Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Change-- Not Just for The Vending Machine

Hey folks,

Though I'm off this week to burn some vacation time (in my personal quest to get Janiga to shave his head), I wanted to offer some quick thoughts about the state of flux that the paper and the business are in right now. While it's a hectic, challenging time, I've been extremely encouraged by what I've seen in the last few weeks.

When we asked for volunteers to help us change the city desk structure, we got suggestions from every department and every level. There've been so many good ideas, we haven't been able to condense them all into a workable list yet, but thanks to your feedback, we'll have plenty to work with as we tackle the problem of how to cover the news in this new environment. The news task force has already found things we can implement quickly to change Metro and after a pause this week, we'll be right back at it next week when more of us have used up this vacation time.

In a related note, I went to a day-long training session paid for by the company out in San Gabriel on Monday, along with Semhar, Ansel from and Josh. Another contingent of Daily News photographers and reporters attended a second training today and I'm sure they heard the same thing we did: video is going to be a major priority for the company in the future, so we're all going to have to think differently.

They were quite specific that this doesn't mean that we're all going to become like TV reporters-- there's much more leeway to have fun with the projects, cover them creatively and try different angles. And while some stories don't lend themselves to video, we're all going to have to look for online components to every story we do. If there's no video, we've got to find things to blog about, audio clips, links to maps and documents. We also have to think with speed in mind-- in the Internet news cycle, time matters just as much as content, so we've got to look at doing better work faster than our competitors and ways to manage the stories once they're put up on the site.

This is a new, unusual world we're in. A year ago, I never thought about video, nor did I worry about getting stories up quickly or promoting them once they went live. Now, we've got to do that on just about everything we produce. It will be a hard adjustment that will take us into unfamiliar territory-- but we can do it.

The response from much of the staff to this period of change has been phenomenal. As Ron rumbles through the newsroom, bellowing "More Cowbell!", you've given it to him. You're producing better content, looking at it from an online perspective and looking at ways to make things better, instead of grousing about how things used to be. That's exactly the attitude we'll need to thrive in the online world.

So thanks to everyone who's lent a hand in recent weeks and let's keep that energy going. The waters may be rough at the moment, but we're still afloat. Keep up the good work.


PS - Thanks to all who inquired about the online classes offered by the union-- I hope to have more info for you as soon as I return from vacation on Tuesday. Thanks!

Monday, June 11, 2007

More Executive News

Hey folks,

You probably saw the news about our new CEO and publisher, Edward Moss. It was a surprise when word started circulating through the newsroom this morning, so I spoke to Ron this afternoon to see what it means for us. The short answer is that we should come out fine-- while it'll take some time to adjust to a new boss, he's an ex-Greensheet guy who's spent a long time in the business and hopefully remembers the unique, unusual opportunities that we've got here in LA.

On his brief tour through the newsroom, he seemed like a friendly enough gentleman, so let's welcome him back to the DN and look forward to finding ways to work together. We're in a period of intense change here now and we'll enjoy showing him all of our capabilities. Under his predecessors, the union's established a good relationship with management and found ways to collaborate for make things better all around. It's my hope that we'll be able to continue that for a long time to come.

Thanks for your time and keep up the fine work,

Thursday, June 07, 2007

Thanks, Barb.

Just wanted to take a quick moment to acknowledge our outgoing city editor, Barbara Jones, who's given endless hours of labor to this paper. I've seen her in at 8 a.m. and 11 p.m., Saturday, Sunday, holidays and even on vacation. It can be a thankless job, but she's led us through challenging times and deserves our thanks as she moves on to her new job as content coordinator.

And, even before she officially begins, she helped me out on my "Price is Right" assignment today. At first, I was just planning to stick with a straightforward, standard story. She prodded me to get some interesting trivia for a graphic and after I found some, I started thinking of all the different ways we could jazz it up. By the end of the day, we had a story, a trivia box, a photo gallery (with the help of the always-excellent Mr. McCoy), YouTube links and a staff-produced video. It wasn't hard to do, but it made the story much more complete. We can all do that on all kinds of stories, giving people a reason to get their news from and our paper, rather than the competition.

So thanks for the kick in the pants today, Barb, and for everything else. We'll look forward to working with you in your new capacity in the uncharted period ahed.

