No more ‘paper of record’: McGrory offers more details on the Globe’s reinvention

Also published at WGBHNews.org.

Earlier this week Boston Globe editor Brian McGrory promised his staff that he’d soon be offering more details about the paper’s reinvention effort. Well, a little while ago his latest memo came floating in through my open window.

If you are interested in the future of the Globe then you should read it in full; it defies summary. My instant takeaway, though, is that there are three points that deserve special attention:

  • The Globe is moving away from the idea that it needs to be a paper of record in the old-fashioned sense. Rather, McGrory wants it to be “an organization of interest.” In other words, no more obligatory process stories about things that few readers care about.
  • The news cycle will be reorganized to move further away from the deadlines demanded by the print schedule. Instead, stories will be published online throughout the day and night, with an “Express Desk” playing a key role in that.
  • The old barriers separating the newsroom and business sides will be rethought. There is an industry-wide view that at a time when revenues are shrinking, new working relationships need to be defined as long as they don’t compromise the integrity of the journalism. Easier said than done, of course.

The full text of McGrory’s memo follows.

Hey all,

I wanted to give you an update on where we are with the reinvention initiative. The intention was to be brief. The reality is that it’s not. My apologies in advance.

The presentations by the four sets of working group chairs in late November went incredibly well. I hope everyone agrees. The pitches were strong, the questions and comments were smart, and there seemed to be an unmistakable consensus around the need for change. Following those meetings, I’ve sat with a decent swath of the newsroom in one-on-one and small group meetings to get a sense of your thoughts and concerns. I’ve found it truly helpful, to say the least. Your sheer brains and commitment all but guarantee our success in the weeks, months, and years ahead.

Separately, we’ve put together a core reinvention committee, composed of the eight working group chairs, and the deputy managing editors, managing editors, and the editorial page editor. We’ve met several times to begin mapping out initiatives that we can roll out as soon as this month. We’re making good progress, but we need to step it up.

Indulge me while I repeat some of the principles behind a reinvention:

  • We need to be still more interesting, relentlessly interesting, every hour of the day. To this end, we need to jettison any sense of being the paper of record. We are the organization of interest. If something feels obligatory to write, it’s an obligation for someone to read. The problem is, readers don’t feel that obligation any more.
  • We need to focus on what readers truly value, understanding that we can’t be all things to everyone. The great news is that Globe subscribers most want to read the kinds of stories that we most like to produce. Think accountability journalism, colorful and contextual breaking news reporting, lyrical narrative, smart enterprise reporting, and provocative commentary.
  • We need to focus not on platforms, but on journalism. We must redouble all efforts to demolish the stubborn rhythms of a legacy news operation and get our work in front of people when they are most likely to read it.
  • We need to make sure that the boundaries that served us well in better financial times don’t become obstacles to our success. Put more bluntly, we need to work with the other departments to make sure we have enough revenue to support our journalism.
  • We always need to hold true to our journalistic values, because without them, we lose our credibility. Repeat this last one again.

So here’s a rough map of where we go from here, understanding that this remains very much a work in progress, and there will be bumps—really mountains—to traverse along the way.

1. You’ll receive a questionnaire via email soon, prepared by Jen Peter [senior deputy managing editor for local news] and Anica Butler [assistant metro editor], asking, among other things, what beats you’ve dreamed of covering or what jobs you’d most like to have. It could be the one you have now, it could be something else, it could be a role that we haven’t thought about but will want to have when we hear it. Please respond to this questionnaire. We need to hear from you.

2. We’re planning to set up a room-wide Express Desk as soon as possible. This is designed to get news in front of the eyes of our readers quickly, and to have a fascinating diversity of news. It could be a water main break in the Financial District one moment, a passenger handing out Christmas gifts on an arriving JetBlue flight the next. This desk needs to not only be urgent, but smart and clever, and it will be powered by some of the most talented people in this room. I’ve asked Katie Kingsbury [managing editor for digital] to lead a small group in mapping out an Express Desk in terms of size and positions, and she’ll have something back to us very soon.

3. We’re planning to set up a Print Desk, congruent with the Express Desk. While the larger room focuses on journalism, the print desk will focus on how that journalism comes together in paper form every day. Let me be absolutely clear here: The physical newspaper will not be an afterthought at the Globe. It is of vital importance to us, a huge—albeit, declining—source of our revenue, and the most valued product to our most loyal readers. But it cannot continue to needlessly dominate our thinking and resources in the way it currently does. I asked Chris Chinlund [managing editor for news] to lead a small group in determining the size and components of this operation, and she, too, will have something back in early January.

4. We’ll expand on our excellence in projects, with an eye toward even more, with a greater range of ambition and length (some even shorter than this memo).

