to Jill Geisler's presentation
Audience members watch as Jill Geisler played a short clip from the movie “Sister Act” to provide comic relief during her conference workshop on change. She suggested managers teach their employees by reinforcing their competence, Oct. 28, 2009, in St. Louis, Mo. (APME 2009 Coverage Photo/ Emily Stewart)

For help or inspiration, contact Geisler at jgeisler (at) poynter (dot) org.

Download Geisler’s handouts:
Change checkup
Rules of change
Four barriers to collaboration

Filed under: Changing times, Discussions, , , ,

Flickr Photos

Twitter

  • That's the conference, folks! :) Won't you join @APME Oct. 20-22, 2010, at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla.? (#apme10, anyone?)| 7 years ago
  • Congratulations to our coverage team members Emily Stewart & Kristin DiFate, winners of $500 scholarships for their work this week #apme09| 7 years ago
  • Magnuson: challenging all newsroom/newspaper leaders to rebuild with leadership & diversity in mind #apme09| 7 years ago
  • Magnuson: sharing award with the D&C newsroom; "commitment to diversity must come very clearly from the top" #apme09| 7 years ago
  • Robert G. McGruder Award for Diversity Leadership: honoree #2: Karen Magnuson, Rochester (N.Y.) Democrat & Chronicle #apme09| 7 years ago

RSS #apme

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.

RSS #apme09

  • An error has occurred; the feed is probably down. Try again later.