Sunday, April 16, 2006

The Times They Are A Changin'

Hey Guys,

Forgive me for the roundabout nature of this post, but it's late and, well, what the heck...

When I was in college, I took a class on Duke Ellington and his impact on American culture (yes, nothing but the most rigorous, taxing classes for me...) and I wrote down something that has stuck with me ever since. As quoted by the professor, the great composer once said "every problem is an opportunity." I've also seen it written as "every problem is a chance for you to do your best." Either way, it's come in handy for me in sort of a pollyanna-ish way ever since.

And here at the Daily News, we've got plenty of problems. Not enough staff, not enough money, not enough time, not enough newshole-- we've always been chasing something, making excuses for why we didn't do something. As we saw yesterday, as Evan Pondel cleaned out his desk, then again next Friday when Lisa Mascaro packs up her famous dual file cabinet, or two weeks back when Dan moved over in City Hall to the competition, we're always going to have great talent who's in demand elsewhere or moves on when the time is right. I didn't know Dave Shelburne very well, but I know that when someone as experienced as him retires, it's impossible to fill that gap.

Right now, we're going through a lot of shifts, again. Beats are changing, sections are juggling people and coverage and we're all dealing with the new computers and publishing system. This is never going to be an easy place to work and at the moment, it appears to have hit one of its flux periods once again. I'm sure what we're feeling here is being felt all throughout this industry.

So the question we've all got to address is how do we deal with those problems? I'm not going to give you the lemons-to-lemonade speech, because it's lame and tired and I've never been much of a motivational speaker. But I would say that rather than chewing our nails and feeling sorry for ourselves, we can stick our hands into the change and make it into what it should be.

We're not going to get a billion dollar investment, we're not going to get a lot of things we'd like, but we can go after the things we can tackle. When Evan left, we lost an important union member who helped guide strategy significantly in the last few years-- we're going to have to go out and find other creative, energetic people out there to pitch in like he did. When people depart the Daily News, if you know of good replacements out there in the biz, recommend them and see if you can get them in here. The more like-minded, intelligent people we've got working alongside us, the easier our job's going to be.

If the staff shuffling has created problems in your department and you see a better way to do things, then speak up about it. While there are still some problematic situations around the room, Ron and Melissa seem to be much more receptive to making changes if it'll benefit both the product and the staff. It's not going to do any of us any good to sit around complaining, but if we figure out a way to improve things, they're likely to take action.

We're going to have to make some changes in how we do things, both in this union and throughout the newsroom, if we want to come out on top in the future, but I think we've got a good shot. We've got an extremely talented, intelligent staff and a growing number of people who've bought into our idea that if we work together, we can make this a worthwhile place to work, not just a brief entry on a resume. As we've done in the past, we can take these problems, as best as we can, and use them to our advantage.

As a closing note, let me point out something that happened in our own news pages this week. In case you missed the story that started it all, check out for Dana's excellent piece on the 82-year-old woman getting ticketed for crossing the street too slowly. That wasn't something that took six months and a $100,000 expense account to write, it didn't need an investigative team (though when the Times finally got around to following it, several days late, they still assigned two people to cover it)-- because Dana's an excellent reporter and even better writer, this piece got read all over the world. He captured the drama of a woman getting caught up in a ridiculous system and told it in a way people across the globe could relate to-- that's what we can do at the Daily News.

Using our limited resources and the talents of our staff, whether they're reporters, designers, copy editors, photographers or librarians, we can find stories like that and share them with people who clearly want to read 'em. We're not going to get that sitting around, complaining about all the things that are screwed up here-- we'll fix what we can and go after all those good stories we can get. If we do that long enough, people will notice that things have swung the other way here.

Alright, I've monopolized the soapbox enough for one early morning. Time for bed and there'll be more news to come soon, I hope. Thanks for your eyes and ears, as always.



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