The newsroom of the Times Picayune, a sister paper of the Plain Dealer. Photo from businessjournalism.org
This story on DNAInfo, a network of hyperlocal sites based in New York and Chicago, gives more insight into the workplace that Plain Dealer reporters might inhabit after the paper’s digital transition.
The staffs appear to skew young, and the work is demanding. Reporters are equipped with a company-supplied laptop, smartphone and camera, and they are expected to post pictures or video with their stories. Each site posts at least 20 stories a day, with the New York site posting as many as 70 a day, Herman says. The Chicago site posts up to 50.
“We’ve got reporters that file five or six stories a day,” Toomey says. “The vast majority are doing at least a couple of stories a day.” The neighborhood reporters seldom visit their newsrooms; editors prefer to have them prowling the turf they cover. “I don’t want them sitting around the newsroom looking at us,” says Michael P. Ventura, DNAinfo.com New York managing editor.
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We now know the Plain Dealer will be published daily, even though home delivery will be cut to three times a week. But another question hangs: what will happen to their building on 18th and Superior?
For the answer, look at the photo of the “newsroom” at the Times Picayune, the Plain Dealer’s sister publication in New Orleans. The newsroom resembles the publication: smaller, more concise, made for running and gunning because the journalists don’t have assigned desks.
Most importantly, it’s not in the Times Picayune building. Why should it be? A small staff doesn’t need lots of space. And the office is almost a formality. Advance Publications, the parent company of the Plain Dealer, wants its news and sales staffs out in the field, not sitting in an office.
So watch for big changes at 1801 Superior Ave.
Yes, this is a prediction, and predictions do fail. But I’m not peering at tea leaves or into a crystal ball. I’m looking at circumstances and other trends.
For starters, the edifice at 1801 Superior is already too big for the newspaper’s operations. In 2000, the editorial operation alone occupied two floors. Now the entire newsroom of roughly 160 journalists works in half that space. Planned layoffs will reduce staffers by one-third.
Secondly, other newspapers are putting their property up for sale.
“After The Newspaper Building,” which just appeared on the New Republic’s website, alerts readers to this trend of reinventing the newsroom by abandoning newspaper buildings. Here’s the magazine’s take on the development:
Traditionally located downtown, close to the centers of power, these buildings were once a paper’s most potent branding tool, a high-visibility signifier of place—not to mention a corporeal reminder of the publication’s significant first amendment powers. In recent years, newspaper buildings have become something else: fabulous real estate. That explains why so many struggling newspapers are now scrambling to convert their flagships into cash. The Boston Herald, Minneapolis Star Tribune and Philadelphia Inquirer have all ditched their legacy buildings and, in the process, set out to reinvent themselves in spaces unencumbered by the baggage of the past.
Of course, New Republic didn’t mention the Advance Publication newspapers that are doing the same thing. The Birmingham News, the Mobile Press-Register, The Huntsville Times and the Syracuse Post-Standard. Here’s what WRVO in Syracuse says about the Post Standard’s change:
Years ago, the old Merchants and Snow building on South Warren Street was where reporters for the Syracuse Newspapers would cash their checks. Starting this spring, it will be the base for a band of digital journalists working for the new Syracuse Media Group. And company chairman Steven Rogers says the new offices in the renovated Merchants Commons will reflect the new digital world. “There are no desks, there are no cubicles. There are reporters and sales people. They have their smart phone, they have their laptop, they have their backpack,” said Rogers.
Interestingly, that approach isn’t new to journalism. It’s been the norm at The AOL/Huffington Post Patch sites. The hyperlocal sites were old-fashioned community news gone digital. The point was to be seen as part of the community by being seen in the community. I was a freelance photographer for local Patch sites for two years, so I can tell you, the staffers were well-known. But the absence of an address invariably confused the folks I photographed.
A building, of course, connotes permanence. That’s not necessary for a start-up like the Patch sites, but it might be a hindrance for a community institution like the Plain Dealer.