Archives for posts with tag: print segregation

(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

(This is also posted on the Reynolds Journalism Institute blog)

The Missourian is wrapping up a semester-long experiment designed to improve the focus of our website production and change the definition of a newspaper copy editor.

The assessment: It works. The changes could be implemented in other newsrooms – but only if senior and assigning editors let go of the print control.

Like many newspapers, we’ve called ourselves “Web first” for a long time, but we knew we weren’t really when it came to editing. The Missourian’s production rolled along the factory assembling line from mid-afternoon to midnight. Meanwhile, the website came together sort of auto-magically, requiring minimal effort on the part of copy editors to select a fresh set of stories to highlight on the home page periodically.

We decided we needed a radical change.

In August, we segregated all print production processes from the day-to-day operations of the newsroom.

Most of our copy editors, most of the time, would have no involvement with the print product.

Instead, they’d become “interactive copy editors.” They would focus on getting stories to our website quickly and accurately, on finding ways to increase reader engagement with our work online, and on making sure the website is always putting its best possible foot forward. The work of a copy editor would be just beginning when an article published.

A small team of editors and designers, working separately, would manage all the details of the print edition, from story selection to final proofing, piggybacking as much as possible on the work of the interactive copy desk. They – not the managing editor, metro editor or senior news editor – would effectively “own” the print edition.

It has gone surprisingly well. We succeeded in resetting the rhythm of the whole newsroom.

We’re no longer focused on the paper tomorrow — the print team worries about that for all of us.

Instead we’re occupying news editors and copy editors with the work of producing the website 18 hours a day every weekday.

We actually made the mistake of continuing to staff the desk lightly on Friday afternoons and not at all on Friday evenings — as we have since the Missourian ended its Saturday print edition — but soon realized that Fridays had become just like any other weekday — busier than most, actually. We had to adjust.

Interactive copy editors are in charge of our social networks. They regularly use Twitter and Facebook. But we can be more creative and proactive in soliciting reader input for potential stories, rather than just the ones we’ve already posted.

Interactive copy editors also monitor the comment boards at the end of every article. They take down comments that violate our policies, and they jump in when the conversation demands a Missourian response. We think copy editors could do more in mediating conflicts among commenters and soliciting comments on stories that ought to be sparking them but aren’t.

We need to be better, too, at figuring out how to create energy and engagement on the website when the news by itself just isn’t doing it. All these are on our list for tackling in earnest in the spring.

The biggest drawback to the experiment has been the print experience of headline writing for our student copy editors. While they still do an evening print shift every three or four weeks, it’s not enough experience, especially when it comes to headline writing. Writing headlines for print — in a space strictly prescribed — is a skill that only comes with intense practice. It makes them better at writing headlines for the website. We’ll retool for spring to rotate more copy editors into print shifts and, on those shifts, to increase their focus on perfecting their headlines.

However, the benefits of our experiment, which we dubbed The Transition, have far outweighed the drawbacks.

Our website has improved tremendously and, with our interactively focused copy desk, we see room for much more. Meanwhile, our designated print team has done a great job maintaining the print edition. Their exclusive focus on print has even improved the product in some ways. (See print editor Jake Sherlock’s separate report on that aspect of The Transition.) We’ll try to perfect the experiment in the spring. Watch our Transition blog (transition.columbiamissourian.com) for regular updates about what we’re doing on the interactive copy desk and in other aspects of the Missourian newsroom.

One of the elements of our transition work that I think has been most effective is the idea that we’re actively promoting the big picture. The hub desk has been a crucial element in helping me see what’s on the agenda for any given day and how the ICD might be involved in curating that news.

When I was a teenager learning to drive, my father (then a UPS driving instructor) said getting the big picture was one of the most important lessons I could understand as a driver. I see it as one of the most crucial for our editing and reporting students, too. (There were other driving lessons, most of which I’ve selectively remembered over the years. I imagine our students might say the same about what we tell them.)

UPS uses a simple system for teaching its drivers how to be safe. The lesson on getting the big picture has to do with seeing what’s happening around you — being alert to your surroundings — and avoiding accidents.

And this semester, we’ve implemented a fairly simple system to guide reporters and editors on decision-making for our website. They’re thinking about the news that’s happening around them and noticing their surroundings. And we’re publishing stories quickly  by using Rim Fast, which was a huge culture shift for me.

Don’t discount the print desk in this “big picture” thinking either. Jake and his crew have added info boxes and more elements to a story that were then transferred to the website. I like that my Missourian print edition shows me exactly what’s the big news of the day — and that often means sports is in the mix.

