APME/APPM 2009

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Concurrent workshop: Consolidating copy desks

By Jake Sherlock

Here are the folks we’ll be hearing in the session on consolidating copy desk: 

Consolidating copy desks: With costs eating into the bottom line, many newspapers are turning to centralized copy desks to handle layout and design for more than one publication. How does it work and what are the pitfalls?
• Panelists: Pete Wevurski, managing editor, Bay Area News Group/MediaNews; Ann Clark, news executive, Gannett Co. Inc.; Mark Colosimo, executive editor, Suburban Life publications.
• Moderator: Martin Reynolds, editor, Oakland Tribune.

Wevurski is telling some of the horror stories of consolidating copy desks, including coining the term “rogue copy desks.” To summarize,  it led to a lot of confusion in both style and design. One solution to problems was to have editors work 4 days a week on that editor’s “home” publication, and the fifth day was spent working on another publication. This helped with cross-training, and it made scheduling much easier, plus it made for more harmony in production. Journalists who were strong designers but weak copy editors were allowed to focus on design; strong editors but weak designers played the more traditional slot role; those good at both played the more traditional rim role while also designing inside pages. 

Other ideas from Wevurski: Homogenize standing features like comics, sports agate, etc. across all papers in the publication, which allows the individual newsrooms to concentrate on the local news. He also offers some handouts, which we’ll try to get scanned and posted in the Presentations section of the site. 

Colosimo said his chain tries to keep a similar look and feel across all publications, which can be done since none of those overlap. The other advantage to consolidation was it kept more reporters and photographers on the streets while centralizing the gatekeepers. This also helped facilitate content upgrades and a redesign across all papers. Consolidation rooted out local idiosyncrasies that are “remarkably inefficient.” But consolidation also hurt presentation and creativity, plus the universal desk felt “dumped on” when those staffers weren’t part of the news decisions. Eventually the company was able to put designers back with other journalists, so that each publication could have its own identity. Cross-training helped plug people in where help was needed, and templating helped speed production along. 

Clark: Gannett wanted to look at whether copy desk could be consolidated that weren’t particularly close in geography. The company had some experience consolidating newspaper desks close together geographically. Louisville is now paginating (not copy editing) content for papers in South Carolina. Content management systems were key for keeping the papers “talking to each other.” Consolidation is about saving, but it’s also about keeping more people gathering and producing content. She said she believes the core copy editing needs to happen at the home site, which is what is happening with the Louisville plan. 

Reynolds: How do you mitigate the loss of control at the local level? How do you manage that frustration?

Clark: Communication is key. Have to get all sites on the same page with terminology. What “deadline” meant to one shop may be something different to another shop. Skype and Skype-like devices help with the communication. Relationship-building has also been key. Don’t want papers to lose individual identities, but important to ask what can be the same. Daily conversations are important.

Colosimo: Moving newsroom into one location made a big difference. Not just copy desks. Helps to have people sitting together. At one point, two offices were only four miles apart, but may as well have been four states apart.

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