New Media Sends Some Newspaper Librarians to Late Shift

By: Steve Outing

Some newspaper librarians are keeping late hours as a result of new media and online ventures by their employers. Particularly at larger newspapers, in-house libraries now are being staffed 24 hours a day -- much to the consternation of some employees who are being asked to work the "graveyard" shift.

Because newspapers' online services require news feeds of the daily editorial output of the publication, head librarians have had to rejigger their staff schedules in the last year to accommodate the needs of the new media units. Thus far, the majority of publishers have not added new library staff to meet this need -- after all, most newspaper online services are not financially successful yet -- but rather have been forced to juggle schedules.

As you might imagine, this trend is not going over well with staff librarians -- who at many newspapers earn less money than reporters and editors, despite professional requirements that leave many of them better educated than their higher-paid colleagues. They are being asked to work late hours, often in the middle of the night, and are doing tasks that take them away from their traditional research duties. At least one head librarian at a large U.S. newspaper reportedly retired early rather than face the onerous managerial task of telling employees that they would have to work the graveyard shift.

At the San Francisco Chronicle, head librarian Richard Geiger says he has rejiggered the work schedule of his 14-person staff to accommodate middle-of-the-night feeds to The Gate, the online service of the Chronicle and the San Francisco Examiner. He's put 3 people on the night shift, and part of their duties is to process news feeds that go to The Gate as well as Nexis, DataTimes and Dow Jones.

Geiger says the schedule adjustments were nearly entirely due to the needs of The Gate, and only partially due to those of the other database vendors. Nexis, DataTimes and Dow Jones of course would like to get a later version of the Chronicle's daily editorial output -- since later copies of stories generally are "cleaner," and the news more timely, if sent in the middle of the night -- but they were not pressuring the paper to do so.

With The Gate, its staff requires the latest editions of stories that go in the daily paper; what's found online are the same versions of articles that go in the latest edition of the printed Chronicle. The Chronicle library sends the full feed to The Gate at about 3:30 a.m. A Gate employee comes in early to monitor the process -- mostly automated -- that converts the library's feed into the various HTML news sections of The Gate.

Geiger did not hire any new people for this arrangement, but rather hired a new employee (replacing a departing staff member) directly into the graveyard shift. A second employee volunteered for late-night duty. Of the 3 late-nighters, one works from 5 p.m. to 12:30 a.m.; another works from 10 p.m. to 5 a.m.; and the last starts at midnight and works till 7 a.m. (There's also the matter of vacation replacements, which can move other employees into these undesirable shifts temporarily.) Any new positions hired will probably be for the graveyard shift, he says, until 3 or 4 people are working those late hours.

The cost, says Geiger, is measured in human, not financial, terms. It's rare to find a librarian who wants to work when most people are asleep, and morale at some newspaper libraries has suffered due to the scheduling shifts required by new media operations. For his part, Geiger says, "I haven't forced anyone onto this shift, and I don't really want to."

The advent of electronic publishing departments at major newspapers is turning the papers into 24-hour operations, where in the past only the security guards and press operators might have been up into the wee hours. "If we're going to be electronic publishers, we need to get this stuff out there quickly," says Geiger. After all, a Web publication can be updated continuously, so newspapers must begin to make the transition from a deadline system where editions are published only a few times a day to continuous updating. Expectations for timeliness are much higher for online publishers than for print.

Geiger says that other than the staff scheduling matter, The Gate has had limited impact on his library. The Chronicle has been feeding its news to commercial database companies for years, and The Gate was able to set up a system that allowed it to take the feeds in the formats used by the database companies and filter it for its own needs. The Chronicle library employs a full-time "knowledge engineer," Jerry Jampol, who has in the past spent some of his time developing the systems for feeding news to The Gate, but his involvement is now minimal.

The library additionally had to begin delivering newspaper content to The Gate that has not been sent out in the past -- entertainment listings, the paper's dining guide, fishing report, etc. -- but Geiger says this has been a minimal imposition.

Newspaper librarians are under a lot of pressure, typically, and the new duties and late-night hours some of them are being asked to work are making this a less appealing line of work. Newspapers' rush to become electronic publishers is one of the primary factors behind this unfortunate trend.

Contact: Richard Geiger,

New Washington Post online name

When the Washington Post converts its online service, currently operating on the At&T Interchange proprietary platform, to the World Wide Web in the coming weeks, it will have a new name: The newspaper service had been called The Washington Post's Digital Ink, and Digital Ink will remain the name of the publishing company's electronic publishing subsidiary.

Digital Ink vice president Jason Seiken says the name plays on the worldwide recognition of the Washington Post brand name, and Post executives liked the idea of giving the Web address in the service name. The new address is If you click on that address now, you'll see the Washington Post's online classified ads, which will be a component of the larger Web service when it launches.

Contact: Jason Seiken,

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