Wednesday, July 04, 2007

The information center

Editor & Publisher describes the "information center" concept being implemented throughout Gannett. The article makes too many points to be adequately summarized here. The Enquirer's Hollis Towns is quoted saying the newspaper thinks about online first, print second. Look for the words "do more with less".

The article is a fine wrapup of Gannett's strategy, but I have two small complaints. The story barely touches on whether the information center is someplace any self-respecting journalist would want to work, and long term, if the industry is going to attract competent people, it has to provide a satisfying work environment and competitive salaries. The push online stresses the posting of information that is practically unfiltered and unedited. News about traffic jams and petty crime is great for short-attention-span readers, but I don't think it serves a democracy very well.

And while the story notes that web traffic is rising and circulation is stabilizing, it says nothing about revenue, whether the push to put everything online is paying off with growing revenue and profit, and whether Gannett has even figured out how to make money from this. There is a view within Gannett (and the story doesn't say this, either) that web traffic is about as good as it's going to get, and that the double-digit increases in traffic aren't going to continue forever. The Enquirer likes to brag about it's web traffic, but on closer inspection the numbers just aren't very good.

History shows how Gannett likes to issue edicts from D.C. Gangsters like Towns beat down their staffs to impose these new edicts, but the staffs -- underpaid and overworked -- do this new work with little enthusiasm, and these efforts eventually fall apart. Part of the information center movement should include across-the-board pay increases and improvements in benefits. Morale was already low as this movement began, and with Gannett turning all reporters into general-assignment reporters, morale can't be getting any better.

3 Comments:

Anonymous Phantom girl said...

Newsrooms are well-known for being morale pits. The causes usually are complex. Management policy plays a big role, but ego inflation among the rank and file also get a fair share of the blame.

The worst scenarios emerge when unequipped, career-path driven managers are afflicted with an out of control ego and self-interest. They use their mouths to do their thinking, and the pain they inflict in gaining corporate favor by appearing assertive has a long-lasting effect. The formerly admired tactic of cerebral newsroom strategy has been replaced by the crack of the bullwhip. They are communications managers who simply can't, and so do not achieve hoped-for results.

Such a situation has landed at the Enquirer, a newspaper damaged by almost 20 years of upheaval and which could not have been in a more tenuous position when the shift to online (and diversification to other print products, some of which have failed) took hold.

It's an ailing, even dangerous culture. There are scars around the newsroom, and far too many open wounds. People watch their words carefully, not out of professional considerations but out of fear of retribution. It's no way to get a staff on board with coverage change.

The forced shift to online awareness has left some of the best performers shell-shocked. In change you can expect turmoil. However, the "change or die" robotic speak from top managers has fast become more feared than the prospect of layoffs or skimpy pay raises.

It's like gangland graffiti -- no one knows what it really means, you just cringe when you hear/see it. It's also a professional turnoff.

No situation is without redemption, and every major newsroom in the nation is going through some form of organized chaos now.

What is sad about the Enquirer is that the tough times could have been handled better fromt he beginning. If management took a more sensitive approach and relied less on daily beatings the staff could get through this.

But at the Enquirer, there is bullying, there is intimidation. There is a sense among top managers that hammering in the staff into submission will move them up the corporate ladder. The newsroom has become something of a forced labor camp, albeit with paychecks.

What the newspaper needs is an enlightened despot or two to bring a sense of order to all of this, a firm hand with a gentle forethought .

But that would mean fostering qualities such as leadership, inspiration, compassion .

I think it can still happen and will. The alternative is too bitter to consider.

8:24 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

AMEN.

7:37 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hilarious! After reading this blog, you'd think that no one else worked at The Enquirer other than those in the newsroom. This just proves that the newsroom is full of whiners and ego maniacs.

It's all about them. Poor them. They have it so hard. RIGHT!

Maybe someone should start a blog for the online group (online content editors excluded of course). The 6 people that keep that place going...period after period.

I've never seen such a group of people resistant to change. Must be why the 19th floor stinks of rot.

Keep up the comedy! Great stuff, drama queens!

7:49 PM  

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