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Conversion to morning paper

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by apeman33, Dec 6, 2007.

  1. apeman33

    apeman33 Well-Known Member

    I can't give details but I work at an evening paper. The publisher told me yesterday that they are thinking about converting us to a morning paper (which would make us an extremely small one with a circulation of less than 4,000).

    I am the sports editor. I need to know some things to relay back to the publisher because I am not sure if this will work very well for my part of the paper is the plans are implemented as they were explained to me. She has asked me to gather input from other papers and editors and I thought this was the logical place to go.

    Also consider that this is a one-man staff and will probably continue to be after the conversion.

    Generally, when is your copy due? I have been told that the rest of the paper will be ready by 8 p.m. but that I might get until 11. In years past, our Saturday paper came out in the morning and it took me until 1 a.m. to get it done by myself. But in those days, the paper was printed in town. Now it is printed at the "mother ship" and this is part of why my deadline will be so early.

    I would also need some advice on what to do if a coach doesn't get me his information in time and I can't reach him. What can I do to fill what could be a huge hole on short notice?

    Summers are also very slow here. There haven't been any organized summer teams here for years, so most of my sports section in the summer is Royals wire copy. How would I need to improvise to cover for a west-coast game or a game in Chicago that goes 16 innings?

    My personal feeling is that this won't work unless I have at least a midnight deadline. But they want the paper printed as quickly as they can in oder to get it into the mail for the rural areas by 4:30 a.m. And they'd have to truck the paper back here just to get it to the post office.

    Any advice appreciated. What I'm hoping for is to present evidence that switching to mornings will result in a worse product and whatever savings is made by morning publication will be somewhat negated by upset readers and advertisers.

    Of course, that's a pipe dream. But I can't think of one positive thing that the switch will give me or my section considering the circumstances I expect they will impose on me (no more coverage of anyone's road games, for example, because I won't have enough time to drive back, write the story, edit it, edit the photos and lay it all out...and there may not be anyone here to check my copy).

  2. Ape, I got my start at a 7K, six-day morning paper, where I was the one-man sports staff. I can tell you, it will work. But you have to have some ground rules.

    11 pm is your deadline, fine. That's your deadline. Let your publisher know that you won't have scores of pro and college games that start later than 7 pm (bb) or 8 pm (bkb). You said Royals, so I'm guessing you're Central Time Zone. So you'll get most of the scores on any given night. If the Royals are on the West Coast, you're SOL. Use a follow the next day.

    Regarding preps: Tell your coaches what your deadline is. NOT when you go to press at 11 pm, but when you need it in hand to do something with it. I'd say 10 pm, allowing for some fudging. But if they call after 10:30, it's not going in the paper. And the first time someone breaks your deadline, tell him thanks for calling, take the info, but let the coach know it won't be in the next day. If you make exceptions, it will become the rule. Everybody has cell phones. The coach can call you from the bus. If the coach is driving, there's an asst coach, a manager, somebody who can give you the basics. (Whatever you do, don't talk to the coach while he's driving. You don't want that PR hassle if there's an accident ... "Well, I was talking to the newspaper and got distracted ... ")

    As far as your in-game staffing goes, you will have to give up going to many games. Road games will be just about impossible. Home games, maybe, if they're not late.

    You don't say how many days you publish. If you're six days, do you take one of those days off? Who gets the sports pages out on those days? I trained one of the news side people to basically fill in the blanks for me so I could cover games. I would even let them call me on my day off to suggest where and how to play stories. (Again, cell phones.) My suggestion is talk to the publisher about having a news sider put the stories on the page after you have given them the layout, if you want to get out to the local hs to cover a necessary game. Otherwise, find a capable stringer, stay on the desk, and limit yourself to writing non-deadline columns and features (which isn't so bad, really).

    Hope this helps. Good luck.
  3. Jeremy Goodwin

    Jeremy Goodwin Active Member

    I know the Leader-Telegram in Eau Claire, Wisconsin made the switch earlier this year (in June, I think). You can maybe send some of those guys an e-mail. Though they are about 30K circ and have four or five people on the sports staff, so things will be different. I've talked to some of those guys about the switch and they said it mostly changed their hours. They used to report, then design the section until the wee hours of the night. The staff is mostly young, so they'd rather stay up late than get up early and design. Now, they get in in the afternoon and only have to work until 11 or midnight.

    As Lone Star said, you are going to have to know what you will and will not get on a daily basis based on starting times and live with those problems. As for the pro teams on the West Coast, you could go with a feature or the optional from the night before.
  4. apeman33

    apeman33 Well-Known Member

    Well, the additional info is...

    Six-day paper. 3,200 circ. I've never had any sort of assistance and the company doesn't like stringers. The local college doesn't have a journalism program, so I can't get any student help from there.

