Thursday, June 07, 2007

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.



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