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Integrating Newsrooms at the Times

As this memo from The New York Times brass, posted on Jim Romenesko's slice of the Poynter web site indicates, the paper is thinking seriously about how to merge its old media and new media operations into a newsroom that no longer differentiates between online and dead tree journalism. Poynter


From: Bill Keller
To: [New York Times newsroom]
Subject: A Message from Bill Keller and Martin Nisenholtz

To the Staff,

Over the past ten years the newsroom of Nytimes.com and the newsroom on 43rd Street have been partners at a distance -- separated administratively, culturally, geographically and financially. We have built bridges -- most notably the Continuous News Desk -- and we have admired each other's work, but we have not been full collaborators. This was probably a healthy arrangement in the formative years, because it allowed our digital operation to flourish, to experiment, to move at its own quick rhythm and focus on the competitive new digital world. The result is, unassailably, the best and most widely read newspaper website in the world, one that consistently wins every award in the field and that continues to attract new readers in droves.

But in those ten years, the world has changed. The digital news operation is now grown up and strong, ready to enlarge its ambitions. The reporting and editing staff at the original newsroom is much more at ease with the Web, more eager to embrace it both as an opportunity for invention and an alternative way to reach our demanding audience. We have a burgeoning video unit that is eager to be a larger presence on the website, at a time when most users of Nytimes.com have graduated to the kind of high-speed delivery that makes video appealing. And all of us appreciate that one of the biggest long-term challenges facing our craft is to invent a digital journalism and new services for our readers that both live up to our high standards and help carry the cost of a great news-gathering organization.

We have concluded that our best chance of meeting that challenge is to
integrate the two newsrooms into one. This will enable us to fully tap the
creative energy of this organization and thus raise digital journalism to
the next level. In the coming weeks, we will be working with editors and
staff in both places to work out details and accomplish a smooth transition.

As you know from an earlier announcement, Jon Landman will oversee this large project for Bill and Jill. He'll have help; more soon about the team that will work with him on this assignment.

The change embodied in this integration will be gradual but important. For quite a few years now, we've sworn allegiance to the modern-sounding doctrine of "platform neutrality" -- meaning we care only about our journalism, not about whether we transmit it to our audience on paper or via streams of electrons. But in practice most of us have been writing and editing newspaper articles, or taking pictures or making charts and graphs for the newspaper, while a few of us have been taking this work and adapting it for the Web.

By integrating the newsrooms we plan to diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper journalists and Web journalists -- to reorganize our structures and our minds to make Web journalism, in forms that are both familiar and yet-to-be-invented, as natural to us as writing and editing, and to do all of this without losing the essential qualities that make us The Times. Our readers are moving, and so are we.

Until we move into the new building, we cannot physically merge the
newsrooms, but we are looking at ways to promote much more side-by-side cooperation in conceiving and executing journalism. Web producers should routinely participate in the daily conversations where coverage is
launched. Senior editors of the Web should be a presence at all of the
meetings where the masthead, department heads, feature editors, enterprise editors and others hatch plans. In the newsroom at 43rd Street, everyone should come to regard the website as his or her responsibility. That means Jill will be managing editor for news -- not just in the newspaper, but on the website. Susan Chira will be the editor of our foreign report whether it appears in print or on Nytimes.com. And so on. This will take some getting used to, and a large part of Jon's responsibility will be to help us absorb these new responsibilities and make the most of them.

An undertaking on this scale is full of complications, but we are convinced that the time is right for this, and that it cannot be a halfway venture. Judging from the excitement that has arisen in both newsrooms as the magnitude of this sinks in, we know a lot of you already share our
conviction.

Bill Keller
Martin Nisenholtz

-----------

To my way of thinking, this is the money graph in that memo: "By integrating the newsrooms we plan to diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper journalists and Web journalists -- to reorganize our structures and our minds to make Web journalism, in forms that are both familiar and yet-to-be-invented, as natural to us as writing and editing, and to do all of this without losing the essential qualities that make us The Times. Our readers are moving, and so are we."

Now, conceptualizing is one thing and executing is quite another. But here's why what the Times is doing is potentially important -- psychologically. I don't know of a mainstream newspaper that hasn't developed a web presence while still trying to wring as much revenue out of its print product as possible. Yet, everyone knows the big picture for traditional newspapers is not pretty. Circulation continues to slide, ad revenue fragments, young people refuse to read them and the doomsaying just gets worse and worse.

For some newspaper journalists, particularly veterans, there is a sense of dread and inevitability that seeps into the workplace. They feel like they're toiling in one of those aging Rustbelt industries that is in a long irreversible decline and wonder whether they'll be able to make retirement before the business craters. That doesn't tend to do much for morale or mental health.

While these journalists fret and nervously monitor their 401K's, their companies are branching out into new forms of information dissemination, sometimes without conveying the idea that they're all in this together -- or that their employees' skills will also be needed and integrated into the new media operations. Well, the Times has sent that message loud and clear. And as a longtime ink-stained wretch,I'm happy to hear it.
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