(also posted on the Reynolds Journalism Institute blog)

by Jake Sherlock

Print Editor (and Opinion Editor, and assistant professor)

The idea behind The Transition was to isolate our print operations into one small team that would handle the five-day-a-week community newspaper, which is managed by professionals and produced by students.

That team would consist of one faculty editor, the students in the Advanced News Design class, a few paid students working as designers and editors, and a pair of media assistants handling the less glamorous side of print production like putting ads on pages and filling in lottery numbers.

No managing editor. No photo editor. No graphics editor. No reporters. They were all left to focus on our digital offerings.

Oh, and about that isolation thing? We’re tucked back into the far corner of the newsroom. It’s not a basement boiler room, but we’re clearly not the focus of the newsroom. That honor goes to the interactive copy desk now, and its close companion, The Hub, where all of the content-producing editors gather to coordinate our digital offerings.

We print folk do our own thing.

They have ColumbiaMissourian.com, and we have the Columbia Missourian. For a long time, the two publications mirrored each other. That ended under The Transition. Among the changes:

  • We no longer discuss the print product at our afternoon budget meeting. The focus is all about what’s already online, what’s still to come and how it’s going to be handled digitally. Print team members sit in on these meetings, take notes, and then decide which content is best for print.
  • We no longer wait for content to come to us. We work the newsroom to get what we want. (This is where The Hub comes in handy.) We have a limited news hole and a ton of online offerings.
  • We only “order” print content from departments as part of our presentation. Example: Previously, our graphics staff would conceive graphics for print and shovel them online. Now, all graphics are made for an online presentation; print graphics are only made if the print team asks for them.
  • We follow our own publication schedule. If the piece of journalism has a yesterday, today or tomorrow attached to it, it runs right away. But we will hold a centerpiece package to run when we can give it the best presentation possible. The same goes for a long narrative or a photo essay. Or we might hold something to produce print-only companion content.
  • We produce content. My favorite example came with our Thanksgiving food page, in which the designers each contributed a Thanksgiving recipe to a doubletruck page. Everyone prepared their own dish, then brought them to the photo studio for a shoot. It was a fun team-building exercise (anything with food and journalists usually is), and a great way to share recipes with our readers that they too could make for the holidays.

Working the room certainly changed some dynamics. With all of the “official” meetings focused on digital, other editors would come to our corner of the newsroom to make recommendations or lobby for front-page play.

The managing editor would stop by at 6 p.m. for a quick check-in and to get a rundown of what was happening on the front page.

But overall, their focus was still where we wanted it to be: How to deliver news digitally.

No longer is the entire newsroom dictated by print deadlines.

Just us.

Overall, I’m proud of the work our students did. Even with fewer resources and fewer copy editors, we maintained our quality while giving the Missourian a much different identity than its online sister publications. The print team learned to be resourceful, nimble and proactive journalists, which are essential skills for any platform.

But most importantly, we didn’t just think about the reader – we thought about today’s PRINT reader.

Find out more about the work the Missourian’s print team is doing at blog.jakesherlock.com