Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Tampa and an intern look to the future

Much of the journalism world is abuzz today over the reorganization of the newsrooms at the Tampa Tribune and WFLA.
In brief, the plan calls for merging the news-gathering functions of the newspaper and its Web site with those of the local television station. The plan also downplays the traditional beat structure and instead creates five reporting teams (breaking news, data, investigative, personal and citizen journalism.)
It's obviously too early to tell how this will work out. And although the details on the plan are few and far between, it is clear that some people will lose their jobs.
Given that, I would have anticipated the usual doom and gloom from the staff.
So it was with great pleasure that I read an optimistic piece from an intern at the Tampa paper. I don't want to paraphrase what Jessica DaSilva had to say. Rather, I'd urge you to read her entire blog post. But suffice it to say that there are young people entering the workforce today who are every bit as excited about journalism and their careers as I was when I was in my early 20s. They can see past the problems of any single medium and imagine a time when the audience comes first.
And that thrills me.

It's worth noting that the news about Tampa's convergence plan comes almost a month to the day since the Associated Press' Kathleen Carroll unveiled the details of the AP's new convergence-focused "'1-2-3" system for filing stories. Close observers of the journalism world will note that the AP's new method (flash a headline/update with a brief/create a longer piece in a variety of media) is reminiscent of the Bloomberg method (headline/two-graf/update and "tour".)
Longtime readers of this blog will no doubt guess correctly that I'm thrilled with the AP's new system. I've been urging journalists for a long time to study the Bloomberg method and create a version of their own as part of the move to Web-first publishing. You can see some of my thoughts on the Bloomberg system here and here.)

(Addendum: A considerable number of people have found their way to this post by following backlinks from Jessica's post. I welcome all such readers. I'm glad to have you on board. However, as longtime readers of this blog know, I do not allow anonymous personal attacks in comments. If you want to use this blog to criticize Jessica -- or anyone else -- provide me with your real name and a working email or phone number. Otherwise, I have no interest in your opinion. Thanks.)

tags: , , , , , , , web-first publishing


  1. Thanks, Paul!

    I always try to keep my chin up during the depressing times; I have to. As a journalism student, I know this is my calling, and I can't turn my back on that. It's who I am.

    This is about the news and keeping our industry alive. These are desperate times, and they are calling to us to take different and desperate measures.

    It's about time someone responded.

  2. Matt Neistein here. I think optimism is a great trait to have; I wish more of us had it.

    But unbridled optimism without a sense of perspective is called naivete, and with all due respect to Jessica, I think her post displays too much of it.

    Newspapers have been "responding" to the evolving trend of the industry for years now. As Paul notes, the AP did it last month. And I speak from personal experience when I note that Gannett did it more than a year ago, companywide. They call it the "Five-Desk" system; you can see more about it at Note, in particular, this comment:

    "Each location would tailor the Information Center to fit its particular needs – larger sites would create “desks” or teams to do particular functions while smaller operations would be more likely to incorporate multiple functions into a smaller number of combination desks. But in either case, publishing becomes a 24/7 enterprise using multiple media across diverse digital and print platforms."

    The Trib isn't doing anything that hasn't already been done. And if you'd like to see how well Gannett's plan has "kept the industry alive," take a look at its stock price and employment numbers since its made these changes.

    Jessica can be optimistic because she hasn't been through one of these reorganizations before; most everyone else here has, at least once, if not here then somewhere else. And we all know that they haven't changed the fundamental problem: revenue.

    So if you and Jessica and others want to get excited about rearranging desk chairs on the Titanic, knock yourselves out. But I have one question for Jessica: If every newspaper in America is shrinking - and will be for a long time coming - and cutting salaries, where do you see yourself working (and progressing in your career) for the next 40 years if all the jobs and money dry up.

    It's noble and idealistic to say "I love my work and I'll do it no matter what," and I applaud the sentiment. But try getting a mortgage, a car payment, utility bills, perhaps a child or two, and then proudly proclaim you don't mind working for $25K annually as long as you're doing what you love.

