Contra Costa Times second MediaNews paper to consolidate copy editing

MediaWire memo
A memo from Contra Costa Times Executive Editor Dave Butler shows that another MediaNews paper is shifting copy-editing responsibilities within the newsroom. Thursday morning, Westword published a memo from Denver Post Editor Gregory Moore saying copy-editing would be moved to the “content-generating level,” with cuts to the copy-editing staff.

Now Butler tells his staff that senior editors have been discussing changes at the Contra Costa Times and with other Digital First Media newspapers. “Our idea, like Denver’s, is to put more responsibility for copy editing on the editor doing the initial story read — especially on routine stories,” he writes. The changes will result in about 10 to 12 job cuts, he says. Here’s how he describes the overall shift:

Those of you on our committees rethinking “digital first” are aware of many discussions about how to get copy editing done earlier in the process — with the focus more on digital and less on the paper – and more of a once-and-done approach to stories, rather than writing and editing several versions. Similar efforts are going on across the company — especially at larger papers, where more traditional copy desks continue to operate. A second or third edit on most stories has become a luxury most newspapers no longer can afford.

The San Jose Mercury News and The Oakland Tribune, among others, also are part of Bay Area News Group.

Earlier: Denver Post to lay off copy editors, shift copy-editing to ‘content-generating level’ || Related: Brady says centralized production of national, international news key to Journal Register’s future

Butler’s memo follows:

Colleagues:

The economic challenges for newspaper companies continue and unfortunately, we in the Bay Area are no exception. While digital advertising is rising, print advertising continues to decline. Unfortunately, our costs are not in line with our revenue, so the entire company is looking hard at areas to reduce expenses as we prepare the budget for the fiscal year starting July 1. For News, our primary goal is to keep as many content producers as possible, while maintaining a high level of quality in reporting and editing.

One area under intense study is news production, including how we can streamline it for the digital age at BANG.

As you may have heard, earlier this week our sister paper, The Denver Post, announced that it is consolidating its editing processes and will be reducing its copy editing staff. Making news production more efficient certainly isn’t something new to BANG — we’ve been ahead of much of the industry for years.

Those of you on our committees rethinking “digital first” are aware of many discussions about how to get copy editing done earlier in the process — with the focus more on digital and less on the paper – and more of a once-and-done approach to stories, rather than writing and editing several versions. Similar efforts are going on across the company — especially at larger papers, where more traditional copy desks continue to operate. A second or third edit on most stories has become a luxury most newspapers no longer can afford.

Senior editors here have been discussing possible changes for some weeks — including discussions with other Digital First Media newspapers. In light of the announcement by The Post, we wanted to answer the natural question: Will we be doing the same thing? The answer is that we will be doing our own version of streamlining, making changes that we feel are appropriate for our complex cluster operations.

We have developed a tentative plan for what skills are needed on the desk and what workflows need to be adjusted. Our idea, like Denver’s, is to put more responsibility for copy editing on the editor doing the initial story read — especially on routine stories. We intend to keep a core group of editors to do additional reads on major stories. Designers will need to do more editing and headline writing. Reporters may be asked to write suggested headlines for their print stories, in addition to the online headline.

Our current estimate is that doing this will result in a reduction of about 10-12 jobs and some casual shifts. Our hope is to be able to move some staffers — if they have the experience, expertise and desire — into current reporting vacancies, if we get to fill any of these spots.

Our schedule goes like this:

–We’ll have a desk meeting at 4 p.m. Thursday with the news production team in Walnut Creek. (News production includes copy editors and designers.)

–We will accept volunteers to leave the company from this group until May 9.

–Prior to May 15, we will interview those persons who have expressed an interest in transferring to a reporting vacancy if any are filled. Ron will coordinate this with the various hiring editors.

–On Tuesday, May 15, we will call those staffers whose jobs are being eliminated first thing in the morning. They will then need to go to Human Resources to do the paperwork. Monday, May 14, would be their last day working. Anyone laid off will get two weeks’ pay in lieu of two weeks’ notice — the same way we have handled this in the past.

In the meantime, Ron, Bert and Randy will be working with their fellow editors and staffers to finalize and implement workflow and deadline changes. These changes will undoubtedly touch everyone on the staff and are likely to result in earlier work schedules, earlier deadlines for non-breaking news stories, and other moves we think will better position the company to focus more on digital delivery while maintaining our current print products.

Also, as the plans come together, we will hold full staff meetings to explain what is going on.

As we have often discussed, we need to make fundamental changes in the way we do our jobs and this is a major step in doing that and in coping with the economic realities of the business at the moment.

-Dave

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  • jeffrey rubin

    Um, good luck with that. Sounds like a brilliant strategy. If, by brilliant, one means completely idiotic and unrealistic. Those “routine” stories are the kinds of things that help solidify a paper’s reputation in its community, for better or worse. I guess “worse” is now the preference here.