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Moving from SE to ME?

Discussion in 'Journalism topics only' started by sprtswrtr10, Jan 14, 2013.

  1. sprtswrtr10

    sprtswrtr10 Member

    Anybody done it themselves, watched it happen, or have any great thoughts on the possbility? I am considering attempting to make such a move at my paper, a big-time D-1 university hometown 12K or so daily. I have many ideas I'd like to bring from sports to news, like REALLY working your beat, like being invested in the process, of understanding the on-call nature of the gig, of understanding you're not there to regurgitate what your sources tell you as though it's gospel, of not adhering to an absolute set schedule, but using your time as wisely as you can in an effort to be more productive and to hit your deadline. In general, I think most news operations at a place like our place have a sort of sleepy newsroom culture that you can't afford to have in sports if you're to compete with the bigger outlets with more resources … Of course, I know, cultures die hard, so I think I enter the process with an open mind, even while to sure to be surprised along the way. I guess I'm just asking for any thoughts or wisdom anybody might want to pass along. Thanks.
  2. Ideas are nice to have, but let's get real. Piss off the wrong source in a mall town and you could lose a big advertiser. The obvious reply that journalism trumps money is not realistic at most papers in the country.
  3. Mark2010

    Mark2010 Active Member

    Be prepared for resistance if you try to change the culture, especially if you have a lot of (1) older staffers who are used to doing their job a certain way or (2) young new grads who aren't entirely sure if journalism is for them and sort of resent extra hours and mediocre pay.

    I've seen several people make the move. Some found they missed the excitement of sports and decided to move back rather quickly. Others lasted a bit longer. But it does tend to be more management-oriented, dealing with people from other departments, unless it's a REALLY small shop where you are basically acting as the city editor as well.
  4. I didn't observe this particular transition myself, but we did introduce a higher-up into our newsroom over a year ago who COMPLETELY changed our culture. She was much younger than most of us, so she had a big challenge in front of her. Honestly, the most effective tactic she employed when she met resistance from those not willing to change was asking the question "Why." She always had a reason for why she wanted to accomplish something, and most of the time anyone offered resistance they had no other reason than "Because we have never done that" or "this isn't something we should have to do" or "this isn't how a newspaper works". She was introducing new technique that better equipped us to really innovate our digital presence and I admired how much she was able to accomplish in so little time, with pretty much all of the deck stacked against her. She was never threatening, just forced anyone with an adversarial opinion to really think through their objection.
  5. SCEditor

    SCEditor Active Member

    I essentially did the same thing (I have a different title than ME) three years ago. I'd worked in sports (as a writer, copy editor and editor) for most of my career (except for a one-year stint as a news page designer).

    There's good and there's bad. As one poster noted, it's hard to change a culture when people are entrenched in their beliefs. What it boiled down to was this: We were going to do things my way, and a lot of people resisted that. Most who resisted are gone. Some have remained. But there were a lot of changes.

    I took over a newsroom that was rife with problems. I knew it was bad (I worked there for 2 1/2 years as sports editor), but I had no idea how bad until I truly took over and tried to change things. And, unfortunately, that meant a lot of personnel changed in my first couple of years. At my paper, a 15,000-circulation daily, our newsroom (not counting sports and clerk positions) turned over almost completely. My core news staff -- 10 positions -- only retains 4 people from when I started. Some of those positions turned over twice. Some left for better jobs in the industry. Some left for better jobs outside of the industry. Some left because they didn't like the changes I implemented.

    Here's the first thing you need to get a handle on: If you go from SE to ME, are you going to have support? My executive editor and publisher trusted me enough to let me make the changes necessary. They believed in the end goal. It was a little messy getting there, but we're a far better paper now than we were three years ago. It wasn't easy, and I have significantly more gray hair on my head than I did three years ago. But we reached our destination. Part of that has to do with my vision, but a bigger part of it has to do with hiring people who see the same things I do and want to be part of a newsroom that does things right and better than ever.

