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Palm Beach Post: It's Time To Change The Newsroom

You want to know about the newsroom of the future? Well, the Palm Beach Post is taking a step toward trying to shape it.

Saying the newspaper has been "stuck" in the past, Managing Editor Bill Rose sent the following memo to Palm Beach Post staff Thursday morning describing a rather wide-ranging reorganization aimed at building web traffic -- and revenues. The centerpiece of the project involves creating an Internet-targeted "Breaking News Department." Also in the cards are "much earlier" and "even later" work shifts for reporters.

The memo:

Everyone knows by now that [Deputy Managing Editor] Tim [Burke] and I have spent several weeks examining the newsroom and mulling over how best to change our structure so that we are better able to produce quality products both online and in print.

For too long, we’ve stuck with a structure that was designed to serve a print newspaper. We’ve sort of grafted the Internet onto that and it’s worked, but not nearly well enough. Especially in this time of economic uncertainty, we cannot continue to do things the same way we’ve done them for decades upon decades. The Internet now represents a significant and growing source of revenue at a time when our revenue is not what it used to be. For us to make the Web an afterthought would be pretty foolhardy.

We need to reorganize the newsroom in a way that will make it easier and more efficient for us to both funnel breaking news to the Web and produce a top-quality newspaper.

It’s time to change.

Here’s what we’re going to do, starting within a very few weeks:

Metro will become known as the Breaking News Department. It will be run by Paul Blythe, the new Breaking News Editor. Reporters and editors in the former metro department will no longer have filing to the print newspaper as their first priority. Henceforth, their first priority will be to

file all breaking news to the Web as soon as possible. Paul’s top priority will be making sure we have an excellent Breaking News report on the Web site. He will also appoint a print editor to supervise production of the Local section and the preparation of print stories for the newspaper. The print editor, along with the rest of the Breaking News department, will report to Paul. Once Paul comes aboard as Breaking News Editor, he will solicit ideas from within the department and then determine how best to position editors and reporters to make sure we produce a top Web report and a top print report. Under this system, most Metro editors and reporters will be working much earlier shifts, while several other editors and reporters will work even later shifts to handle print stories. If you followed our legislative and political coverage over the last year, you know that Paul did a super job as state editor. We’re excited that someone with his news savvy and organizational skills is taking on this new marriage of print and online.

We anticipate he’ll move over from the state desk around the end of the month.

Carolyn DiPaolo becomes an assistant managing editor in charge of a new Enterprise Department, whose primary responsibility is serving the print newspaper. Carolyn will, of course, also make sure that the team’s offerings have Web components. The enterprise team will produce a steady diet of investigative, enterprise and trend stories. It will also produce well-written “reads” or feature stories. Its stories should be aimed at Page One, but may also go to other sections as well. The team will consist of 5 Reporters, although that number could change as we move forward. For the most part, this is not a long-term project team. We see it as nimble and fast-moving. It will produce several stories a week. If you are interested, see Carolyn. We would like to pick the members of the team — from all around the newsroom — by the end of the month. Carolyn will also take on special projects for me and Tim, including assuming Tim’s duties as liaison to the Washington Bureau and others to be announced.

For six years, Carolyn has done an excellent job as metro editor and I’m looking forward to watching her focus on big stories for our print readers.

Holly Baltz becomes the new state editor. Holly did an excellent job as news editor, assistant state editor and assistant metro editor before she left us for the Charlotte Observer 4 years ago and we’re delighted to have her back. She will supervise our Tallahassee and Treasure Coast reporters.

She’ll rejoin us on Feb. 20. One of her first tasks will be to help us refocus our reporting structure in the Treasure Coast. That staff will need to change what it does just as Metro has, but Holly will help us work that out when she arrives. The Tallahassee Bureau will not change its mission at this time.

Meanwhile, we must continue to hire more people into the Digital Department (Online), from inside -- and outside -- the building. We’ve made a number of hires since October, though we were also hampered by the departure of Jon Glass, Will Sullivan and Justin Henning. Under new Online Editorial Director Clay Clifton and Assistant Online Director Seth Liss, will focus on not only beefing up and improving the daily production of our site but will increase focus on developing new products, such as BackYard Post, the Mom's channel, Data Center, Preps Zone, PostFlix and other niche ideas.

Business and Sports and Features will create Web pods within their own departments. All are eager to assume responsibility for creating, producing and managing their own content. Rick Christie will be putting together a Business pod that will include a producer and videographer/reporter. The Features pod will initially consist of two producers for Accent and A&E under the direction of Nicole Neal and Larry Aydlette. Sports has already grown its own producer (Kelly Winter), and will add another from existing staff with a heavy emphasis on high school sports. They will report to the new online sports editor to be announced soon.

The news desk will not change its structure at this time. However, Rick Robb has been charged with studying the feasibility of a universal copy desk.

Rick will soon spend some time in features to observe and kick off that study. Ultimately, Tim and I think we need to begin to merge our print and online production operations. Our traditional way of "putting out the newspaper" will eventually give way to a 24/7 production desk for the entire newsroom.

Editors would simultaneously produce print and Web products. We have many copy editors in the newsroom who are itching to learn online tools. No matter what we come up with, our hope is to give those editors a chance to grow their skills and help us become a more efficient operation.

Photo will not change its structure at this time. In fact, it has already appointed videographers and is producing photos for the Web as well.

We've cobbled together a video team out in the newsroom, with John Lopinot training, Eric Weiss and Loren Hosack assigning, Aisha Faquir and Vada Mossavat editing, Thomas Cordy and Libby Volgyes shooting, not to mention the hope of finally getting a TV studio off the ground under Mary Kate Leming's direction. We're light years ahead of where we were last year at this time but realize we still have a ways to go to sort it all out.

Neighborhood Post is not changing at this time, though we plan to look at ways it can complement Backyard Post when it comes online.

All reorganizations are just a beginning. Newspapers have consistently tweaked their first efforts at reorganization and I expect us to be no different. As we learn more, we’ll adjust to take advantage of that knowledge. The newspaper landscape is changing quickly. While we’ll probably need to continue to make adjustments based on ideas from the staff, we’ll also make adjustments based on our changing needs, the economy and technology. In the meantime, we need to embrace this effort with enthusiasm.

I am confident we will make it work and that our Web site and our newspaper will prosper when we get through the current tough economic climate

Tim and I have briefed department heads and will be glad to answer questions. We’ll be in the first floor auditorium at 1:30 p.m. We’ll be there again at 6 p.m. for the night crew. I want us all to fully understand what we’re doing and why.

Since the reorg is a living document, we’re perfectly comfortable with taking suggestions from staffers. Even after today’s meetings, you may have a good idea to share, a suggestion for how to do things better, even a warning or two. We’d love to hear it. We’re all in this together and we’re going to make it work. The Palm Beach Post always has. We always will.

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Journalist Bob Norman has been raking the muck of South Florida for the past 25 years. His work has led to criminal cases against corrupt politicians, the ouster of bad judges from the bench, and has garnered dozens of state, regional, and national awards.
Contact: Bob Norman

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