The other UPS driving lesson that comes to mind with our transition is “Make sure others see you.” We’ve been doing a fair amount of that by tweeting and posting to Facebook. If you’ve got ideas about how the interactive copy desk can improve its social media role, I’d be happy to hear about it.

Hi, all. If you’ve been in the newsroom today you probably noticed we moved desks and computers arund today. If you haven’t, stop in and tell me what you think. A few things to note:

1. We may add some more computers to the print area. I think we were shooting for 8, but I think I included the computer we use for marrying pages in that count by mistake. The imaging process may make a difference on this; scroll down for more.

2. I’ll probably move a few computers around tomorrow so we can have as many as possible of the larger iMacs at the hub desk.

3. For images, I’m building basically three:

  • Newsroom: has browsers, Office, Cyberduck, various codecs and players, MPEG Streamclip, VLC, Handbrake, and CS5.
  • Photo: Newsroom + Photo Mechanic + Photoshop custom actions
  • Print: Newsroom but with CS2 instead of CS5, and PlanSystem.

That obviously limits the number of print stations we can use. (I’d rather have CS5 all the way across, but our publishing company’s software is not compatible with the type of PDF that CS5 generates.)

4. The cables run across the floor are temporary in some cases (those near the print pod) and permanent in others (those near the hub desk and ICE desk). We will create more permanent trip strips there so they don’t stay taped down.

5. We should be done with images by the end of the day tomorrow, and will use next week to test them and then image computers.

Any questions, let me know. It’s been a long day and I feel like I’m forgetting something, so don’t hesitate to ask.

We’re making plans to roll with this one.

The conversation about the print bubble has been fascinating, and there are a bunch of potential threads worth continuing.

So continue we will.

What we won’t do is act on anything yet. A critical stakeholder, incoming assistant professor and director of photography Brian Kratzer, needs time to: a.) actually arrive and b.) get a lay of the land.

So no bubbling for now.

We can still try on a few changes for the start of fall semester and see how they fit.

We can give the print production a home of its own, and create a “hub desk,” without too much disruption. We’ll put print in the north end (windows!), and create the hub desk in the middle of the newsroom.

I’ll ask Nick to put up another of his Very Technical And Illuminating sketches. Stay tuned.

Transitions are rarely so clean as to have a discrete beginning, middle or end. Some of the projects within our transition, though, can have more finite targets.

Below you’ll see descriptions of some of those projects, followed by “launch date.” I expect some of these launches to change, or more interim goals added. But we all need a deadline, so I’ve attached them.

You’ll also see a name. Consider the person attached to the project as the primary coordinator. Plenty of other people will be involved. The coordinator will be at the point, and the one I’ll look to for monthly updates.

Here they are. Others will be added in coming days.

(more…)

We’re earnestly trying to give shape to our experiment for the coming semester. Jake Sherlock is the instructor for Journalism 4500, News Design, and is making plans to be the designated print editor for fall. We’re working on figuring out how big a team he’ll need to augment the students enrolled in 4500 — TAs, copy editors, etc.

We’re also considering what location in the room we’ll give this print team, taking into account the idea that we want to try isolating this team from the main web production group. Jake has proposed that the print team take over the “photo bubble,” the room the photo editors and photographers use now in the middle of the larger newsroom. It’s a central location — which could facilitate the print team’s mandate to “work the room” and figure out who’s got what that they can work with — but given the walls and doors, it can also be isolated. There wouldn’t be a natural tendency for this team to blend into our web production staff.

A possible side benefit would be moving photo staff into the newsroom proper, where perhaps we could increase their interaction with web production staff, reporters and editors.

How does this strike folks?

Should we move the production teams to a different spot in the newsroom?

It seems logical that, if the new interactive copy editors are the digital hub of the newsroom, that they should be centrally located in the room, rather than in the corner. It also seems logical that, if the new interactive copy editors are also the voices of the newsroom most interacting with our online public that they might also be the people nearest the entrance to the newsroom, ready to interact with the real live public when it visits.

And how segregated within this room — if at all — does the new print team need to be to reinforce our plan to deal with print in isolation?

And how much does it matter? Especially in a newsroom where almost no one has permanent claim on any given desk?

So, we’re going to try this.

Missourian editors met today and it seems we have some basic agreement that it’s worth trying the print isolation model. This is the model Middletown experimented with, with some success, and it’s the “Full Van Dam” we’ve been discussing here and in person. At the meeting, I offered some thoughts on how isolating print production from the rest of our work might happen, as well as some thoughts on how our copy editors’ jobs might evolve as many of them lose their print responsibilities and, instead, take on emerging web production work. There were handouts:

It remains to the rest of the summer to flesh out this plan. The conversation continues.