With Smaller Newsroom, 'Oregonian' Readies for Major Reorg

By: E&P Staff The Oregonian in Portland is overhauling its newsroom into two groups, "local expertise and enterprise reporting" and "community." The new structure moves away from beat reporting, though reporters will still focus on specific subjects.

According to Oregon Media Central, Oregonian Executive Editor Peter Bhatia wrote in a memo that reduced staff size requires the newsroom to work differently: "There will be increased expectations of productivity, flexibility and greater responsibility for Web work. Reporters will need to jump in on issues that require our attention more often than has been the case, and work different hours as news and Web need dictate."

The larger group, "local expertise and enterprise reporting," consists of about 65 reporters and editors who are expected to cover such areas as politics, business and arts and culture. The "community" group, made up of some 40 reporters, will handle content targeted to specific locales within the area. A separate group will be dedicated to editing and production.

The memo, first posted by Oregon Media Central, follows with more details.


Oct. 7, 2009

With the buyout offer on the table, we want you to know where we are headed in reorganizing our newsroom operations. This note represents the why and how of where we are going.

We are committed to keeping The Oregonian strong, both in print and online. It is important to understand that publishing a compelling newspaper is absolutely essential, even as we increase our presence on the Web and embrace the tools it offers us. We are committed to the principles and values that have defined print journalism and will not shirk our responsibility to serve as a watchdog on government and the powerful. At the same time, we need to evolve our journalism, embrace the two-way nature of the Web world and be even more responsive to a public that expects more of a conversation with us. We also recognize that print and the Web are different creatures and require different emphases:

Our focus in print:
Reveal how power is used, decisions are made and the impact on citizens.

Explain how all manner of things really work.

Question and explore relevant issues in depth, and explain their substance and context.

Introduce people to others worth knowing and to new ideas and innovations.

Tell compelling stories of community.

Our focus online:
Break news.

Encourage, engage and collaborate with communities of interest (both geographic and subject).

Serve as the center and catalyst for community conversations (both geographic and subject)

Aggregate information in broad swaths across topics and provide information on topics of greatest interest/utility

Tell stories with tools unavailable for print.

These distinctions should guide us as we reorganize. We must be a dynamic and flexible local news organization that consistently connects with its audience and addresses its interests with distinct local content.

We will achieve what is described above with more efficient and larger work groups. There will be two large groups with reporters and one for editing and production. We need larger work groups to be able to focus our work more quickly and to bring a critical mass of talent to the big stories as they arise. We also need a larger production work group so more work can be shared among a smaller staff. We are separating content generation from production in order to maximize the time and talent of editors on their responsibilities.

Here is an overview, knowing that there is much work still to be done and that this will raise as many or more questions than it will answer. We will answer those questions as quickly as we move forward to the next stages of planning. (More on that below.)

LOCAL EXPERTISE AND ENTERPRISE REPORTING: This group of reporters will be devoted to coverage of local and regional news and features. We will not abandon our foundation of beat reporting, but beats will be redefined along areas of expertise of most interest to our readers. Some beats will be eliminated because with fewer people we cannot cover everything that we have in the past. All will have a metro-wide orientation. Our existing fourth- and fifth-floor teams, with some small exceptions, will cease to exist. Breaking news will reside within this group as well. So will watchdog and investigative reporting. So will narrative storytelling, because we must continue to maintain the craft of feature writing. We are not doing away with coverage of traditional strengths such as politics and government, green/sustainability, business/economy and culture/arts. But this reorganization will push us to redefine beats around the content we need and readers want and be less bound to traditional beats defined primarily by buildings or institutions. This group also needs to think more about opportunities to present information online and will work to differentiate stories that are posted early in the day from what appears in print.

The group will be headed up by Susan [Gage, managing editor for breaking news and online], who will have a team of editors working with her. They will have shared responsibility for working with reporters to produce content for the front page, Metro, How We Live, Business and the Web site on a daily basis. This will require greater coordination, planning and sharing of resources because we expect the content to be distinct and appropriate for newspaper sections or the Web, greater in quantity that we currently produce and of the highest quality. The group will include about 60-70 reporters, editors and support staff.

