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NYT marriage front page

A photo that appeared in only one edition of the Des Moines Register in 2000.

A photo that appeared in only one edition of the Des Moines Register in 2000.

Fifteen years ago, a story I wrote about gays in the ministry was illustrated by a photograph of a former Lutheran pastor kissing his male partner.

It was the second installment of a three-part, page-one series, “Testing Faith,” so lots of editors read the stories and looked over the photos before publication. But when the first edition of the Monday paper rolled off the press Sunday night, an editor I won’t name here had a fit. We had a photo of two men kissing in the newspaper!

That apparently would be too much for Iowans to handle, in the view of this editor, and other editors had to tear up the front page, move a nice photograph from the front-page display (an excellent portrait of the former pastor) inside, place a standalone wire photo on the front page and kill the photo of men kissing, which had anchored the jump page. The before and after pages are below: Continue Reading »

Initially, I was inclined not to renew my call here for the media not to give mass killers the attention they crave. I don’t feel a need to repeat it every time a hateful person seeks attention with a gun.

But Dan Kennedy and Matt DeRienzo gave me a nudge after the racist terrorist attack in Charleston:

The link Matt shared was one of three times I have posted here about my views that media should stop giving attention to mass killers. I posted also after the mass murders at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012 and last year near the University of California at Santa Barbara.

I will just summarize here the points I’ve made in the other posts, then I’ll discuss some particular aspects of the Charleston slaughter that underscore my point, but make it tougher to follow my advice.

Who is one of the essential 5 W’s of journalism, the questions we should answer in every story. I don’t lightly suggest that we should not name the suspects in mass killings. But we decide not to use newsworthy names in many other cases:

Continue Reading »

I don’t think I ever leaked a newsroom memo to Jim Romenesko, but I kinda wish I had, and I’m thankful to everyone who did. No one brought more transparency to the news biz than Romenesko, who shined his blog’s spotlight into the dark corners of an industry with little fondness for our own medicine.

Jim has decided to retire from journalism’s best must-read news-about-news blog, but perhaps it’s better to describe his future as a semi-retirement.

“I’m going to continue to tweet and put up posts, but at a leisurely pace,” Romenesko said by email Monday after I wrote to wish him well. “I’m enjoying traveling, sleeping in, reading the news and watching Colbert/Wilmore before opening the laptop in the morning. When I see something that interests me — the Post-Gazette Jenner column controversy, for example — I’ll pursue it. I’m not going to unplug my devices!”

It appears he’ll still follow the news biz and share links to interesting stuff, maybe more on social media than on the blog. But don’t look for his exhaustive report of interesting stuff every morning, not if he’s sleeping in.

Romenesko invariably told just part of the story, but that was the point. Romenesko seldom wrote a long story about anything. But if someone else wrote a good story about something of interest to journalists, Jim made sure the rest of us in the news business knew about it.

His longest posts often were brief introductions to a newsroom memo or a news-company memo.

The irony of it was always amusing: Editors who exhorted their staffs to develop sources who would leak them juicy inside information did a slow burn (or a private chuckle) when their own staffs invariably leaked to Romenesko. Continue Reading »

I have some advice for Larry Kramer and Gannett on running a nationwide network of newsrooms as a single operation.

Ken Doctor speculated yesterday that Kramer, publisher of USA Today, might lead Gannett’s editorial operation as a single unit.

As Gannett separates its newspaper properties from its broadcast and digital properties, Doctor tried to parse what Bob Dickey, CEO of the print operation, which will keep the Gannett name, meant when he said he would be “uniting our different news businesses into a single, nationwide news powerhouse.”

Doctor observed:

If Gannett’s journalists were to be centrally directed, they would comprise 2,700 journalists, the largest single journalistic workforce globally.

Gannett logoGannett gives a lot of corporate direction to newsrooms. Currently the Newsroom of the Future is the Gannett wave, but earlier thrusts have emphasized Information Centers (2006, after the Newspaper Next report), First Five Paragraphs (2000 or so, when I was a Gannett reporter) and News 2000 (that was the priority when I interviewed for a Gannett job in 1992). And I probably forgot a few. Remind me, if you recall one I missed. Update: I forgot ContentOne (2009).

The company also is consolidating print production in regional Design Studios, a trend throughout the industry.

But, as Doctor noted, Gannett editors don’t work for a national corporate editor:

Those editors now report solely, within a traditional newspaper structure, to their paper’s publishers. Gannett senior vice president for news Kate Marymont (“My job is to elevate the journalism across Gannett’s local media sites,” says her LinkedIn job description.) leads editorial planning and strategy. Like her peers in similar positions at newspaper companies, she may act as an editorial advocate, but doesn’t have line authority.

I worked for nearly three years at a company where the newsroom editors did report directly to a corporate editor. Early in the formation of Digital First Media, I was on a conference call with all the publishers when CEO John Paton told them their editors would report to Editor-in-Chief Jim Brady. Publishers would still be in charge of the local budgets and the local operation, but for all journalism matters, Jim was in charge.

I was one of a handful of editors who reported directly to Jim, and I visited 84 newsrooms, including all DFM dailies, so I suppose I’m as qualified as anyone but Jim to share some lessons from our brief experience trying to run a single journalistic workforce.

I will neither boast of our successes here nor criticize our mistakes (mine or others’), though I will make passing references below to my DFM experiences. The lessons below are my own observations and advice to Kramer and Gannett (if Doctor’s speculation is correct), based on successes and mistakes at DFM and many experiences that were a mix of both. And I suspect some other companies might seek to better unify their news efforts.

