The Jbart Memo: "Less Breaking News In Print"

What follows is Palm Beach Post Editor John Bartosek's take on his newspaper's management retreat, posted in a comment in the earlier post. The person who posted it (thanks, by the way) summarized it this way: "His language is much clearer but the upshot is no less disquieting: Readers of the printed newspaper are going to be getting a whole lot less for their money."

I agree with that -- but so are the people who read it on the Internet site. The coming buyouts are going to mean less substantial news, period. And Bartosek once again makes it clear the job cuts are coming:

You know Doug has said the company, and the paper, will be significantly smaller by the end of the summer. Exactly how we'll do that is still in the works, and I don't have any more info to share yet. This is not "THE note."

The torture! The people at the Post right now are dying for "THE note." The wait, the fear of the unknown is killing them. Another commenter, however, tells us in the post below that the wait is nearly over: Wednesday may be the Post's D-Day (or B-Day -- buyout day).

Here's the most chilling line from Bartosek's memo for any serious journalist: "We'll tell more stories quicker and shorter using techniques we already use, such as lists, bullets, Q&As and graphics."

Less substance, more bells and whistles. I feel sorry for Bartosek having to go through this, actually. He's been there through the heyday and to see this, well, it's got to be tough. The man doesn't have a choice I'm afraid.

Here's the memo (hit "More" to finish it):

From: Bartosek, John Sent: Mon 6/16/2008 9:06 AM Subject: note from jbart

This seems like a good time for an update.

I spent a couple days with a bunch of managers last week, talking about the paper and trying to figure out the best paths going forward. It felt like a hurricane meeting: we’re gauging which way the storm goes, when it will hit, how high the winds will be, and how the heck we’re gonna deliver a good paper to readers in the middle of it. The big difference was that the Weather Channel was no help on this one.

You’ve read the notes from Doug, and TomG before that. There will be an additional company-wide note later today as well. Some of you have been to meetings with Doug; there’s another one for newsroom staffers tomorrow afternoon and I hope those scheduled to attend will be there.

So I’m writing with a couple assumptions: Everybody knows the paper's reeling from a dramatic drop in

ad revenue. You know it’s happening all over the country. You know Doug has said the company, and the paper, will be significantly smaller by the end of the summer. Exactly how we'll do that is still in the works, and I don't have any more info to share yet. This is not "THE note."

That aside, here's some straight talk. What's clear from our discussions last week is that the economy, and our own economic picture, is unlikely to improve in the next 18 months. Because of basic changes in our work and society, in how people receive and use news and ads, the past is past. After this summer, after the economy picks up, we won’t "get back to normal." Our "normal" of the past couple decades is gone, and so we’ll adjust.

You’ve seen some steps already to make the paper smaller: Sunday Biz, Accent/A&E combo, less stox, etc. We’re doing that for two reasons: First, it saves newsprint; newsprint is up 10 percent in cost this year and scheduled to go up 21 percent next year. Second, with earlier deadlines and a couple dozen positions already vacant, we have fewer people to produce pages. We'll have more changes soon in comics and TVPost. We're not yet small enough. If you have ideas on other ways to make the paper tighter, please come tell me.

Going forward in the fall, we will eliminate zoning on most live news pages, including Local. That's a tough decision, because zoning does have clear benefits in competition. But zoning is labor-intensive in all areas: the newsroom, the pressroom and circulation. We won't be able to sustain it. So we'll run the best stories from all areas throughout the circulation area. We will, of course, continue to update live news and sports late, but it will be based on set deadlines, not geographic areas.

We've reported many times on growth areas in our market: the western communities and certain parts of the TCoast. We will try to do more in those growth areas to capture new readers and advertisers. And we will do less in some of our "core" areas where we’ve concentrated in the past for either traditional or competitive reasons. We'll shift our efforts to focus on our best potential.

The evolution of Metro into the Breaking News department has put more breaking news than ever online. That push will continue through the rest of the newsroom. We'll have more breaking news, business, sports, features and opinion online, and less breaking news in print.

Print will feature our best writing, perspective and enterprise. We'll tell more stories quicker and shorter using techniques we already use, such as lists, bullets, Q&As and graphics.

We are not giving up the paper's traditional role of community watchdog. We will still watch the politicians and bureaucrats and speak up for the voiceless.

We'll also explore some new "interest areas," where we may be able to zero in with print and online coverage for fewer readers and advertisers than our usual full circulation. You'll hear these referred to as "niche products," because they’re smaller and more specialized. We did one earlier this year, Palm Beach Style, and we’ll do more of them in addition to our normal PBPost work.

In the face of all that, we will dedicate still more effort to our web site, including video. In particular, we will push harder on BackYardPost, involving more of the staff in gathering material for it.

Our first, immediate priority, for the entire company, is to improve our bottom line. Without a solid base, we can't do the great journalism we and our readers want. So we're also exploring partnerships, ways to do things, and designs and placements of ads that we would not have considered six months ago. That's smart business; it doesn't affect our coverage.

These are challenging times for us. I want and need your suggestions and ideas. I'm in my old office in the newsroom full-time now, and I like being back here. Please drop by.


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Bob Norman
Contact: Bob Norman