Newsroom complaints about change

This is really depressing. You wonder how our industry can survive with so many key people resistant to change. Follow the link to read a group of Gannett photographers (and probably some others) slam their papers’ strategic changes.

Jeff Brehm: The photographers were especially happy to hear that their workload will double again, adding editing the video untrained reporters will bring back from all manner of assignments to their already stupid list of stills, sound bites and video stuff for the website that gets fewer hits than Ken Griffey, Jr. on IR.

The entire staff liked the idea so much that, so far, all but one has announced he or she is leaving before it starts in March.

Andrew Spearin : Hell, a newspaper that switches over to a full staff of mojos can sell their office building, buy a parking lot, and have everyone just sit in their cars in the mojo-lot ™ while the Editor-in-Chief goes up to each one with the story-o-lotto ™ to see who gets what story… and hopefully the one in the hot pink (with yellow racing stripe) Smart car doesn’t draw the in-depth report on local biker gang violence.

Rob Ostermaier: The power on the still image is being pushed aside for the an internet fad. Still images will always mean more and have more impact in the long run than video. …. I’m really tired of the the issue of money. I can’t speak for other papers but mine is doing quite well at an over 20% profit margin so I don’t want to hear anything about revenue streams. What this comes down to is making sure the investors get paid even if it brings down the fourth estate!

Michael R. Sisak: Do newspapers need new ideas? No. I’m sick of new ideas. Go back to old ideas. COVER THE NEWS. BREAK STORIES. KEEP A DECENT-SIZED STAFF. RUN GREAT PHOTOGRAPHS. Make your paper a MUST-READ everyday, not just an elaborate advertisement for the website. Don’t co-opt the printed product because the internet is cool.

Mr. Publisher: I promise you, moms and dads, grandmas and grandpas will buy tons of copies of your newspaper when you COVER high school sports, instead of just tossing the scores on the website… I promise you people will buy the paper just to look up the movie times and the T.V. listings that you’ve exiled to the website… I promise you that people will buy the newspaper because you have a great local story that has an edge and maybe happens to be about people they don’t know, or even people in the next town.

There is also this statement from Ostermaier, “ I understand putting emphasis on the web but this sort of change seems really radical.” All I can say is, “yes, it is. Thank God.”

(via Will Sullivan)

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20 thoughts on “Newsroom complaints about change

  1. Yea, it’s kinda depressing. I’m not sure how much of their responses are massaging the truth… For instance, the way they describe Gannett’s new beat system (where basically no one has a beat at all) seems counter-intuitive to me. I don’t know if Gannett would really do that. Or maybe it’s just at the small papers where everyone already wears a lot of hats so it’s not really much different.

    Anyway, it’s interesting to see the way things shake down and I commend Gannett for trying SOMETHING different. As Jack Lail said, “Somebody, somewhere, just stepped on the accelerator of change. and that’s a good thing.”

  2. I’ve been wondering how well things have been communicated down the chain … I might have a post coming on this topic later … stewing on it now …

  3. Culture change is always tough. I haven’t read what they’re doing to get those on the frontlines involved in shaping the change. From the outside, it sounds like a decree from the mountaintop. So some revolt, covert or open, shouldn’t be surprising.

  4. It’s so hard to tell what’s really happening based on a lot of second-hand information, just like it’s difficult to tell what’s going on based on the WaPo story about the Ft. Myers mojo experience. I hope to do some searching for more concrete details after the first of the year. And we’re supposed to have a Gannett mojo talk at the CMA convention in March.

    But I agree with Jack Lail. Just the fact that they changed the name of the newsroom was bound to bring out some resistance. I anticipate much more such wailing and gnashing of teeth in the short term.

  5. It strikes me that Gannett is playing this as close to the vest as possible. It truly seems to be the “ready, fire, aim” approach.

    It also strikes me that there is a whole bunch of whining going on by newsers. 30 years ago (yes I am that old) when shoppers grabbed a market share, the newsroom didn’t go ballistic because “it didn’t effect them.” When alternative newspapers took more market share they didn’t go ballastic because “nobody wants to read that crap.” When eBay took market share, no reaction from the newsroom.

    Now that newsrooms are faced with REAL competition for the gathering and distribution of news, many are acting like a bunch of crybabies.

    Adapt or die.

  6. Depressing? Whaa? This gives me hope! Seriously. More and more ‘big media’ staffers (not just us techies) are realizing how bad things really are. Some of us are out here working on alternatives. Some will fail. Some will succeed.

    The point is, photogs (and writers, editors, etc. heck even PR people! ;) will be needed by the independents. We just can’t pay them yet. We will be able to at some point, though.

    And when we’re at that point, stupid moves by Gannett and crew (like this one) will help us gather the best and brightest minds in journalism. (Note how Google has done this in the search arena…)

    This is not depressing at all. This is just Gannett losing the hearts and minds battle in the ongoing war to wrest power of the media from the money changers and bean counters and give it back to the people.

    K. Paul Mallasch – Publisher

  7. Nah, it’s depressing, because what Gannett is doing is the right thing to do.

    This isn’t about independent vs. big corporate journalism. It’s about what’s doing what right in either way. Rooting for the death of newspapers doesn’t really serve people very well.