  3. Matt,
    I can't speak for Jessica.
    And I'm unsure why you think this would be the place to ask her a question.
    However, speaking for myself, I'm not in the least bit worried that "every newspaper in America is shrinking." It seems pretty clear to me that they need to shrink. And neither I, nor hundreds of other journalists I know, are worried that "all the jobs and money" are about to "dry up." On the contrary, my income continues to grow. And that's true for many of my friends too.
    Surely there are problems in the industry. Some of those problems are short-term -- here in B2B, for example, many of our largest companies are suffering under outrageous debt levels. But that doesn't threaten the survival of the brands. So sure, the people working at those companies will have a hard time getting a raise this year. And those debt levels have already led to layoffs at some B2B publishers.
    But the key issue across all of the journalism world is just how well any market segment (newspapers, trade magazines, B2C newsstand pubs, etc.) has adjusted to the Web. And by the same token, the key issue for any worker in the journalism world is how well they have adjusted to the Web. Businesses and workers that remain tied to print are in trouble. But the rest of us are doing pretty well.
    (Here's another example from my end of the industry. Penton recently announced a companywide salary and hiring freeze. But the new media department is exempt from the freeze.)
    Daily newspapers have done an awful job of adapting their businesses to the Web. And one could argue that those businesses can NOT adapt. But more troubling to me is that daily newspaper journalists -- more than any other group of people in the media -- have also done an awful job of adapting. And that's too bad. Because there's still plenty of work available for people who have mastered the new skills.
    Or to put it another way: just because the daily newspaper segment of the industry is nearing its end does not mean that the profession of journalism is nearing its end.
    On the contrary, the world of new media is still growing.
    It seems to me that the every week there are more jobs available for folks with skills in Web journalism.
    Even more exciting -- I know at least a dozen journalists who have gone out on their own and launched Web-based businesses in recent months. And they're doing well.
    So yes, I am optimistic. But I'm also a realist ... perhaps more of a realist than you. Because I don't have a romantic view of the newspaper world.
    And because my view is not clouded by romance, it's clear to me that journalism, and journalism jobs, would survive even if every newspaper in America were to close.
    That would be tough on many people. And those people have my sympathy. I've been laid off before. And I too have a family to support.
    But economics are economics. The newspaper business model doesn't work anymore. It doesn't work for the companies and it doesn't work for the employees.
    So, in summary, I don't think that Jessica is the only one "without a sense of perspective." Many newspaper journalists I know seem to lack a sense of perspective.
    The news business isn't in danger. The newspaper business is in danger.

  4. Paul, I completely agree with you. In fact, I couldn't agree more. (FYI:I posted a similar response to my first post here at Jessica's blog.) However, I'm not a romantic. I'm a brutal realist, and the reality is there is not enough money on the Web right now to employ even half - if not two-thirds - of people currently working as journalists in this country, not to mention all the non-journalists papers employ.

    A little background. I was one of those "laid off" at the Trib. I got exceptionally lucky and landed at TBO, the online division for the Trib. So I just jumped the old ship for the new.

    In fact, I was hired to do online for editorial. For reasons not worth discussing here, I ended up doing very little of that. And then I - the most savvy Web guy in the department - was laid off even as leadership here says "online, online, online."

    I'm not saying there's no money to be made in online. What I'm saying is that there's less money to be made, and less people needed to do the job. By definition, that means newspapers - we can say "news organizations," if that seems more appropriate - are shrinking, whether by choice or necessity.

    I often hear people refer to Craigslist as an online success. What they don't mention is that Craisglist only actually employs something like a dozen people, and they do jobs that used to take 100 or more at a metro-sized paper. So if that's the future model, yes, there will be far fewer jobs in the future.

    One response to that may be, yeah, but anyone can start their own Web site and become entrepreneurial. Great, but 1 million tiny blogs covering one area doesn't do readers any good and doesn't make the respective owners very rich.

    You'll get no argument from me that newspapers caught onto the potential of the Web far too late. But that horse has left the barn.

    What I do see, in the future, are people with many skills - writing, editing, video, Web production, etc. - who want to be journalists get fed up making $25K a year and moving on to other industries. I have a very good friend who was a TV reporter and loved her profession. She turned 30 and realized she was never going to make more than $30K a year doing what she loves and is now in PR. The happiness she lost by changing professions was replaced by her newfound ability to afford a house.

    I'm not saying everyone should be money-hungry. But for the large portion of current journalists, no matter how Web-savvy they are, there will be some lean times coming for the foreseeable future, and at some point everyone is going to have to look in the mirror and decide if the job they love can still pay the mortgage.

  5. Well said, Matt.
    However, I think it's worth noting that, at least in the nearly three decades I've been in the game, it has always been true that journalists "have to look in the mirror and decide if the job they love can still pay the mortgage."
    I've known hundreds of people who have left journalism for better-paying careers. If you've been around for awhile -- particularly during economic downturns -- then you've seen this too.
    It's also worth noting that my part of the industry -- B2B publishing -- is filled with people who left daily B2C for better paying gigs. Heck, you could argue that the entire B2B publishing industry is built on people who realized they could do what they loved and make even more money as long as they were willing to walk away from the "prestige" and "glamor" of daily newspapers.