I Can't Think of a Clever Title

Hi guys,

I've spent the last five minutes trying to think of something good to call this message, but all I come up with are cliches and bad political slogans. So, I'll bypass that and get right to the point.

The business that we love is in freefall. Media companies are slashing staff left and right (see LA Times, San Francisco Chronicle and San Jose Mercury News), readership is dropping, revenues are drying up and, to top it all off with one last kick in the ass, our jobs are being outsourced to India ( I've talked to a lot of people in the newsroom in the last few months and time and again, they use the same analogy: the ship is sinking.

I think we'd be naive to pretend otherwise. The model that worked when I started seven years ago doesn't anymore. The model that worked last summer doesn't work anymore. There are no blueprints, no Idiot's Guide to Saving Journalism. The whole industry is freaking out and no one knows the way out of this mess.

Yes, this is frightening, but at the same time, I think we've got a shot. I had a long talk with Ron last week, which is probably how I got put on this News Task Force thingy, and I came away very encouraged. I borrowed your sinking ship analogy and gave it a twist that I think could apply to us.

While our situation is dire-- not only is the ship sinking, we're like a little sloop with a tiny crew facing down the Royal Navy's finest ship of the line. We're baling out water with one hand and trying to aim the cannons with the other, all while stamping out a fire with our feet. We're in an indisputably tight spot, but it's not time to leap overboard just yet.

First off, we've got a crazy pirate captain in Ron Kaye (and an important counterbalance with Melissa), who's shown a willingness to entertain just about any idea to keep us afloat. And instead of giving in and sinking, he's got us pointed right at that monster ship and we've let all the sails fly. We're going to give 'em our best broadside, ram ahead and fight this out hand-to-hand, and dammit, we're going to be the ones left standing.

Ever since I came here as an intern, we've always been the understaffed, underfunded, under-equipped underdog. And while I'd love that to change, we're always going to be that way-- and we're going to find a way to make that our advantage. While we don't have the resources of our larger competitors, we've got an incredible array of minds, great work ethic and an ability to think beyond the way things used to be done.

Look at how much has changed in the past year, since Josh took it over. We've got great blogs, multimedia content and continuous updates, all from content generated by this staff. It didn't take tons of new staffers or new machines, we just had to change the way we did business. Once we embraced the Web, you guys stepped up and made it happen.

And that's what we're going to have to do in the next few months as we shake up the whole paper, starting with news and throughout this entire room. We're going to have to throw out what doesn't work, hang onto the ideas that do and grab ahold of new ways of getting people their news. If we can do that, we can save the jobs that we've built our lives around. If we don't, we're all going to bobbing in the water as the ship slips beneath the waves for the last time.

And while Ron seems to have the right plan to lead, the captain's only one part of the equation-- it's the crew who gets things done. As his announcement makes clear today, we're going to be the ones who come up with the ideas that'll get us out of this jam. And that's fantastic news, because this is one talented, creative staff. I have full confidence that we can come together to patch the holes, extinguish the fires, bring our cannons to bear and sail home victoriously.

So, that long-winded introduction aside (my apologies, the closest thing I had to a meal before 9 p.m. today was a cup of coffee), let's get moving. While Judi Erickson, who's shown a great willingness to embrace change, and I are tasked with looking at the news side of things, we want all of you guys to make suggestions. Sports, copy, design, photo, library, everyone should bring us your ideas. In the next few weeks, we're going to race to gather as many suggestions as possible and put them into action immediately.

I know that change is hard and frightening, but it's something that we're going to have to do. And that's why the union's here, as well-- to ensure that as we change, we do so fairly and equitably. The members of this union have stepped up to be the newsroom leaders in recent years, so I'll expect them to continue to lead the way by speaking up with their best ideas and looking out for their colleagues. With their guidance, we have nothng to fear as we change for the uncertain times ahead.

Anyone interested in joining the news task force, e-mail me or Judi as soon as you can. Even if you've just got an idea or two, send them our way. We need your help and we need it quickly. We cannot and will not fail. It will not be easy, it will not be pretty, it will take a lot of work and a lot of time. But we will do this together. We will get through this and thrive.

Thank you for your time, your hard work and your support. We'll need it all in the months to come.