Here’s my advice for Kramer and others who may lead national news operations: Continue Reading »

American Press Institute logoI get a sense of déjà vu in the American Press Institute’s release this morning of a pair of reports on innovation in news organizations.

An important event in my career was the 2006 release of API’s report Newspaper Next: A Blueprint for Transformation, followed by my efforts to promote and teach the principles of the report to executives and organizations in the newspaper industry. As I noted five years later, and as API’s report today acknowledges, N2 fall far short of transforming the newspaper industry. (We’ll never know if the approach outlined in the report would have helped transform a newspaper company or the whole organization. The industry treated it as a buffet, tasting a few dishes it offered, when it was really offering a new diet. I know of no news organization that came close to attempting the transformation that N2 advocated.)

API’s latest effort to guide innovation in the news industry is a pair of reports released this morning, A culture-based strategy for creating innovation in news organizations by Jeff Sonderman and Tom Rosenstiel, and The best practices for innovation within news organizations by Craig Silverman.

I recommend both reports as important reading for leaders in news operations seeking to be more successful at innovation, especially if organizational culture is an issue for you. But I guess I’m jaded enough that I won’t predict a lot of cultural change as a result of the reports. N2 offered broader, deeper and more specific advice for changing a company. But maybe almost a decade later, some companies will be better able to use the advice API is offering today on workplace culture.

Adding to the N2 echoes of these reports are four mentions of Clayton Christensen in the Silverman report. The Sonderman/Rosenstiel report mentions API’s partnership with Christensen for Newspaper Next, which made heavy use of his principles of disruptive innovation. Between them, today’s reports make 10 mentions of some form of the word disrupt. I’m not sure what to make of this. Christensen’s theories apply to the news business as strongly now as they did in 2006, but I’ll be surprised if newspaper companies ever start operating by them. (The API reports do not share N2’s newspaper focus, studying digital startups as well as legacy media companies.)

I suspect the advice in the API reports might be more effective with news startups, building innovative structures and processes from scratch, rather than in established companies trying to overcome existing cultural problems without screwing up declining products that produce their revenue. Continue Reading »

New York Times story on John Nash's deathI saw a bit of sexism on display by media and Twitter users in noting the deaths of John and Alicia Nash, the couple whose lives were portrayed in the movie “A Beautiful Mind.”

The Nashes died in an accident Saturday while riding in a taxi on the New Jersey Turnpike.

Two people died in the crash. Admittedly, one of them was a Nobel Prize winner whose mind was immortalized by Hollywood as “beautiful.” But the other passenger killed in the crash, was also a powerful character in the same movie, her portrayal by Jennifer Connelly winning an Oscar. But Alicia got no mention in the headline, tweet or lead of the New York Times:

As you can see from the screenshot above, Alicia Nash was in the photo the Times used and did get a mention in the second paragraph.

Clearly John Nash was the more famous half of the couple. He did have the “Beautiful Mind,” and his death was absolutely noteworthy. But isn’t an elderly couple dying together newsworthy in itself? Don’t lots of couples hope they will die together, rather than leaving one to mourn the other? Her death is an important part of this story.

And, oh, by the way, she was an outstanding and memorable character, too, in that movie. Wouldn’t her death, if she had died alone, have been worthy of a New York Times obituary (even with the gender imbalance of Times obits), headline and tweet? If she were the brilliant mathematician and Russell Crowe had won an Oscar for portraying her husband (he was nominated for an Oscar for “A Beautiful Mind”), I think we can be pretty sure they would have shared mentions in the headlines and tweets.

And if you want to defend leaving her out, don’t use Twitter’s character count or the tighter counts of headlines as an excuse. Alicia is six characters, wife is four. Add a comma or an ampersand to either of those words and you can add an important newsworthy person and element to your tweet or headline for less than 10 characters. I’d like to hear a defense if you have one, but not that one.

While I single out the Times because it’s the most prominent newspaper, it was not alone in its focus on a single death from the crash:

Note that the New York Post uses a photo of Russell Crowe, but not Alicia Nash.

These media tweets didn’t mention Alicia Nash, but the accompanying headlines did:

This media tweet didn’t mention Alicia, but the cutline with the photograph did:

To be fair, some media outlets and journalists did mention Alicia Nash in their tweets about the crash, rarely by name:

Update: Here’s a tweet, called to my attention in a comment, that gave Alicia her due:

I’ll be inviting response from New York Times editors and will add it if they send anything. If you wrote one of the tweets above and would like to respond, I invite your feedback in the comments or on Twitter (I’ll add your tweet to the post if you mention me).

But let’s close with a little recognition for Alicia Nash, who died with her husband, John, in a crash Saturday:

Update: Tom McKay tweeted at me that he mentioned Alicia Nash in his headline.

An editor at a mid-sized newsroom asked me some questions about digital productivity expectations for reporters:

We are banging our heads against the wall about this: How much content should reporters be required to write each day online? … Some feel they produce way more than others. So how do you even the playing field?

My quick answers:

  1. Everything any reporter produces should be published first online.
  2. Content is not all equal. You don’t measure reporters’ productivity or performance by counting widgets or credits.
  3. Expectations for reporters vary by beat and over time. Reporters should meet the expectations of their jobs.
  4. Running a newsroom isn’t like parenting. Your expectations for different reporters vary according to beat, experience, skill, news flow and a variety of other factors. You don’t even the playing field and I have little patience with whining about reasonable facts of life.

I’ll elaborate on those points in order: Continue Reading »

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