In Monday’s Corridor Business Journal is the first of what we plan to be a monthly media column that I will write with John Goodlove. In this installment, we wrote about the recent announcement that The Gazette is restructuring its newsroom, and the following staff uneasiness.
Mr. Goodlove is a grizzled newspaper veteran while I’m younger and more interested in multimedia and online news; co-writing the column forces us to question each other’s assumptions and temper our emotions, particularly important this time around considering John’s status as a former Gazetteer.
But while the column is the two of us, this blog is just me and I want to expand a little.
First, some basic information: The Gazette is separating its content production — reporters, photographers and a few editors — from its product planning and production — copy editors, designers and, now, some business types to help focus products on audiences. (The jobs and titles will be different than they are right now and, Gazette Managing Editor Steve Buttry says, the roles will be different.) Reporters will be asked to break news and build audiences on their individual blogs and will have yet-to-be-defined incentives to do so, but pay might be based on metrics such as page views, Twitter followers and superusers recruited. The idea, it seems, is to transform the newsroom from one centered around print to one centered around the Web’s immediacy and audience interaction.
In the Journal piece, we suggest that these incentives could lead to sensationalism, link baiting and the ignoring of important-but-not-glamorous news if The Gazette isn’t careful. I still believe that, but I’m also very excited to see this newspaper take necessary steps to redefine itself.
News traditions need to change, and the only people who don’t believe that are in denial. Clearly there are problems with the traditional business model (it feels like I link to this depressing map, now up to 2,308 lost newspaper jobs, in every post). While the recession isn’t helping, the problems aren’t simply a cyclical thing that we need to weather. The Internet has changed the way much of our audience gets information; news can no longer be a broadcast. News now requires real, meaningful interaction with, to use Jay Rosen’s phrase, the people formerly known as the audience.
Radio and television have the ability to interact with users in real-time. Print doesn’t. And while the death of print has been greatly exaggerated, this is a significant disadvantage for the medium. Newspapers that stick their heads in the sand and refuse to acknowledge their readers will perish.
Is The Gazette taking a risk? Sure. It’s angering its employees, it might produce worse journalism and it could end up killing the entire news organization. But it’s a choice between adopting a model that might not work and sticking with a model we know won’t.
I don’t think the organization is going to lose sight of its duty to serve a watchdog function in eastern Iowa; what I see are thoughtful, forward-thinking people throughout the organization. Others, with inside perspectives, may see if differently. This reorganization will allow the company to find ways to serve its audience and the community — beyond some it already has — by creating new outlets for its reporting while sustaining the newspaper that has been its focus for so long.