thoughts on newsroom structure

Structure is the most important element of a newsroom – flat out.

Take The Arbiter (Boise State’s newspaper) for example. We’ve been spending the last 11 months trying to transition to an online daily media outlet with photo slideshows, podcasts, videos and text. And, as I’ve seen from our newsroom and as I’ve heard from other newsrooms around the country, it’s not an easy task to accomplish.

Below are a few ideas I’ve come up with to transition a newsroom’s structure from print centric to multimedia/online centric. These ideas are based off of my interactions and observations at The Arbiter and are in no way objective. They are only ideas, and I welcome your criticism and debates.

Please also note that these ideas may not be entirely my own. This structure is close to the structure Shannon Morgan, our Editor-in-Chief, wrote for our newsroom. Doubtless, this post comes not only from there but from conversations I’ve had with other editors, students and faculty.

1. Specialists: A specialist’s (video, podcasting, slideshow specialists, for example) job is it to teach, not do the work.
Here’s how it works: Newsroom journalists should be divided into each of these categories. Say four journalists go to video. The video specialist works with each of those journalists on their respective stories, and shows them how to implement video to make their job easier (if journalists don’t understand how it will make their life easier, why would they use it?). The only other job of these specialists is to edit where necessary. With these tasks, their hand will be full.

2. Consuls: Ancient Rome (before emperors) had two leaders who led the country together. They were called consuls. In the same way a newsroom should have consuls, although they wouldn’t be the executives. Instead, one consult oversees print and the other online. Consuls work together to make sure one media form compliments the other.
This does not mean one concentrates only on print and the other online. It means these two people work together on a day-to-day basis to ensure all stories are being presented in the appropriate mediums, and to make sure the specialists under them are helping journalists to make this happen.

3. Editor-in-Chief: This person develops and implements policy (it wouldn’t be called the “executive” position unless they were meant to execute). It is the job of the EIC to spot holes in the current over-arching structure in order to make things work more cohesively. While the EIC holds total editorial control, their job isn’t to make something happen by intervening directly. Instead, their job is to spot an editorial problem and fix it by tweaking (not overhauling) the current structure until the problem is fixed. This ensures that the problem will not creep up again with the next administration – assuming that the new EIC doesn’t throw out the structure altogether, and that they are willing to tweak the structure to fit the personalities of new specialsts, et al.

As you can see, this is a very basic structure. It is not meant to be detailed here because it’s only theory. Fine details have to be filled in depending on the people involved – which is where the talent of the executive(s) plays its most critical role.

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