APME/APPM 2009

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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.

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

2:45 Breakout session: Losing a day

By Andrew DeWitt

Cutting days

Lori Kilchermann, John Tucker and Steve Wade turn to discuss cutting days of newspaper content. Photo by Lauren Foreman

In this breakout session are the following people talking about how to adapt to losing a day of newspaper delivery.

Lori Kilchermann, John Tucker and Steve Wade are here in the room to share their experiences.

John Tucker says that generally what they tried to tell people in the Lake of the Ozarks was that we were going to deliver more news and more importantly more local news. Had some difficultly in changing over from older

Steve Wade went through his transition 13 months ago. After the KC Star pulled back away from his publication’s coverage area, he was able to use that an example for what was going to come. His smaller paper feared the community outrage after a failed attempt back in 1992. They were concerned about cutting the Monday edition and gave two weeks notice.  Also told readers that they were not going to get less news and even more.

Lori said that they chose to cut Monday based on advertising day. Also, there was no competition would move into the Monday day. Monday just worked well for her competition. Another challenge her paper faced was deciding where to move a special feature section, specifically health, away from Monday into a Tuesday.

Steve said that the numbers decided to also cut Monday. He said that readers missed starting off the work week with a newspaper and that the routine was disrupted.

John said that he thought that killing the Monday paper hurt the work flow of going. Looking back, he would have killed the Saturday paper even though that would have meant killing the high school football Saturday newspapers.

All three editors said they struggled with readers being upset about the Comics missing for one day. Lori said that her paper has doubled up on games and comics on Tuesday to make readers happy.

Steve Wade said that they took a customer friendly approach dealing with subscriptions. They extended each subscription a day longer for each Monday they missed. Looking back, he said that approach probably cost them some money and could have dealt with unhappy customers on an individual basis.

Lori said her publisher took a hard-stance and said they weren’t going to issue refunds for canceling the Monday paper. She said a couple of subscribers decided to cancel but they loved the paper so much that they came back anyways.

Steve said they made a mistake in that the Sunday reporter relaxed and they didn’t manage those expectations correctly.

Lori said they have a photographer who publishes things on the Web on Sundays so that if readers check the Web site Monday morning there is something fresh there.

John said that his paper was bluntly honest with readers how much his paper was struggling. He also made a promise to readers that they would get more stories and his paper has delivered on that promise.

Steve and Lori said they tightened their Tuesday paper to have more bulk so neither publication added more pages.

Steve said the most positive thing has been that the cut has served as a rallying point for the community to support the newspaper. People in Steve’s coverage area are afraid of losing their paper after losing delivery of the KC Star so they have supported the paper better than ever.

John suggested a little PR by putting in-house ads into the newspaper that explain how the newspaper is changing and how it is going to make things better.

Lori and Steve both said that they were both considering cutting more days if that’s what it comes to.

John says you really start to be a different product completely when you cut more than just one day. The paper becomes more feature based and less about being timely.

Steve believes that the day of the Internet being the main money maker is coming sooner than later.

Filed under: Economic issues, Management principles, ,

Difficult management conversations for photo managers

By Mary Poletti

Jill Geisler, of the Poynter Institute, followed up yesterday afternoon’s general session on management principles with a improv session about difficult management conversations with APPM participants.

The session was more relaxed — a circle of participants in a smaller room, having a conversation about management.

Geisler began the conversation by talking about the management challenges in the spaces of journalism, then asked participants where they thought their newsrooms were in leadership on a scale of 1 to 10. Participants gave extensive answers that directed the session.

The conversation touched on managing people, making time for writers and photographers alike to experience stories, the amateurization of photojournalism, managing and being managed by your journalists, bridging quality gaps without embarrassing journalists in the newsroom,

In all things, Geisler encouraged participants to keep a goal in mind whenever they’re having difficult conversations. Try to visualize your outcome: What would that look like? And try to visualize the obstacles the person you’re managing might raise in a difficult conversation about the goal you have.

Geisler also touched on the idea of attribution theory — the idea that we attribute our behavior to external sources, but others’ to their own personality. We look at situations through our own fears. We often assume the wrong motive when going into a situation. We try to figure out the motives and reasons for others’ behavior, but we are usually wrong.

Do enough due diligence within your group to know, Geisler encouraged participants, that they have your back and there is unanimity of purpose.

In any conflict situation, Geisler said, “you have your goal over here and your relationship over here” since you must work with the person every day. You want to come out on the other side of a difficult conversation with your relationship intact and your goal accomplished.

The group acted out a couple of the difficult conversations that participants expressed a need for help with having — to both the benefit and the entertainment of the group.

Geisler handed out a sheet with 10 tips for difficult conversations, which are often put off to a critical point:

  1. Be clear about your goal.
  2. Know yourself — and your management style.
  3. Prepare for the conversation.
  4. Start strong.
  5. Don’t pile information on. (In the most serious conversations, don’t bury the lede.)
  6. Focus on things you can describe.
  7. Expect emotion. (But don’t react with emotion.)
  8. Stay on track.
  9. End smart.
  10. Follow up.

Geisler emphasized the importance of practicing difficult conversations and again encouraged participants to e-mail her with any questions at jgeisler (at) poynter (dot) org.

Geisler’s News U course “Dealing With Difficult Conversations: A Guide for Managers and Others” can be found at http://bit.ly/2Z545W.

Filed under: APPM, Discussions, ,

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