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Moving Online Into the Newsroom

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Many newspapers have recently decided that having two newsrooms -- one for print and one for online -- doesn't make much sense. One by one, papers are moving their online staff into the main newsroom.

At the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, convergence is serious business. Reporters are required to write their daily stories for the Web first and for print second.

Online editors work elbow to elbow with print editors -- not off in some basement office.

Annual performance reviews -- and raises -- are based partly on how well reporters work with online.

"They're expected to come to us, and they do," says Anthony Moor, former new media editor at the Democrat. (Moor was hired to head the Orlando Sentinel's site while this story was being reported.)

The Rochester Democrat and Chronicle (daily circulation: 180,000) is one of just a handful of news organizations that are pushing convergence from mere cooperation to full integration.

Until recently, the Democrat was also one of very few papers to make the ultimate sacrifice for convergence: The paper gave prime newsroom real estate to the online operation so that print and Web editors could work side by side.

Most newspapers have traditionally not made room for online producers and editors in their newsrooms, shuffling them off instead to a different floor, or to a different building entirely.

But in the past few years, many newspapers have decided that having two newsrooms -- one for print and one for online -- doesn't make much sense. One by one, papers are moving their online editorial staff into the main newsroom.

At The Seattle Times, most of the online editorial staff used to be in a building across the street from the paper; in 2001, all of the Web site's producers and designers were moved into the main newsroom.

At The New York Times, The Washington Post and Los Angeles Times, writers and editors who update stories for online work at continuous news desks in the print newsroom, working closely with print-side reporters and editors.

The Minneapolis Star Tribune this year moved several online editors into the main newsroom. The Atlanta Journal-Constitution and The Orange County Register have also integrated some of their online staff into the main newsroom.

To the leaders of these organizations, the writing is on the wall: Print circulation is down, online use is up. Newspaper readers are going online for their news, and often they're going to portals like Yahoo -- not to their local paper -- for updates.

Newspapers need to improve their Web sites if they want to compete with the myriad other news and entertainment sites on the Web -- and if they want to attract younger readers, who aren't picking up the newspaper habit.

Elbow to Elbow

With an online staff of 14, the Minneapolis Star Tribune has always had one online editor in the print newsroom. But this year, four of the Web site's daily news editors moved into the print newsroom.

The move hasn't changed things much, because the paper already used a "buddy" system to assign every beat in the newsroom someone to work with on Web projects, says Regina McCombs, one of two multimedia reporters for the site.

Now the news organization is talking about integrating the entire online team with the print staff, and is trying to figure out some way  to find space in the newsroom for the extra bodies.

In the six years that McCombs has been with the Web site, the attitude toward the Web has changed a lot, she says. "It used to be a battle to get print reporters to contribute to the Web site," she recalls. Now, if news is breaking, "most of the time, people think about calling or sending a few sentences."

And there's more reporting across platforms: The online staff writes stories for the print product, the newspaper's photographers often carry tape recorders into the field to grab audio for the Web site. Editors hope that cooperation will increase as more online staffers move into the paper's newsroom.

Teaming Up in Arizona

The Arizona Republic's online efforts had a schizophrenic start: In 1995, several editors started azcentral.com. They worked in their own space on the seventh floor, below the newsroom, which occupies the eighth and ninth floors.

Azcentral.com operated as a separate editorial entity: Editors selected stories for publication as they saw fit. They tailored the site to the interests of their readers -- younger people who latched onto the Web.

"People read sports, offbeat stories and big news stories more than news about government," recalls Jeff Unger, an azcentral.com senior producer who was one of the original staff. "We learned to tailor our product to what our readers were interested in."

Some in the newsroom, however, were disconcerted to see azcentral.com put a two-hour-old story with a huge photo of a wreck causing a temporary traffic jam -- something that wouldn't get a mention in the print edition the following day -- directly under a story about the legislature passing an important bill. They wanted a site that reflected the news judgment of the print edition -- so they started ArizonaRepublic.com, which is the print edition online.

In 2000, the sites were merged under one umbrella -- azcentral.com -- and a handful of azcentral.com editors and producers moved into the print newsroom.

The move put into action a new mandate from on high: All the company's journalists should work together on all of the company's products -- the paper, the TV station and the Web site, Unger says. "That was the big change."

Now azcentral.com editors attend all news meetings, and they suggest story ideas to run on all three platforms. They review the print news budget to identify the stories that they want to post on the site prior to print publication, and they work with the print editors to decide which promos to include for the following day's print stories. Azcentral.com editors also attend the TV station's news meetings, and let the print side know which TV stories are appropriate for print. The seamless nature of the operation is aided by a cross-platform pagination system.

In the TV station newsroom, a full-time TV videographer and three multimedia editors spend all of their time identifying newspaper stories that are good for television, says Tracy Collins, deputy managing editor of The Arizona Republic. They shoot, report, produce and write the stories. The videographer came from television, the multimedia editors from the print side. They also provide a different version of their stories for the Web site. Because that videographer is overbooked, they're looking to hire another.

