Skills for journalists in print and digital media

Digital readiness

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Michelle McLellan over at the Knight Digital Media Center recently blogged about, “Three signs your newsroom isn’t ready to cross the digital divide.” Unfortunately, the danger signs and solutions she describes reflect a dated misunderstanding of what is already happening in newsrooms around the country.

Her three danger signs and “the fix” for each:

1: The staff still reports to an assignment desk that is focused on print and/or is organized in departments that correspond to the sections of a newspaper. The fix: Newsgathering staff reports to the online assignment desk. Print becomes a production team that draws heavily on the online report for content at the end of the day.

2: News meetings focus on top news for the next day’s paper and meeting times reflect print. The fix: Meetings run by online editors at times that reflect digital publication timetables (like when to serve peak traffic) and focus primarily on online content, traffic and engagement metrics.

3: The top newsroom executives – say the Editor and Managing Editor(s) – are all print veterans who look at online from the outside. The fix: Either the top newsroom executive or the Number 2 has been steeped heavily in online – both the practical and the strategic – for at least five years, if not 10.

The first two are framed via the same print-centric mentality (e.g. desks, formal news meetings) the danger signs are meant to criticize. The third is just bad stereotyping.

The idea of “assignment desks” based on platforms (print versus digital) may have been attempted years ago, if ever, but is not part of the scene now. The assignment function rests in the hands of editors who manage reporters and visual journalists and think about both digital and print publication. In fact, they do not separate the two, but rather think in terms of “continuous coverage” where a story starts online, may evolve through the day, and continue into print as its own unique piece. What is really evolving at many papers is a digital approach that is heavy on breaking news, following by the print component that provides more context and analysis the next day. And this is managed by one “assignment” editor working in both worlds, as well as mobile and maybe even TV.

Similarly, the idea of formal news meetings based on platform is also off the mark. The afternoon news meeting for the next day’s paper survives, but largely as a hand-off between shifts and as a production discussion with the night copy desks. Meetings around content that happen earlier in the day, to manage the flow of news to combined platforms, often happen in short stand-up meetings as needed, versus formal, scheduled gatherings. These are small, quick meetings involving the people who need to act, rather than a gathering of the editorial hierarchy for approval.  The notion that online meetings should serve “…digital publication timetables…” is just goofy, as online (combined with mobile) does not usually plan around timetables, but rather the flow of news. Metrics may detect clear highs and lows. But the idea is to expand the highs, not limit content to those times.

And, lastly, characterizing top editors based on how much they are “…steeped in online…” is shallow and insulting.  As well, the idea that top editors still operate as the all knowing, total control captains of the newsroom is long gone. High-performing teams combine and leverage collective talents. Editors and managing editors need to know how to form and manage high-performing teams.

These danger signs are over a decade behind the curve in digital content delivery and newsroom management, not a good sign for a “digital media center” devoted to”…helping good journalism and good journalists thrive in the Digital Now.”


Written by mroberts8

12/29/2010 at 9:03 pm

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