Some of the content will be familiar to readers of this blog, because it’s essentially an overview of Project Unbolt, which I announced here in January.
I took a new approach in this post, though, noting how deeply our corporate culture is rooted in being a newspaper factory:
I always loved working in a newspaper factory.
I worked in the newsroom, far away from the fast-moving machinery — unless you counted my typewriter keys as deadline approached. But I was well aware my building was a factory and my company a manufacturer.
You smelled ink when you walked into the building. You heard and felt the rumble when the press started. In the hallways and lunchrooms, the inky smears on clothing and skin identified the factory workers who turned my words and my colleagues’ work into the daily miracle.
Once, as editor of the Minot Daily News in 1992, I got to yell, “Stop the presses!” (You had to yell, by the way, or you wouldn’t be heard.)
Much as I loved the factories I’ve worked in, I also embrace my current professional challenge: “Unbolting” my company’s newsroom from the factory’s deadlines, culture, and processes. …
I hope you’ll read the whole post and become a regular reader of the Culture Change blog, where I’ll contribute every couple of months.
In the context of that blog, I needed to move on to the topic rather than elaborating on an old memory from the factory, but I’ll tell here briefly about the time I got to yell “Stop the presses!” (I’m operating from memory here, but I think I remember the details well.)
In 1992, we were converting from afternoon to morning publication, which was taking a whole lot of planning, effort and energy of the whole organization. As editor, I was shifting a few people to working nights, but the circulation and production crews had to shift all their work. On the day of our next-to-last paper, we got a reminder of the value of the evening paper: We could report today’s news, not yesterday’s.
Sen. Kent Conrad had promised, as a naïve young man running for the Senate in 1986, that, if elected, he would not seek re-election to a second term if he was unsuccessful in reducing the federal deficit. It was a foolish promise (a freshman senator has next to no power to change the federal budget), but that was the era of lots of term-limits talk (most talked of limiting senators to two terms, though, not one), so Conrad made the promise. By 1992, no one, Republican or Democrat, expected Conrad to keep his promise. Republicans would make a big deal of the promise in the campaign if he broke it. But Conrad was popular and Republicans didn’t have a strong candidate ready to run against him. He would have won re-election easily.
Well, as the next-to-last evening edition began to roll off the presses late on a Thursday afternoon*, Conrad announced that he wouldn’t run for a second term. I probably wouldn’t have stopped the presses if he had decided to run. That could wait till the next day, probably at the bottom of the front page. But his not seeking re-election would cause great political maneuvering. I told my editors and political reporter to hustle a story together quickly while I headed for the press room — the factory.
And I got to yell it above the din of the roaring press: “Stop the presses!”
My staff scrambled to put together a new front page and soon the press rolled again with the day’s big news at the top of the page.
And if you’re thinking that Conrad just recently retired from the Senate, you’re right. He didn’t actually leave the Senate. After he announced that he wouldn’t seek re-election, U.S. Rep. Byron Dorgan, who represented the whole state in the House, decided to run for Conrad’s seat.
Before the election, though, longtime senator Quentin Burdick died. Conrad ran for, and won, the remaining two years of Burdick’s term. So he was able to keep his promise about not running for re-election and still serve 26 uninterrupted years in the Senate.
But the day he decided not to run for re-election, I got to yell “Stop the presses!”
*Our Saturday and Sunday editions were already morning editions, so Friday would be our last evening edition, even though the new publication schedule would start the following Monday.