Death of a Newsroom

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Hammering another nail in the coffin, Gannett today announced it will shutter Nashville design operations and outsource its pages to hubs across the country.

It’s a sad day for the Newsroom at large, with more jobs affected, lives uprooted, and, worse, another end of local layout to accommodate local news coverage.

In addition to having been a managing editor, I also had numerous, daily design responsibilities​ from news pages, to tabloids, even a book. When the parent company went to remote layout hubs in 2015, it didn’t make sense for many of us who had laid out pages in addition to writing for most of our career.

In fact, our small newsroom took it as an insult. What we did quickly and efficiently in-house, when outsourced added an average of eight more hours to the work week via negotiations, uploads, corrections and proofs between the newsroom and hub employees. There was also less time to go out and get the news.

The community at large echoed our frustrations, noting the personal touch had been removed. Some said they no longer felt it was a community newspaper.

While the new hubs were touted as a time management tool, in order to more effectively promote content development by newsroom staff, it ultimately had a trickle down effect that led to newsroom layoffs across the company, including managing editors such as myself.

The real end result was heavier, less efficient workloads for remaining staff and a severe decrease in morale.

Working with the hub, in this case particularly as former designers, also made it more difficult when our own creative contributions were commonly frowned upon in exchange for a singular style across all hub-affiliated publications.

Some argue that style and design doesn’t matter as heavily as content, especially not when it comes to the “where,” but I couldn’t disagree more. 

There’s a strong argument for their equally important weight to balance the scale. 

If you’re the designer of your own page, no one knows better than you where your stories should go. And even if you aren’t, then walking across the hall to collaborate with your design team is a heck of a lot easier than negotiations through instant messages and emails to someone you’ve likely never met, who isn’t part of (and is out of touch with) your community. Most likely, they’re a couple hundred miles away and in another state.

While the printed page is evolving, or rather being absorbed into the digital age, print isn’t dead yet. Neither is the layout process at a local level, and it will continue to be relevant and pertinent in PDF and HTML formats well into the future.

These current changes shaking the publishing industry are nothing more in my opinion than a rush to create change, in news coverage as well as bank accounts, and it’s slowly killing the Newsroom.

#newspapers #journalism #gannett #hub #layout #design #newsroom #tennessean

Six Minutes Is Not A Story

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Before I lost my job amid the corporate shuffle of a 21st Century newsroom, I spent 15 years working to become the writer my philosophy professor declared I would never be.

Since then I’ve learned that some nights are sleepless, filled with thoughts of undeveloped stories; colors are more willing to reveal their secrets; conversations are fodder for unwritten fiction; and people are often characters who may or may not make it to a page. Most importantly, I’ve learned that time passes too quickly.

I like to think of myself as an observer of “la belle vie,” the beautiful life. Sometimes it’s why I’m so critical of the everyday world and its sloppy abuses of nature. I see the hourglass unapologetically draining its sand while so many people never see those millions of unique specks glistening in the sun.

Even as a writer-in-progress (I like to think I’m still progressing) I didn’t truly value my own surroundings until I began to meet the people who lived the stories I wanted to tell.

From the centenarian who remembered riding in her first car—one with tasseled window curtains and a rumble seat—to the nonagenarian with flowing silver hair, her mind locked away while her voice echoed Bible verses and the Songs of God laid upon her heart during a bygone Sunday Service, I learned most everyone has a story that wants to be told.

In today’s technological hustle and flow, articles and even works of fiction are churned out by the hundreds every hour. Most of them, despite their value in Likes or Upvotes, carry nothing more than a superficial, glittering half-life filled with typos and generalities gathered from other likeminded resources around the Web.

Last week, having clicked one I couldn’t help notice below the headline, even before the author’s name, the article’s “Average Read Time.”

“Six minutes,” it stated in bold type. Because life’s so busy we have to microwave our knowledge like a Hot Pocket?

Maybe a six-minute read makes for good time management, but considering that the general public’s ability to retain only 10 percent of what it reads, I thought less of the story, its relevance and ultimately the person who wrote it.

Unfortunately, one of our most valuable tools for free speech, the Blogosphere, has introduced the world to uninformed citizen journalism. Despite authors who use it to weave the fabric of their stories, many self-proclaimed writers are only in it for the Five Steps to Online Success:

Step 1: Grab a topic; Step 2: Google some details; Step 3: Make them readable; Step 4: Click “Publish;” Step 5: Get followers to obtain “Guru” status and win a Pulitzer on “How to Knit Socks For Cats.”

Meanwhile, most of them think George Washington was the first King of England and the Cold War was about life below 40 degrees.

Six minutes isn’t a story. That’s time to become involved in content and want to learn more. Not journalism. Sadly, that seems to be the approach that works for Pop culture.

Real stories are seldom found in fashion tips and trending hashtags. They’re in the careworn faces and calloused hands of the everyday woman and man. It takes longer than six minutes to read about their songs and listen to their tall tales, hear a tremble in their vocal cords, eager to tell their stories. And it’s up to us to get it right.

 

 

My Professional Hindenburg: The day I lost my job

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It was 9 a.m. on a typical Friday. All six members of our skeleton crew knew someone from corporate was headed over.

Our company was under new ownership by the Wizard of Oz—a big head with no name—and big changes were constantly being made around the Emerald City, but we shrugged off the visit with uncertainty.

“Maybe it’s some health insurance thing.”

“Maybe it’s one of us.”

“Maybe it’s all of us.”