COMMUNITY: This group will be based both downtown and in bureaus and will be responsible for daily zoned content and hyperlocal community-based Web sites. Staff reporters downtown (for Portland) and in bureaus will be more trend-spotters, focused on producing enterprising zoned centerpieces and less beat-centric. We recognize that a foundation of enterprise comes from sourcing and expertise borne of beat reporting, so finding the right balance with limited resources will be challenging. Going forward, we'll use more interns and freelancers for some street-level kinds of stories. In addition, we are beginning to create hyperlocal sites for all the suburban communities and the city. These sites are critically important and represent much of our future online. Hyperlocal is to newspapers today what zoning was the past 20 years or so. It is a way we remain vital to communities, defined by geography and topic. Community more and more also means communities of interest, not just geography, and hyperlocal topic pages will be a key part of our Web work. To be successful, we must ensure all these Web pages are anchored by Oregonian journalism, as well as full of other news, information and lists. They must serve as a center for community conversations.

The community group, headed by JoLene [Krawczak, managing editor for features], will include staffers assigned to build and manage those pages. It will likely be about 40 reporters and editors, including interns.

EDITING AND PRODUCING: This group represents the nerve center of the newsroom's editing and play decisions. It is essential that we transition from the traditional mentality and rigid time clock of newspaper production. That is, we need to organize to deal with news as it happens and to get it to the right place, whether online, print, or both. We'll have more of a round-the-clock focus, rather than strictly aiming our energies toward the evening print deadline. Also, with a smaller staff, we need to separate section editing from story generation so editors working with reporters can focus on that task. We also need to streamline editing operations and simplify newspaper production since we will be losing many copy editors and designers. We must move toward "one-touch editing." Therefore, all production for all sections will be done in one place.

This new operation will be headed by Therese [Bottomly, managing editor for readership and standards]. She will have a team of section editors working for her who are responsible for prioritizing and producing what goes in the paper and online each day, in consultation with the content editors. In addition, management of the OregonLive home page and other Internet operations will be part of this operation. So will copyediting, design and wire editing. Photo/multimedia/graphics will be part of this group as well. So will Listings. It will likely be about 60-70 people, but that's the squishiest number of the three as this operation will be the most complex to build out.

For now, Sports, Homes & Gardens, FOODday, Travel and Editorial will remain separate content-generating operations, but production of all those sections and pages would move into the production group. Homes & Gardens, FOODday and Travel will continue to report to JoLene.


In this new structure, everyone's job will change either somewhat or a lot:

For most reporters, beats will still be the primary focus, creating the enterprising journalism we value. With a smaller staff there will be increased expectations of productivity, flexibility and greater responsibility for Web work. Reporters will need to jump in on issues that require our attention more often than has been the case and work different hours as news and Web needs dictate. More reporters on their beats will engage in chats online, will "crowdsource" on topics of coverage and engage online with people who have something to offer within their area of expertise. It is worth saying again: Substance and agenda-setting public-service journalism always will be top priorities for us. We need to make sure our work more directly connects with reader needs and interests, while fulfilling expectations that we are acting as their eyes and ears.

For assigning editors, the reorganization means greater focus on the work of reporters (as compared to sections), dedication to enterprise and flexibility. Editors will be charged with helping reporters be successful qualitatively as well as quantitatively and will make sure every reporter has cover-worthy stories under construction at any time. There will be significantly fewer assigning editors. (Some will be reassigned to new duties as we reduce staff.) Editors will (as with the reporters) be both keepers of topic areas and generalists responding to the needs of the day.

For copy editors and designers, reorganization means a less deadline-centric world and working across platforms at all times. It means managing the home page and the site as well as editing copy, writing headlines and designing pages. More work will be shared and workflows streamlined to eliminate redundancies and to free up time for the work that needs the closest attention. Rather than a universal desk, think of it as a creative production operation managing the Web and the paper.

For photojournalists, it means everyone -- editors and photographers -- must be fully trained and able to work in still or video and can flow from one to the other as needs dictate. No one can be just about still photography or just video.

This is just a start. We'll need and seek your feedback as we begin to build the specific structure in support of these broad ideas.

The key next steps:

Set specific work priorities for each of three large groups.

Make sure we are in agreement on the primary content areas within the expertise and enterprise group and begin to define beats.

Begin to figure out how the production operation will work, what the key
leadership jobs will be and how we will integrate home-page management into the function of copy editors and designers.

Please bring questions to any of the senior editors.


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