    I'm on salary and they exploit it. Some years, I haven't had a day off from Labor Day to the week before Christmas. I take my vacations at Christmas and in the dead time of summer so that the news room isn't burdened with trying to figure out what the chicken scratches on the sheets mean. I'm in the Central time zone.

    I have coaches who can't or won't meet deadlines now. Some never call. One of the first things I thought of was dropping the two worst offending high schools, who are on the fringe of the area anyway, but I figured eliminating potential readers wouldn't be a good way to start this process.

    They're not going to hire another person, so becoming desk only is not an option. I will have to be at the home games. And people are used to seeing me on the road. I've taken hits in the past for not being able to be in two places at once so I'm not too keen on finding out the reaction from those same people when they find out I may not be able to be anywhere at all. And I'm not a good feature writer, anyway.

    My greatest worry is that too many coaches won't meet deadline, which leaves me with holes to fill and sort of defeats one of the purposes of the conversion which is to get our rural readers the paper in the mail the same day. Having to bump coaches a day or not include them because they miss deadline defeats that purpose.

    Thanks for your answers. I don't think this process will happen before summer although I wouldn't be surprised if something happens sooner. And then I will have to deal with notifying all those people that their deadlines have changed effective immediately, which I think will be met with "huh?"

    Can I expect to be able to put out a good product with no assistance (I will probably be the only person in the newsroom after 8 every night) and an deadline that early?
  5. SportsGuyBCK

    SportsGuyBCK Active Member

    How much space (on average) do you have to fill each day?
  6. apeman33

    apeman33 Well-Known Member

    1 1/2 to 3 pages. It's not a gigantic paper by any means. I'm concerned more about the early deadline. Given the time I think I'd need, about 3 to 4 hours, I think I'd be OK. But it sounds like they want to give me about an hour and a half after a busy sports day to get it all in and the publisher hates AP copy unless absolutely necessary.
  7. Jeremy Goodwin

    Jeremy Goodwin Active Member

    If you have wire copy for the Royals, can't you just plug in a wire story when coaches don't call in? For the coaches you are extra concerned about you can leave the story in there until they call, then trim the wire copy once you have your few graphs from the call. This, if any, would be the "absolutely necessary" time for wire copy.

    Good luck with everything. I do not envy your situation.
  8. apeman33

    apeman33 Well-Known Member

    It's early on in the process and I admit I'm overstressing some.

    But during basketball season, my area doesn't have a pro team to fill space with. Of course, there's KU and K-State but they don't often play on Tuesdays and Fridays. The juco's home games wouldn't be an issue but the road games will be a cluster...they don't get carried on the radio so I'd have to hope the coaches and pick up new habits or that I can rely on other sources.

    I don't envy me, either. Add this to the fact that I've been filling on our our two town's combined Sunday paper for two months since they can't keep a sports editor over there for some reason (I'm just supposed to provide content under normal circumstances; now I'm driving over there and trying to slap together four pages involving nine schools in three hours by myself).

    I guess that's some of the problem. I've been getting a taste of some of what can happen when things go wrong lately. And now I'm thinking this will become an everyday occurance rather than just once a week.
  9. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    Apeman: Not knowing anything about your personal situation (family? hometown?), but it sounds like you need to start sending out some resumes. It sounds like this company is working you to death with the six days per week, plus the Sunday paper. You are going to find yourself burned out, if you are not already.

    I worked at a 6-day afternoon paper similar to your size. I left right before they converted to an a.m. I believe they have a second person on the newside who helps out their SE with the section, so the SE gets some time off.

    Some more constructive advice: I'll echo the others on here in making sure you get a late enough deadline. If the coaches don't call in, then prioritize their games and call one or two of them to remind them. As for the rest of the games, if readers complain, tell them to make sure the coach calls in.

    There's only so much one person can do. Good luck.
  10. apeman33

    apeman33 Well-Known Member

    I get some of my time back during the summer, so to speak. But they'll always get more out of me than I do back from them.

    In case I wasn't clear, it's six days which includes our combo Sunday paper. But basically, there's been more than a few weeks I've worked seven days, including last week. Our publishing week is M-F and Sunday (which actually prints Saturday afternoon, go figure). The "mother ship" doesn't do Mondays. That's why they are in charge of actually putting the Sunday combo together: Saturday is their fifth work day.

    Where I am now is not my hometown. Some distant relatives are here but I do keep my eyes open for a good situation a little farther west of me. But there aren't many out there, so I've just been biding my time.

    I did burn out once before. I came back with some better terms from the previous owner. I've been trying to balance getting done all that I have to do against doing too much so I don't burn out again.
  11. Mira

    Mira Member

    Definitely drop a note to the guys at the Leader-Telegram. Joe Ziemer and Adam Parks are top-notch dudes.
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