By: M.L. STEIN
IN THE BELIEF that staffers are too territorial, the Bakersfield Californian has shaken up its newsroom, merging general assignment reporters with specialists into one pool for all kinds of coverage.
“The objective is to foster a newsroom without walls in which creativity is encouraged by having ideas flow from department to department,” said executive editor Richard Beene.
“We’re asking our editors and reporters to broaden their view of the community and chase good stories regardless of where they come from.”
Structurally, the change means that staff writers in the local, business and features departments will operate as a single unit. It is designed to allow greater flexibility and efficiency and a blending of resources.
Beene pointed out, however, that no beats are being eliminated and that the system of section editors remains.
“People from the business department and the metro section were not talking to each other,” he said. “Reporters from different departments hadn’t said two words to each other in a year.”
Beene believes that more balanced stories with better background will emerge as reporters exchange knowledge and contribute to stories. As an example, he said, a sportswriter covering the state university in Bakersfield could inform the education reporter of an athlete who is getting special tutoring to preserve his eligibility.
“This can become an education story,” said Beene. “How much is it costing the public to tutor athletes, and what does it do to the university budget?”
By the same token, he continued, since business stories often impact on general news, business reporters ought to interact with general assignment reporters.
The plan calls for reporters to be divided into teams covering six subject areas: government and urban affairs; public safety and legal issues; health and education; business and the workplace; leisure and culture; home and family.
“Our aim is to encourage communication, cooperation and a singular goal: a consistently first-rate newspaper,” said Linda Wienandt, who recently was promoted from metro editor to assistant managing editor/days.
Beene recalled that when he announced the new program at a staff meeting, the entertainment reporter asked if he also would be assigned to a bank robbery.
“I replied, ‘Why not?’ ” Beene said, adding, “While we want to hold on to many of the traditional aspects of good reporting, we think we can serve the community better by challenging ourselves to approach our jobs differently. Many of our beats have been too narrowly defined, sometimes at the expense of good stories going uncovered.”
Also, he noted, “A paper of this size doesn’t have the luxury of a lot of specialty fields.”
The Californian, a family-owned paper in the state’s central region, has a daily circulation of 74,403; 89,240 for its weekend edition.
In other staff changes, assistant city editor Tom Maurer was elevated to metro editor.
Business, features and general
remix into teams: government/urban; public safety/legal; health/education; business/workplace; leisure/culture; home/family
our editors and reporters to broaden their view of the community and chase good stories regardless of where they come from”
Maine Editor Quits
Louis A. Ureneck, top editor at Portland Newspapers in Maine since 1989, has resigned.
He announced the move at a staff meeting recently. Portland Newspapers publishes the Maine Sunday Telegram and Portland Press Herald.
Ureneck, 45, who came to the papers in 1974 as a reporter and columnist, said he planned to travel, write and eventually return to journalism.
Top executives at the Portland-based media company declined to discuss specifics surrounding Ureneck’s departure except to say his separation had been discussed for several weeks.
The company plans a national search for a replacement, but will not do so until after a successor is found for the company’s president, Bruce Gensmer, who announced in August that he plans to spend more time with his family.
Portland Newspapers ia a division of Guy Gannett Communications, the Portland-based owner of seven television stations and four newspapers.