  8. And what is Gannett doing basically – getting the same amount of people to do more work. That’s not right. Why should someone who studied photography have to suddenly do video? Why not hire someone to do the video?

    I mean, I get that it sounds good and noble and what-not on the outside, but when you look at Gannett’s track record, you can see what they’re trying to accomplish. And it’s not something that will help the local communities, imho.

    I’m not heralding the death of newspapers (journalism) – just the fact that those who run the show are going to change.

    I’m all for multimedia and the ‘platform agnostic’ approach, but Gannett is doing it willy-nilly for all the wrong reasons (again, imho.)

    Again, not the death of newspapers (journalism), but a changing of the guard.

    I will admit that it’s cool they’re doing something, but it’s too little too late

  9. If you want to work in the news business, as one person said, adapt or die. Gannett is NOT going to violate labor laws, but if you’re a photographer, you better damn well better learn to do something else besides just shoot still images. And if you’re a reporter, you better damn well better learn some method of writing and reporting beyond the inverted pyramid. And if you love this business, if you really love this business, you’ll do it. I just don’ get all this carping from the Gannett people, other than they didn’t get the proper communication. This is all natural, logical and the right thing to do. It is right from a business sense and it is right from a serving-our-communities-better sense. It’s about the only right thing Gannett has done since launching USAToay. The executives who came up with this clearly understand the state of the industry and what needs to be done to fix it. You’re part of the fix, too, kpaul, but so is Gannett. There isn’t just one solution to pursue. There are multiple and many, and some won’t work and some won’t be right, but the winning is in the trying. But we have no time for whiners. It’s just a question whose fault it is that there are whiners — management for miscommunication, or the staffers for wilful ignorance?

  10. I agree that there’s still going to be a need for big media – at least for the time being. Let me change that – there’s going to be a need for journalists, whoever they work for…

    I mean, at it’s core I think it’s a good idea, but I mistrust Gannett’s motives, I guess, after having worked for them. And being a sort of jack-of-all-trades myself, I understand the importance of having specialists, which it seems they’re wanting to get rid of with everyone being responsible for editing. Maybe I’ll reread the whole proposal this weekend.

    I stand by my statement, though, that if they really, really wanted to do better things for the communities, they would stop cutting newsroom staff and go on a hiring frenzy instead of going with the ‘more with less’ philosophy.

    And don’t you know it’s always management’s fault? ;)

    Thanks for allowing me to be part of this conversation. I admit sometimes I attack Gannett and their tactics, but it’s only because I’ve been there and I know how they operate – when your ‘editor’ is the one bringing up advertising opportunities at OC meetings, you know you’re in trouble. Everywhere I turned it was about money – even the newsroom! Journalism is too important to let the love of money control their decisions.

    I guess I’ll also admit here that I fall in the ‘whiner’ camp more than I should. I’ll work on that in 2k7. ;)


  11. I’ve never been a fan of Gannett, but I’m pretty darn impressed with this strategy. I think it’s a sincere effort to change for the better, not just for the better of the shareholders, but for the employees and the communities too. There’s really nothing new in the strategy — it’s all stuff a lot of us have been saying newspapers need to do for years — but they brought it all together in a nice package and gave it some legs, I think. It’s going to be interesting to watch unfold.

  12. It’s a situation of which came first the chicken or the egg. Papers are purchased by publically owned corporations that demand a big return on investment. To generate that return journalist are laid off. The paper can’t cover the things it used to in the manner it used to. The quality of the product suffers and fewer people buy it decreasing the return for investors. The papers respond by laying off more journalist continuting the cycle all the time maintaining well over 20% profit in these “trying” times.

    Is the internet the furture? Of course it is. Oh wait, the future is now. Hit and run TV style hit and run journalism will not “save” newspapers. Excellent story telling using still, video and audio presentations on the web might. As a photographer I love being freed from a reporter to to tell stories the way I want to tell them reguardless of weather or not it goes into the paper. Do I want to do nothing but shoot video all day? Hell no! If that’s the career I wanted I would be working in TV right now. Papers need to learn to take what they do well, telling richly detailed stories about everyday people, and apply it to the web. They shouldn’t throw a bunch of crap up on their site in hopes of generating a few extra hits.

  13. Rob, apparently, you’re not paying attention to the traffic numbers on all those richly detailed projects your paper is publishing online.

    Projects can serve import journalistic purpose, a higher purpose, and they must be done, but those projects aren’t going to generate sufficient audience share to drive the revenue needed to keep you employed, especially on the web, where it’s all about speed and efficiency. The audience for big projects online is very, very, very limited.

    Still photography isn’t going to go away, but if you really care about journalism, you’ll learn to shoot video, and you’ll become damn good at it, because that’s what works better on the web.

    If not, you might able to find a job in a few year s shooting stills for a niche print newsletter serving the elderly and the elite. I believe it will be called the New York Times.

  14. Howard,

    There is no need to get nasty.

