Waiting with bated breath to see your favorite scribe amble across your computer screen? Strib management hopes so, since in these days of shrinking staffs and slumping revenues, there’s always room for … klieg lights!
According to a memo from Editor Nancy Barnes, the company is building a “standup TV studio” for a project dubbed, in classic 425 Portland style, “Strib TV.” (Kind of old media, gang. Have you seen TV ratings recently? I mean, even “StribTube” is better.)
The plan is to more aggressively tickle web journalism’s erogenous zones: sports, local entertainment, lifestyle and politics. Personally, I had high hopes for “Local School Boards Tonight,” but that’s me.
Barnes lets the troops know that “some of you will (very soon) be tapped to produce content for Strib TV … If you think you have a voice and or a presence on camera, here’s your chance to shine.”
She sounds like a slightly desperate high-school drama teacher, perhaps because there are those in the crowd who would rather be left alone to report. We can, I hope, avoid a journalism version of “Phil’s Nails.” Or, as a scribe puts it, “two words: cable access.”
Then again, if you look at all the doughy sports columnists on local shows, camera-ready clearly doesn’t matter for certain topics. (Will Barnes rein in outside gigs as the Strib brings multimedia in-house? With radio-ratings champs like Pat Reusse, it’s tempting to bolt down the next crusty curmudgeon for in-house podcasts.)
Newspapers and multimedia a tricky mix
Everyone knows new forms should be played with. There’s a compelling argument that papers hit the web late and shouldn’t play catch-up when web studies show multimedia growth. Despite print circulation declines, the web has kept the Strib a mass medium; the last time their local market penetration was this high, Nixon was president.
But buying “in-field video kits” and “a suite of editing rooms” comes at a time when street-level reporters have been bought out, or spread thinner into zones — and management hints behind closed doors that more bodies will fall.
At my most cynical, I think newspapers-on-TV is management’s fairy tale to itself, pixie dust that distracts from an honest way forward.
The eternal question for civic-minded folk is this: how do these moves help news reporting? If you look at the four Strib TV hot zones, only one is hard news. The future looks somewhat like the “Today Show” — which Barnes underlines by talking up female-skewing blogs like “bodytalk” and “home/garden/real estate” — plus a healthy dash of ESPN. (There’s also a newscast, possibly with weather — hello, Paul Douglas!)
If you’re talking TV, this is a compelling mix: Matt Lauer and Bristol’s wisecracking sports anchors have trounced the competition for years. Strib journalists can produce a smarter version. But that’s rarely worked on TV, and I’m not sure the web offers more fertile ground, especially with inferior production values.
Josephine Marcotty’s “bodytalk” is a good example of intelligent health coverage — but does “chattier than print” add value if she has less time to cultivate sources, clear her head and bang out original reportage?
Managing editor Rene Sanchez insists the tail won’t wag the dog: “No one is going to be asked to do more than they can handle, not even close. Many reporters and editors are saying they’re eager to participate in this kind of innovation and extend their expertise on subjects that our readers deeply care about.”
At least one normally tart Strib reporter I spoke with confirms that eagerness, only lamenting that “when we were spending millions on [the print] redesign, we should’ve bought video cameras instead.”
I like the Strib web guys. Their skill is often underappreciated. For example, readers linger longer at startribune.com than at all but one Top-30 paper: the New York Times. And unlike the Times, the Strib’s number is rising. So there’s at least a glimmer that they can capture growth and preserve some reporting jobs instead of cannibalizing for flash.
I mean, I’d pay money to see growly Strib business guy Mike Meyers rant like Michael Moore about the state of corporate ethics. But I wouldn’t want him to quit his day job.
Anyway, here’s the memo:
April 7, 2008
As we all know, the company is working hard to realign our costs in the face of one of the toughest advertising climates in recent history. It’s easy to feel overwhelmed by the gloom and doom in our industry. And yet, these also present some of the most interesting and challenging opportunities we have ever seen as journalists. We are in the midst of transformational shifts in the way readers use, consume, and share information and we need to adapt quickly.
I wanted to bring you all up to speed on some of the changes already under way in our newsroom. Over by the gray room, we are in the middle of building a standup TV studio, where we plan to produce programming for the web by the end of spring. A cross-company task force has been working since late December on a project we have dubbed Strib TV and we plan to get that up and running as fast as humanly possible. This is a project we will adapt as we go, but we are starting with information shows around content that we already own to a large degree: sports, local entertainment, lifestyle and news/public affairs (politics). We plan to add a daily newscast, available on demand, and may expand into weather. We believe that this content is important not only for transforming our website, but also so that we can deliver information on demand to users on the go. Dan Shorter and I will also be looking for other media partners for our content.
In the old phone room, just as you enter the newsroom, we are also remodeling to create a suite of video editing rooms. We have experimented broadly with video in the last year and learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t so even as we increase our production of video for the web, it’s time to be much more strategic about how and what we produce. Will and Cory have been working on a guidance for our video work and some of this will entail training more reporters to gather news video in the field. More details on that later.
Elsewhere in the room, two separate teams are busy building out our presence on the web for local health news and information as well as home/garden/real estate information. You have seen some of their work with the launch of Josephine Marcotty’s bodytalk blog. In sports and business, we have created two editing jobs so that the business and sports departments will own their content online as well as in print — eliminating the wall that used to exist between the two newsrooms. We will expand on this model as we move forward.
It’s important to note that even while we are looking to cut costs wherever we can, the company is still investing in parts of the business we need to grow. We have already bought the cameras for the Strib TV project, and we recently got capital approved for the in-field video kits we need to ramp up our production of local video. We have also hired a new vendor for our email news, so that we can send out breaking news alerts much more quickly than we have been able to do in the past, and we are lining up a new vendor so that our video will be more prevalent on the site.
Here’s where I ask for your help. Some of you will (very soon) be tapped to produce content for Strib TV; certain content is a natural fit. However, we also will need people to host the shows, and read our newscast. If you think you have a voice and or a presence on camera, here’s your chance to shine. We haven’t determined exactly how we are going to audition people, but we are asking for names of people who would be interested. This is open to anyone in the newsroom, or in the company. Email Will Tacy or Cory Powell if you are interested.
Meanwhile, please don’t hesitate to stop by if you have questions, suggestions or concerns about our work in the newsroom.