In newsrooms, 'we don't have assembly lines anymore, and they’re not coming back'

This piece originally appeared in Local Edition, our newsletter following the digital transformation of local news. Want to be part of the conversation? You can sign up here.

Not that long ago, you did your job and passed it on to the next person who passed it on to the next person who passed it on to the next person.

Jeff Kleinman, day editor at the Miami Herald, worked in that world for most of his career. 

Now, journalists have to think through the story itself and then how it will be presented, how it will be shared and what you'll learn from how it performed after. And for many newsrooms, the process starts before that, even, by asking the audience what they want to know.

"We don't have assembly lines anymore, and they’re not coming back, nor should they necessarily come back," Kleinman said. "Gift wrap is not a separate department anymore." 

There's a lot to think about now, but journalists can also be closer than ever to the audience, he said. 

I asked Kleinman to talk with us, from an editor's perspective, about how digital has changed the way we work. He's experienced this in a lot of ways, including when he starts his day (5:15 a.m.!) and the ongoing quest to figure out how to not be working all the time.

Ahead of talking this week, Kleinman sent two pretty great lists that do a better job than my questions of showing what's changed and how. So this week, I'm going to step back and let him take over.

5 ways the life of an editor has changed in the digital world:

1. No assigning stories to fill a section.

2. Lots more “we can’t cover your event” to PR people. 

3. The tickler file of upcoming news and features possibilities has been replaced by tools for what’s breaking and what’s trending.

4. The work doesn’t end when the story is edited. We are now publishers, too, in adding assets, writing SEO meta data, posting, socialing, keeping track of analytics.

5. “Sounds like a great story” discussions are being replaced with: “Is there an audience for this and who will it be?”

A few lessons learned and taught in the editing ranks through the years:

1. It starts with language. If you don't talk about print, you won't think about it as much. Not that print is a bad thing. But print can be exhausting -- and it could drag us down and keep us from doing what we need to be doing for our audience who wants stuff right now. For instance, we no longer have print meetings, although print think does creep into conversations here and there ("We'll shoot a CLO.").

2. Sit next to digital brains and learn from them. Don't surround yourself with people who have legacy skills. Listen to the talk. Watch over their shoulders. Learn a new skill each week.

3. During the week, read the way our audience reads: on mobile. Save the newspapers and kick back with them on your day off.

4. Keep up with industry trends. Read. Share. Think.

5. Be social on your social streams. You can't expect to work on your newsroom's social streams if you don't practice the craft your own way on your own streams.

6. Age doesn't matter. It didn't to David Carr, one of the most digital-thinking people around, and it shouldn't to you (whether you're 21 and right out of school or 53 and have been around the block a couple times).

7. Reach out to digi-brains and talk to them about things they want to learn more about: story development, building sources, story approach, history about the coverage area.

8. Embrace everything that's new. And then know that whatever's new could change again. And again.

9. Don't sweat the lede. This is hard to unlearn. But the lede doesn't draw in readers the way it used to. What does? Your clickable headline. Your search headline. Your keywords. Realize that readers find our stories in different ways now (on the Yahoo homepage, in the Facebook feed, through Google search).

10. Look at your stories as more than text. You are responsible for everything: pictures, video, related links – the whole enchilada. The words don't matter any more than all those other elements. It's a package. And you need to present it to your reader.

 

Thank you! Next week, we'll talk to someone who's not in journalism and working to help his clients adjust to how things have changed online and in real life. In the meantime, this is a good read from Christopher Ali and Damian Radcliffe on what's working in local news. The Center for Cooperative Media is building a database of collaborative projects. Help them out! And Poynter's Women's Leadership Academy is now taking applications. Go apply!!!

See you next week! 

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