[Silence.]

As I edited material for the coming week, my phone rang. It was 9:30.

“That was fast,” I said to myself, answering.

“Hey, can you come up to my office for a minute,” the boss asked.

I placed the receiver on the handset and turned to look at the only other full-time newsroom employee. We sort of grinned, stunned maybe, and stared at each other.

“Well,” I said.

“You…,” he questioned.

“We’ll see,” I said, but I could feel certainty wash over me.

It was a long walk up that hallway. Passing the water cooler, with its dusty blue faucets that leaked a little, I thought briefly as I did every morning about how I was the only one who really drank any water from there anymore. Through the worn Dutch door with ink stains on the knob and a sign exclaiming “Employees Only” I walked, knowing that sign would harbor a different meaning when I passed it again.

There was nothing I could do, and I wasn’t sure I wanted it to be.

A decade of mental sweat equity had put me in the editor’s chair six years ago.

The role had been a lengthy construction project that included a foundation in public relations, walls built of writing and graphic design, budget and payroll, and numerous hats worn from Historian to Preservationist for one of the state’s oldest newspapers.

Toward the end it also included daily doses of debasement with constant angst in my spirit. Nevertheless, that Friday wasn’t the way it was supposed to end, at least not now and not on someone else’s terms.

Ten years ago, as a staff writer I wondered if five years was too long to stay in one place, but I took an immense amount of pride in my position. It landed me a promotion to Features Editor.

As I climbed the corporate ladder to second-in-command, Managing Editor, I hung blue ribbons on each rung having won several honors for my work. I even earned props from the legislature, and it felt good. Not power trip good, but good to know I was making a difference and my peers appreciated it, even when my superiors didn’t.

It was my life’s station to pen feel-good, fluffy features about Mr. and Mrs. Joe and Jane Q. Public—many of whom were octogenarians, even centenarians, who had barely left our rural region—who held treasured stories of bygone days that would’ve otherwise been untold, save a solitary name in an obituary headline. It was my responsibility to make them feel good and preserve a small piece of their hometown legacy for everyone to remember.

The pay was always measly. I won’t lie and say it was ever good. It wasn’t even on par with the regional scale, but the sense of personal responsibility to the public was all mine. I earned it through attending many a late-night meeting, driving many a mile to get there, and learning many a lesson about every…single…terribly exciting, and tearfully boring, facet of the publishing industry.

Making my way down the hall that Friday morning, all that work—those years of mental preparation, looking forward to a future emblazoned with my own logo and letterhead—seemed very far away and out of reach.

The boss’ door, closed when I arrived, was difficult to maneuver. I first saw a long, cold conference table waiting at the other end of the room. The execution chamber was flanked by two henchmen. My boss sat quietly, head bowed, eyes staring into the table’s faux wood grain. HR shuffled a few papers in-hand and smiled blankly as if to follow some Stepford protocol.

“Get you a seat,” one said. I can’t remember who.

I sat and immediately exhaled, realizing I’d held my breath for the better part of a minute. Grinning in their general direction, I wondered what the breeze outside would feel like against my flushed face.

The conversation didn’t last long, standard and scripted.

“As you know [ABC Corporation] has been making some cuts, and as much as I hate to say it your position is one of those,” said one.

“We want you to know this is not a reflection on you or your abilities,” said the other. “It’s companywide….” The rest of their spiel blended with the swooshing in my head.

“When does this start,” I interjected.

“Unfortunately, it’s today,” HR replied, “Effective immediately.”

In the eggshell-colored blankness on the wall behind them, my brain projected a home movie of the corporate ladder I’d been climbing. I watched it catch fire as I prepared to free fall.

In reality, the scene was very anti-climactic though it was my professional Hindenburg.

I started building my helium dirigible 20 years ago, when my college philosophy professor told me I would never even amount to a mediocre writer. So, I became an award-winning editor, but that’s another story for another day.

“Pack up and go” is all I heard, despite the empathetic smiles, vacuous niceties and empty promises of a Going Away lunch the following week.

I’m still waiting for that pro bono pizza, or at least some published acknowledgement that the community’s feel-good guy was set out on the ice flow to save the tribe.

Yes, I’m a little bitter.

I’m bitter because I had no choice; because it was sudden and in the moment; because I had to leave without a goodbye; because I didn’t get the farewell column I had planned out in my head years ago, on days when I was so frustrated with the job I loved that I wanted to scream.

I’m sad because I had to leave behind the carefully planned history of those who came before me in the hands of a corporation instead of a community.

Yet, I’m grateful for being released, sans classical allusions of wild horses yearning to roam freely.

Being laid off isn’t easy. It’s jarring.

I might not have always been satisfied. Who is? But I was comfortable; overstuffed, brown leather, reading chair in the corner of a library filled with antique books, a sleeping cat, and a glass of red wine on your side table “comfy.”

I feel like somebody stole my wine and burned my library.

Keeping my head above water is an everyday challenge and there have been days when I’ve worked harder tying up post-employment loose ends than I actually worked when I had the job.

It’s exhausting.

I’ve spent several weeks regrouping and decompressing. Now I’m rebranding, rediscovering, refreshing, and beginning to reapply.

Being laid off continues to be a push for rediscovery, and I’m still catching my breath.

It’s a little like Daddy throwing you in the ocean and saying, “Okay, son. Swim!” I’m still in a doggie paddle, but my head’s above water and my feet are kicking. We’ll see what happens when I spot some land.