5. We’ll set up an Audience Engagement team under Jason Tuohey [deputy managing editor for audience engagement] designed to make sure we are better connecting to existing audiences, and seeking new audiences, in every way possible, through our journalism and the way we present it. We are swimming in metrics. The goal now is to refine, interpret, and apply them. We will offer whatever training is necessary to work on the team.

6. We will reimagine our beats with the same eye toward becoming relentlessly interesting. I don’t know that we’ve done a major refresh of our beats in decades. It’s time. So the reinvention group, or some subset of it, will outline new beats and recalibrate the resources we have on our coverage areas. The broader room needs to play a major role in this with your ideas, whether through the questionnaire or in conversations with me and others. Please express your creativity and passions, and do it soon.

In determining what we want to cover, it will become clearer to all of us what we should forego, or at least what we can cover less of. As part of this, we’ll look at presenting news in different formats, to cut down our overuse of the incremental 700-word story.

7. We will refine and then refine again the Hubs system that was proposed by the Mission working group, but it’s not quite ready to be implemented yet—or maybe we as a room are not quite ready to accept it. There are many intriguing, even brilliant, aspects to the Hubs concept, which would push us to be far more nimble, provocative, and—this word, again—interesting But there needs to be more clarity in how it would work day to day. My sense is that we’re getting snagged up on Hubs as the infrastructure of the room. If we create Hubs within the infrastructure, we will get a better sense of how they’ll work and how effective they can be. So that’s exactly how we’ll start. Hub ideas are welcome.

8. We are planning to appoint a small, tech-savvy group that will devote itself to making Methode more user-friendly and an overall better communications tool for the entire room. [Methode is the Globe’s content-management system.]

9. We are setting up groups to further engage Advertising and Circulation, hoping to involve the newsroom deeper in both areas. On Circulation, we will focus on subscriber retention, with some acquisition, working with our colleagues there to do direct outreach to subscribers. On Advertising, we are putting together a newsroom-based advisory group to offer input on all forms of sponsored and native campaigns, with the intention to ratchet up the creativity that goes into these campaigns. David Dahl [deputy managing editor for operations] is currently drawing up rules of the road to make sure that we don’t put ourselves in a compromising position.

10. We’ll be looking, soon, to get much of the room started earlier in the day, and impose rolling deadlines on enterprise stories through the day, to assure that we have a flow of fresh stories when people are most likely to read them. Still too many stories are posted on the site in the evening, because we’ve followed old-school print deadlines. That’s got to stop. The news meetings will be pushed up soon, probably to 9 a.m. The morning meeting will focus on brainstorming ideas, and the specifics of when stories will be posted. The afternoon will include the timing of web stories, but focus too on the print paper.

Key point: As part of this, we have to fulfill the promise to everyone in the room that as you get here earlier, you leave earlier. Foreign as this might seem, it is very doable.

Over the next few weeks, a dedicated group will basically create a blueprint for a reimagined newsroom, carving out the new desks mentioned above, prescribing headcounts to each of these areas, and getting right down to specific beats, possible Hubs, and reconfigured departments. You aren’t just invited to be a part of it, you need to be a part of it. Offer up your thoughts. We’ll come back to the room soon with what we have.

There’s more, especially in terms of communications and the culture of the room. And please keep in mind that this is not a one-and-done project, but a constant evolution; some of the things we change will need to be changed again.

In sum, picture a newsroom that kicks to life before dawn, as members of an Express Desk arrive and continue to flow in through the morning, ready to post breaking news, fashion clever ideas, and find the wryest stories trending on social media. Picture the larger room starting their jobs by 9 in most instances, ready to publish at peak times. Picture a round-the-clock multiplatform desk ready to give stories an expert workover regardless of the hour they are submitted.

Picture a wider range of fresher beats to produce a steady stream of fascinating stories. Picture a story-telling team from product and development working on hubs to create extraordinary presentations. Picture respected and experienced “priority editors”—what one working group described as “air traffic controllers” and another as “traffic cops”—making the best use of our journalism across the day, the week, and the platform. In this scenario, the print desk begins arriving in the early afternoon, working with a team of talented designers to produce a stunning newspaper for the following morning.

Lift the lens a bit and see an even broader picture, of a room more inclined to pursue risks and more accepting of the inevitable failures. It is an enterprise more crusading in our approach, an organization that not only covers the region, but regularly provokes it—by holding the powerful accountable, giving voice to those who wouldn’t otherwise have one, advocating for what works, and being our readers’ best ally. All the while, we will be working closely with the business side to drive digital subscriptions, keep our existing subscribers happy, and offer our creativity to native content.

Easy, right?

Probably not, but we will accomplish this in the coming months, your help very much required. Please continue to speak up. We need to hear from you.

Brian

Talk about this post on Facebook.

Advertisements