DEALING WITH DOWNSIZING

By: Staff Reports

Suggestions For Online News Operations


As newspaper companies have downsized their Internet operations,
those left behind must deal with fewer staff and more demands.

The promises of wealth, creative freedom, and less corporate
bureaucracy have been replaced by the cold hard facts, said Nancy
McKinney, a human resources specialist, at a recent industry
conference. The reality of working for a dot-com turned out to be
long hours, inexperienced managers, lack of coherence in vision
and strategy, dysfunctional cultures, disappointment, and lack of
wealth, she said.

While most online newspapers haven’t been as badly affected as
the pure dot-coms, there is still a lot of burnout, said
Elizabeth Osder, who became a consultant two years ago after
working as an editor and producer for New Jersey Online and
NYTimes.com. “I think there’s a momentary sense of bewilderment,”
Osder said of the online news industry. As a whole, the industry
is reflective these days, and individuals are perplexed and
tired, she said.

Still, demands for profitability and rapid growth are stronger
than ever. To meet these demands, McKinney, who formerly worked
in HR at Classified Ventures of Chicago, suggests that new-media
groups start acting like regular companies in their business
practices. For many operations, that means different
organizational structures, functions, roles, and in some cases
people, she said.

If a company has been forced to downsize, McKinney recommends
that senior management work on a new organizational plan as a
team. She suggests management communicate clearly with both
outgoing and remaining employees.

Laura Lorber, managing editor at CareerJournal.com, said that
online managers should be as honest as possible, but not overly
pessimistic. “Reporters are trained critical thinkers, and, in
many cases, the writing will be on the wall,” she said. “By
staying, you’re essentially voting with your feet. You can lead
by example.”

McKinney stresses that managers need to realize that less people
has to mean less work. As a result, some projects will go away.
From Osder’s experience, the projects that typically fall flat
are those lacking journalistic purpose, particularly local
information portals.

For some online newspapers, resizing has again raised the
question of whether to integrate with or separate from their
parent news organizations. “In the early days, it made sense to
separate,” said Osder. It gave people more room to make mistakes,
she said.

But now the industry is entering a more mature time, Osder said.
Online and print will be more closely aligned. “If you mess up
now, it will mean a lot more than in 1995.”

For Chris Hardie at the La Crosse (Wis.) Tribune,
his role as both local news editor and online content editor show
how integrated the Wisconsin news operation is. “Lean times have
not affected our operation as much as other newspapers because we
have chosen to integrate our operations rather than separate,”
Hardie said. “As a result, we really haven’t cut anything.”

Osder sees online as an extension of the main journalistic
franchise. Despite television and wireless being next year’s
buzzwords for online newspapers, predicts Osder, less time will
be devoted to research and development.

But “people believe in what they are doing,” Osder said of online
news’ front-line participants, many of whom are out of work. “Now
we have to find our roles in it.”

Even though the stakes might be higher these days, McKinney
encourages companies to take advantage of this cultural shift to
convey to employees the importance of a full life. “New media is
a career path, not a different entity,” she said.



Copyright 2001, Editor & Publisher.

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