Who will be in charge of future converged newsrooms?
This isn't news, but in case you missed the memo, Bill Keller and Martin Nisenholtz announced to their respective New York Times and Digital staffs that the news operations would be integrated.
What's more interesting at Chaser HQ has been the buzz about the merger. So, in Chaser style, we thought we would put some of it into perspective.
Mark Glaser at Online Journalism Review published an illuminating interview with Keller and Nisenholtz, including this quote from Nisenholtz:
"One of the breakthroughs here is that we're not just putting word people into the newsroom. We're putting people in all of these functions into the newsroom who will exercise a very different kind of report for the Web than what would be characterized as a repurposed newspaper. That's huge. To me, that's a big signal event for the New York Times and for any newsroom. It's a matter of growing new muscles in new areas that are Web-oriented and have little or no application in the print world."
Newspaper consultant Tim Porter writes in his industry blog "FirstDraft" that "the Times is an iconic symbol of American print journalism and when it says the walls are coming down, then institutional evolution is clearly afoot."
And media maven Jeff Jarvis writes in his "BuzzMachine" blog:
"The essential truth of all this is that a fundamental change in media is driving fundamental change in the market, which should be driving fundamental change in news products, which must cause fundamental change in newsrooms. That is what we are witnessing now. I often hear people say that big-media executives don’t get it, that they don’t get the imperative for change. Well, they’re getting it. They have no choice."
Is the Times move truly a fundamental change? (It's worth noting that Porter writes about "evolution," not "revolution.") Will the vastly larger and more influential print newsroom become a platform-agnostic news provider any time soon? How long will the folks dedicated to producing the online report still be charged with repurposing a newspaper?
At the Times, Rich Meislin, "the obvious choice to help lead us into the future" has been named associate managing editor for Internet publishing. How much power will he wield in the newsroom?
What might be considered truly revolutionary? How about putting the online editor in charge of the entire newsroom? That's essentially what they did in Lawrence, Kan., promoting Rob Curley to the title of director of new media. (Curley later moved to the Naples Daily News in Florida.)
Shaking up a small daily in Kansas might not seem as risky as shaking up the the 1,200-member New York Times newsroom. In fact, Keller seems to be taking a careful approach in his OJR interview:
"There's going to be some portion of people who are essentially non-adapters but are so valuable for the paper for what they do, and we'll live with that. We have a lot of people here, and not everybody will have to be thrown into the Web. There will be slow adapters, and we will certainly try to proselytize for this and explain that this is an exciting thing to do."
Every newspaper in America is struggling with these issues. And as long as the printed newspaper brings in the lion's share of the revenue for a news enterprise, the power and authority would seem to rest with the traditional print editors. The pace of change, then, most likely will be determined by the Bill Kellers of the world. It will be interesting to see, over time, whether a slow evolution is less risky than a revolution.