Los Angeles Daily Journal editor David Houston got some media-blog attention last year when he told his staff that “our day begins no later than 9 a.m.” and “all of you are required to send your editor an email no later than 9:15 a.m.” — one that details “what you are working on that day [and] explain[s] to your editor what more broadly is occurring on your beat that morning.” (In a follow-up email — also leaked to media sites — the editor wrote that “some of you think it is acceptable to send an email via your Blackberry from the comforts of your bed” rather than from the office; “it isn’t.”)
In his latest memo, Houston tells his staff that they’ll now be evaluated in writing every month on the quantity and quality of their output, with more formal followups every three months. LA Observed’s Kevin Roderick notes: “Most editors-in-chief don’t find this necessary, but Houston seems to roll a bit differently than most.” (I’ve invited Houston to comment, and will post anything he emails me. UPDATE: It’s posted below.) The editor writes:
Most of you know we count the stories you produce. But a high number has never been the goal (read: writing a lot of 2-inch briefs doesn’t really help you). Our readers are a sophisticated lot who demand something deeper than the surface reporting they’ll find (for free) in their local daily. However, we always want as many of these quality stories as you are capable of producing. Our current system had some built-in mechanisms for assessing this. We consider how many front-page stories you wrote and how many you assigned art for. Ultimately this system is too much about a number and doesn’t give us a real assessment of the quality of your work.
Roderick posts the full memo, while editor Houston explains the review policy in an email to Romenesko+ after the jump.
Here is the editor’s email to Romenesko+
Thanks for giving me the opportunity to further discuss why I think our new editorial assessment system is a worthwhile effort for our newsroom.
The Daily Journal wants to move away from a system in which one is judged solely by the number of stories one writes or the number of website clicks one’s stories receive. Our newspaper has a sophisticated readership, almost all of them lawyers, who demand from us information that is useful for building and maintaining a law practice. This is particularly important to remember in an economic environment where media companies are struggling to remain not only relevant but also valued. This is why we are re-emphasizing quality over quantity.
Like most newsrooms, ours is filled with a diverse group. We have reporters who are newly out of graduate school and others who are veterans with decades of experience. I began trying to find a way to better assess reporters’ work out of a concern they were not interacting with editors in a way that would help them develop and grow. Too often, we are consumed by the day’s ultimate task: putting out a newspaper. But I don’t think any reporter here went into journalism to be reduced to a provider of content that serves no purpose other than to cover the white space between the ads. My goal is to empower reporters to feel like they are not only honing their craft but making the contribution they seek to.
As hard-copy newspapers continue to compete with other mediums for readership, it’s essential for reporters and editors at the Daily Journal to have bigger conversations every day. Why are we doing this story? What value does it provide our niche audience? On my way to work, I pass by the Criminal Courts Building in downtown Los Angeles where Dr. Conrad Murray is standing trial. I often wonder, why are all those reporters spending their time and talent competing for that story? In a media swarm like that, are they ever able to provide anything unique? Can they break out of the pack and shine? Learn how to uncover a potentially Pulitzer Prize winning story that brings about real change?
The Daily Journal doesn’t cover the Murray trial or most media events. But too often we find ourselves on the same story as the Los Angeles Times or the local TV news stations or worse following one of their stories. And the question always becomes, what information from this story can we provide that readers won’t get for free someplace else? I hope that by turning our attention to the quality of our stories, we will be able to produce great reporting and writing that is unique and valuable. If we are successful, the tumult of the day will take care of itself.
Thanks again for this opportunity,