    Traffic numbers on the peices I’ve produced have been great. If video works better on the web why do our sports photo galleries generate 150,000 hits over a 24 hour period while the crappy video shot by the reporter gets about 1500. Youtubing journalism will not save it. The push to the internet needs to be made I’m not arguing that point with anyone. I’m not saying shooting video is a bad thing. It adds to the story telling ability of my still photos. And I’m with you when you say we need to be damn good at it. The still image will always be more powerful.

    What Gannett is trying my work. I’m open to the possibility. But on the surface it sounds like more of the corporate do more with less and less. In the end the reporter covering the quilting bee while shooting photos and video for instant publication the web will not have time to dig up the story on the big corporation dumping chemicals into your drinking water. The web is here now and so is that problem.

    Lack of readers will not kill newspapers. Corporations will kill newspapers!

  15. Rob, FYI — this isn’t a message board, it’s a blog (referring to your link from sportsshooter, but thanks for it!).

    Also, I wouldn’t believe you were resistant to change if you were so, well, resistant to change.

    Read in that thread what Kevin Sperl wrote. Now there’s a guy who gets it. A great team member who is going to do whatever is needed to be successful. No whining. Just doing. Just trying to be better. People who truly care about quality are open to change because change is the path to better.

    Good point about the sports galleries. But this isn’t really an argument about still vs. video — one reason I’m so focused on getting inexpensive video cameras into the hands of reporters (you’d have to read more than just post to get that) is that we still need still photographers to be still photographers.

    But I have a lot of experience with stats in this regard. Your average good piece of news video (a short piece) gets more hits in a day than many large special projects get in a week. Short video that is quick and easy to produce is better for daily traffic numbers.

    It’s going to cost Gannett a lot of money to make this transition (with no guarantee of success), so I really don’t think this is about trying to save money. It’s about trying to save the business.

  16. Howard,

    I complety understand getting hit numbers up and satisifying the business end of the newspaper business. In the end without people looking and reading the paper or the website we don’t sell ads and I don’t have a job.

    I would like to here your take on this. Here is what baffles most of us in the field at present. We’re told that the paper is doing great with profits well over 20% and in the same breath we’re told that’s not enough and layoffs are coming. Any other industry is pretty damn happy with any profit over 5%. We are we acting like a business that’s losing money? Circ numbers are up at the paper I work at. I’m not questioning the move to the internet. It has to happen now! It should have happened 5 years ago. I’m questioning the way it’s being done. And in the end I think that’s what you’re about. The free exchange of ideas and questioning authority.

    Again I love the internet. I love leaving the reporter in the office and telling a story using video, audio and stills in the way I want to tell it. It dosen’t have to be a large flash presentation. It can be a Quicktime show assembled in an hour or so. I could care less if it makes the paper. If it does all the better. I would like to be able to do more of it but with cutbacks in staff there is no time.

    Sorry for using your blog as a message board.


  17. Rob, last comment first. I was making a semantic distinction. Of course blogs, when they have comments, are a great place to have a discussion, like we’re having.

    You ask great questions, and it would take more than an off-the-top of my head answer them well, but I’ll give it a shot.

    On why 20 percent profit margins: There’s a lot of competing theories there. Part of it is history, which ties into investor expectations, part of of it is the cyclical nature of our business (high profit margins help protect against serious short term loses). The size of profit margins is really a whole big debate. To me, it’s just reality. Deal with it. I mean, that’s my attitude. I’m not going to change it, so why argue against it. The only thing I can do is love my profession and be the best at it I can be.

    As for why Wall Street isn’t happy: The way most newspaper stock offerings are structured, current profits are not as attractive to investors as the hope that over time, the value of the stock will increase. Newspapers stocks are wobbly now not because there is a problem with current profits, but because of a lack of faith that newspapers can sustain revenue growth — well, in fact, growth is flat, and the fear is that declines, and serious ones, are just around the corner. The pressure from Wall Street has been about the future, not the present.

    For the past several years, in my opinion, newspaper companies have been making cuts (Knight Ridder is the classic example) hoping to appease Wall Street. It was a mistake, I think, not to take the opposite approach and say, “we’re going to cut short term profits in order to invest in our future.” We are just at the beginning stages now of publicly traded newspaper companies sending that message to Wall Street. I’m not saying Gannett is going to cut profits, but it is telling that when the Gannett execs went before Wall Street investors a few weeks ago, they talked very, very little about revenue and profits, and a whole bunch about the Info Center strategy. Clearly, Gannett wants Wall Street to have faith in Gannett’s future.

    That’s a radical change.

    Myself and many of my friends who do what I do for companies outside of Gannett were pretty stunned by Gannett’s strategic change. It is a “only Nixon could have gone to China” moment. I’m not sure you really appreciate how fortunate you are to be working for Gannett at this stage of the company’s, and our industry’s, history. Time will tell if this is really a fundamental, tectonic shift, but it sure is interesting to watch.

    So far, not a lot of squawks from Wall Street. In fact, Gannett’s share price is trending upward.

    Sometime, take a look at Also, Gannett’s IndyStar is doing a great job with video.

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