APME/APPM 2009

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All the news from the conference in St. Louis

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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Filed under: Changing times, Discussions, , , , , ,

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, , , ,

Losing focus: Diversity in newsrooms, news coverage

Diversity

Troy Turner, right, editor of the Farmington Daily Times, describes his paper's coverage of the Navajo community in Farmington, Ariz.

By Sarah D. Wire
Photo by Jim Buell


Diversity cannot be forgotten just because money is tight, panelists for the Losing Focus session said.

This means what we cover, who we represent and how we create our staffs.

Newspapers need to take stock now of how they’ll cover the 2010 census and immigration reform. Gilbert Bailon, editorial page editor for the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, said he thinks the country will address immigration reform within the next year.

“These two things need to be looked at now,” he said. “We have to get past this shift that my market isn’t going to be touched by immigration.”

By 2042 the country will be “majority minority,” Bailon said. One in five children in the U.S. is Hispanic. “It’s something we as newspaper editors need to be aware of,” he said.

Newsrooms can’t ignore internal diversity either, Wanda Lloyd, executive editor of the Montgomery (Ala.) Advertiser said.

Lloyd said when the money crisis started the diversity conversation ended. The number of minorities in the newsroom is half of the national average.

“We’re not getting close at all,” she said.

Lloyd said papers should think about whether they are prepared to have conversations about race and we can’t rely only on minorities to have that conversation.

Karen Magnuson, editor and vice president/news of the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle outlined what her paper has done to increase diversity.

A group of reporters made sure the initiative were actually implemented, she said.

Their focus was on recruitment, retention and honest reporting of the community.

Outside of an initial reader panel, she suggests continuous outreach such as a social media workshop for young, black leaders in the community.

“I can’t emphasize how important it is to have a group of people to help the executive editor execute,” she said. “It doesn’t cost anything to start out with a diversity committee of passionate people.”

For retention, it’s about giving people opportunity and putting together a pathway of professional development, Magnuson said.

The diversity committee at the Democrat and Chronicle created a multimedia academy for high school students in the inner-city.

Troy Turner, editor of the Farmington Daily Times said being aware of the actual diversity of your coverage area, including religious and cultural diversity, is important.

His suggestions include: be comfortable and proud of who you are, you’ve got to get out into the community, know the cultural and racial issues in your community, understand the value of earned respect, hire good journalists first and foremost, grow your own diverse staff through interns and high school students, recruit minorities based on staff success stories.

The panel only got to one question which is: My staff is shrinking, my people of color are leaving… what strategy do you recommend to build a diverse staff?

Lloyd suggested bringing the community into the conversation and having them help with story ideas and writing.

Magnuson said cultivate your staff to believing in the mission of diversity.

“It’s really all about genuinely conversing with people.. about the core value you hold dear and eventually they believe your sincerity,” she said.

Filed under: Economic issues, , , , , ,

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