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Newsroom consolidation practices

apr1_pageheaderLayoffs, buyouts and cutbacks have slowed at newspapers over the last year, but the damage has been done and it’s no secret that newsrooms have been working with diminished staffs for some time. Add to that a continued focus going to online publishing, and the traditional newsroom has virtually begun to vanish. In order to evolve with the times, or compensate for their losses, many newsrooms across the country have consolidated where necessary and reorganized the process.

Since 2009, Media General has been consolidating copy editing and page design practices among its papers, completing the process this past December with the Richmond Times-Dispatch, Tampa Tribune and Winston-Salem Journal. The three metro papers are now produced out of two editing centers in Tampa and Richmond. Two other editing centers also exist, including one in Hickory, N.C., which serves papers in North Carolina, South Carolina and Alabama; and one in Lynchburg, Va., which serves all the publisher’s community papers in Virginia.

According to Donna Reed, vice president of content at Media General, the consolidations have allowed the newsroom to focus 100 percent on content creation. Although the internal workflow may have changed because reporters aren’t sitting right next to their editors, news meetings are held every afternoon by phone, while a designated newsroom “champion” leads communication between the centers. “It’s not a situation where you don’t know who is working on your pages, you always know what’s going on,” said Reed. “They’re not sitting next to you at a desk, but available by phone, email, Skype – any method that we can come up with to improve communication and that’s a big piece of that.”

As a result, Reed said some staffers may have gotten back as many as five hours of their day because they don’t have to lay out pages. Meanwhile, at least one paper has even been able to add five more stories a day to its normal content. “We’re still in infancy, we just finished consolidation in December, so right now we’re concentrating on quality, duality for the design, quality of the editing, building relations with the newsrooms and learning the new stylebook,” she said. “I think we achieved our primary goal, and now need to look what’s out there in the future.” This includes looking how to repurpose their consolidated content in a digital world, she noted.

Media General isn’t the only publisher looking to streamline some portion of their newsroom. In January, Gannett blogger Jim Hopkins reported that Gannett’s Courier News, Daily Record and Home News Tribune newsrooms would consolidate. As part of this consolidation, the papers’ 99 staffers would have to reapply for 53 remaining positions. Meanwhile, the Asbury Park Press had been designated to produce the majority of local stories for the papers. According to a memo from Asbury Park Press publisher Tom Donovan, the paper is to be an editorial production center and will be one of five hubs for its Design Studios, which will design and build pages for specific groups of newspapers. Over a two-year plan, other hubs will also be established in Des Moines, Louisville, Ky., Nashville and Phoenix. Meanwhile in Florida, Tribune’s Sun-Sentinel and Orlando Sentinel launched their One-Florida last year, sharing and teaming up on coverage of political, consumer and sports content.

Does this streamlining of coverage through consolidations of journalists and news desks indicate signs of continued troubles or a healthy evolution? Poynter Institute media business analyst Rick Edmonds noted that it appears to be a mix of both. “Copy and design desk consolidations are sweeping the country,” he said in an email interview. “I get that they were a next place to go when more cuts were required after the very deep ones of 2008 and 2009. Still I think there is a risk involved of producing badly edited papers, riddled with typos, etc., and not sensitive to local considerations. Poor quality will turn off readers and result in circulation losses.” However, he noted, consolidations are a good way to prioritize and make the paper smaller, which probably fits a weekday readership’s consumption preferences in today’s super fast-paced world.

Reorganizations among newsrooms appear to be the way newspapers are able to trim costs while dealing with smaller staffs. And whether out of necessity or a desire to evolve, news organizations, as always, are adapting.

— Katrina M. Mendolera

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