Wednesday, November 16, 2005

The State of Our Business

Hey Folks,

Man, this is getting to be a tough business we're in. This week, elsewhere in the industry, we can read about the likely sale of Knight Ridder, buyouts at the Chicago Tribune, layoffs at the LA Times and the continuing decline in circulation for just about everyone. Whether you're a page designer or a publisher, there is no easy road in sight for the journalism business.

And there's not exactly a flood of people banging on the door to steer us onto that road anytime soon, either. I went to a forum at CSUN last week where aspiring journalists could seek out people in the industry to learn the trade and get advice. At the newspaper table, just one solitary student showed up for the entire evening. The public relations and magazine tables were full the whole night long, but there wasn't much interest in the venerable paper.

So where does that leave us? Why do we show up at work every day? Why are we pressing on in this business that so many others have written off and forgotten?

I can't speak for the rest of you, I can only offer my own thoughts. I'm sticking around because for the first time in quite awhile, it feels like we're doing something new. The Daily News has busted out of its dysfunctional old mentality and begun the much-needed process of reinventing itself. Our stories are getting richer, our design more interesting, our photos better played-- we're finally taking the rich talents of our staff and putting them to work, instead of muzzling them up behind archaic rules and musty traditions.

It's still a work in process and we've certainly got a long, long way to go, but at least we're not stuck in that awful rut that plagued this place for years. We've got a tremendously talented staff-- each one of you plays a role in this every day-- and at last, it's being used to produce entertaining journalism that challenges the traditional mold. It's actually exciting to pick up the paper or check out the Web site most days, rather than the old exercise in frustration.

And as this change has begun playing out, the union's been right there to ensure that we're a part of the process, rather than an unwitting participant. I've had a number of productive conversations with editors from Ron on down to address everything from new technology to training to even the kind of sports agate we run and each conversation has ended with a positive resolution. Though it takes awhile at times, the managers have begun tackling some of the problems that have simmered slow-cooked malaise for years.

This change has manifested itself in the most minute ways -- the repair of the bureaus' voicemail system after who knows how many years of dysfunction-- to major structural change in the way the newsroom's run. When managers have overstepped their bounds, I've been proud to see you guys speak up and stand your ground, and even more pleased that it's finally made a difference. The message we can all take away from this is that we don't have to put up with broken gear and a broken workplace anymore. If voiced reasonably and realistically, we can work to make the place better for all of us, rather than running it down until we quit.

No problem is too small, no question should go unasked. If you see something wrong at work or know of a better way to handle it, let your voice be heard. That's what we've got this union for-- to serve as the advocate for change. We've got a strong presence, a better contract and a solid relationship with mangement, so let's put them to use.

I've had a bunch of conversations with people all over the room in the last few weeks and the consensus seems to be this: we're at a crucial crossroads. With new management in many departments and in the top two positions, we've been promised reform and improvement. So we can either reach for that and make the best with what we've got here, or we can sit around and feel sorry for ourselves.

This isn't an easy job; we all knew that when we got into it. We work crazy hours, give up time with our families, slave away at sometimes frustrating tasks, but at least we can finally put out something that we can be proud of each day. So instead of lamenting that it's not the same business we got into and complaining about what we haven't got, let's keep grabbing hold of what we do and reaching for more in the years to come.

Whether we like it or not, this industry and this newspaper are in for a lot of change. If we hang in there together, like we've done so many times in the past, we can shape that change into something that works for us. That's why I come to work each day, why I still love my job-- because I feel like we're going to be part of something exciting and new, rather than riding the daily dinosaur to the boneyard.

So that's all I've got to say tonight, aside from a big thank you to everyone who's been a part of making this place better. Every one of you, whether you're out agitating for change or quietly supporting the cause, is doing their part to resurrect this beautiful profession we joined together. Thank you for your hard work-- we'll all enjoy the fruits together down the road.



Blogger MacDougall said...

If ya ask me, nothing will ever be able to replace the smell or the feel of a good old fashioned newspaper. Odd to say on a blog... but its true.
hang in there.... and...when you get work...think of unemployed actor... ( sigh )

1:22 AM  

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