Next to USAToday.com, azcentral.com is Gannett's most successful Web site, says Collins. "We are talking about trying to redefine what a successful media company is," he notes. "As fewer people read the paper, what is the media company? Instead of saying, 'The Web is killing your business,' if you embrace it, what is the measurement that you are successful? That's the elusive piece."

Getting Closer in Tampa

Three years ago, The Tampa Tribune, WFLA-TV and TBO.com made a bold and much publicized move: The organizations all moved into one building, with the WFLA-TV and Tribune newsrooms on separate floors, and TBO.com off to one side of the television newsroom.

Convergence -- the idea that journalists working together across platforms would create better news products for all three media -- was supposed to occur through a central "command" desk where photographers and daily news editors sat. But it wasn't working as well as the organization editors had hoped.

So they decided to get even closer: They combined the broadcast, print and online sports departments into one department -- and put them all under one manager.

"When we made the decision to combine sports into the same department, we felt that barriers still existed with convergence," says Richard "Duke" Maas, who was the Tribune sports editor before becoming the uber-editor for the integrated beat.

Maas cites a recent dilemma faced by the print sports reporter who covers the Tampa Bay Buccaneers professional football team. WFLA wants the reporter to appear on the live pre-game show, which airs at 11 a.m. Then he attends the game, which, for him, often begins at 4 p.m. and ends around 8 p.m. after locker room interviews. Then he has to write the story for the newspaper. WFLA wanted him to extend his day another two hours by returning to the TV studio to appear on the "sports extra" show.

Maas knew that with enough intense 16-hour days, he'd have a burnt-out Bucs reporter on his hands. He decided to have the reporter tape a short post-game commentary for WFLA on the field immediately after the game, so that he could focus on the print story. "Our ability to make or find those solutions is a lot easier now than before," says Maas. "Before it was a tug-of-war and no one person was looking out for all the platforms and all the personnel involved."

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The Tampa newsroom. Photo by The Tampa Tribune.

It's also helped them figure out how to break news across platforms, says Maas. "Before there was a lot of hiding of information," he explains. "Even though we were converged, reporters are ego-driven and possessive. In a competitive market where you have two strong newspapers and several strong TV stations and a strong Web site, there's a lot of pride in beating a competitor."

Now, if a print reporter gets a scoop but Maas wants to break the story on WFLA evening news to beat the competition, the TV news reporter will credit the newspaper reporter. "By having everyone working together on one particular goal, we work more efficiently at serving our readers and still maintain the balance of competing," says Maas.

Converging in Kansas

One of the few news organization in the United States to fully integrate television, Web and print staffs is The Lawrence Journal-World. The 20,000-circulation daily has 50 people in the print operation, 17 in the TV unit, and five in the online news group.

Two years ago, with the encouragement of Dan Simons -- director of new ventures and son of publisher Dolph Simons -- the reporters and editors from all three platforms moved into a newly remodeled building. From the beginning, they were grouped by beats, not by platform.

It wasn't easy, says Ralph Gage, the organization's general manager -- especially since the company had created a competitive culture between television and print.

The organization didn't create a news czar to be in charge of all three organizations. Instead, the editorial page editor became a "persuader" and "cheerleader," says Gage.

"When things weren't moving quite as fast, I sometimes thought we should've had a news czar to kick butt and move things along," says Gage. "But maybe the reason things jelled is that we didn't force it. We encouraged and persuaded to get people comfortable in their roles and were good listeners."

The Lawrence Journal-World's approach has literally paid off. "Our paid circulation for the Journal-World each month had exceeded the same month's figure for the previous year for 26 consecutive months," says Gage.

Rusty Coats, director of new media at MORI Research, says the fact that so many different paths are being tried by organizations producing the same product shows that "this is definitely an industry in transition."

Papers everywhere have been grappling for years with the fact that -- for an ever-growing part of the population -- digital media just works better than analog media, Coats said.

Readership studies show "it's not startribune.com that's replacing the Star Tribune. It is online as a medium that is replacing print as a medium for some people," he said.

"It's not that we are making that happen (by providing Web sites), we are just trying to assume our place there," he says. "If we weren't there, they would just go to Yahoo, or Target.com or tvstation.com. We have to make sure that we're where they have already made their choice."

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Related Links
12 News (Arizona)
Arizona Business Gazette
Convergence Defined
Gannett
Google News Finally Makes the Grade
Los Angeles Times
MORI Research
Minneapolis Star Tribune
Newspaper Association of America
Newspaper Association of America: daily newspaper readership trends
Orlando Sentinel
Pew Internet Project: Daily Internet Activities
Pew Internet Project: online use up
Rochester Democrat and Chronicle
TBO.com (Tampa Bay Online)
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
The Arizona Republic
The Atlanta Journal-Constitution
The Lawrence Journal-World
The New York Times
The Orange County Register
The Seattle Times
The Tampa Tribune
The Washington Post
USA Today
WFLA-TV (Florida)
comScore Networks: online directories vs. local newspapers
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Anthony Moor, former new media editor at the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle

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Duke Maas, senior editor/sports, The Tampa Tribune

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Regina McCombs, multimedia producer/photographer, startribune.com

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Tracy Collins, deputy managing editor of The Arizona Republic

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