    If your goal involves drastically improving the paper, it's going to take time. And you should be patient (much more than I was). But if you have to "drastically" improve the paper, the first thing you're going to have to fix is personnel. Getting people to do things the right way or finding people who will. Your newspaper will only be as good as the staff you employ. You can't do it all.

    PM me if you've got any questions. I'll be more than happy to answer them.
  6. Baron Scicluna

    Baron Scicluna Well-Known Member

    I'll say this as someone who, while not switching sports to news or moving up, but as someone who has experienced bosses replacing bosses.

    You'll want to come in and change the culture. That's all well and good, but you also have to be careful not to change something that works. And don't just change stuff for the sake of changing stuff. Otherwise, your employees will tend to not place as much importance on the changes and may tune you out.

    Also remember, you have the power to affect your workers' livelihoods. They may be pretty nervous when you take over, so take that into consideration. And, for all the "older staffers not willing to change," it may not be that they're not willing to change, but how you want them to change. Would you just be dumping more work on them, or changing up the beats, or changing their hours and days off? That has a big effect on people. If it's adding web duties, present it as "this will help you gain more skills for the future," instead of "Do it, or you're gone."

    At the small paper where I was a one-man sports staff, the EE had left, under some rather uniquely bad circumstances that I won't go into here, and the new EE came in, and for the first couple of weeks, just proofed some pages and talked with us about what he was looking for. He didn't make any big promises or pronouncements about changing this and that, he looked at everyone's strengths and weaknesses and worked to enhance the former and shore up the latter.

    He also helped win me over by saying that he had been reading my stuff before he had come aboard and liked what I was doing. Then, when he wanted to make some changes to the section, I was more willing to listen, and work with him, instead of against him.

    The stuff you listed as wanting to change is one thing. But see how reality is like for the staffers before you start spouting off that you want to shake things up. Not to mention, what you said sounds a lot like you want your staffers to put in a heckuva lot more time, and have more irregular hours. Are you willing to pay the overtime for that?
  7. Turtle Wexler

    Turtle Wexler Member

    I agree that this is a great approach to take, but it only works when people are actually talking to the new boss. How often do people grumble or talk big behind the back about changes but won't say a peep in a meeting or to someone's face? I've seen the smile-nod-do-my-own-thing-anyway culture a lot. How can you make inroads to that environment?
  8. HejiraHenry

    HejiraHenry Well-Known Member


    I'm not sure a couple of people on here really read what you wrote. I think you're on to something with the notion that your experiences in sports can help inform you as a newsroom manager.

    That was certainly my experience in the early 90s when I shifted from SE at one big suburban weekly to ME at another in a neighboring county. The circulation manager there said he'd never had an ME as sensitive to the question of what drove people to buy the newspaper.

    First thing, I told the education writer that I never wanted to see her at her desk except on deadline day. To cover the schools, she needed to be spending a lot more time in the schools themselves.
  9. As others on this thread have mentioned, you can put up with a little of that, because it's a natural reaction to change. But, eventually, you are either trying to be a part of the solution or becoming part of a bigger problem. If it's the latter, you are either going to leave on your own because you truly don't believe in the change or you will be given an ultimatum. The pleasantries only go so far, and that was the case here. Also, to address the communication aspect, she had sitdowns with everyone in her first couple weeks, which I thought was smart as well. It was clear everyone had been heard and she her decisions after that. I respect that. I don't always need to get my way, in most cases, I am happy knowing I'v been heard.
  10. sprtswrtr10

    sprtswrtr10 Member

    Thanks all and please keep them coming.
    What I think about after reading all these responses is this:

    My greatest victory, should I be offered and take the job, would be getting the reporters to see the job the way I see the job. This should be fun. Each reporter, on their beat, should feel empowered to be the source of what's important, newsworthy and interesting, regardless of of what they're being told those things are by some of the people they come into contact with on their beats. And that's a great position to be in. In sports, of course, we choose our stories. In an advance, we choose what story to tell. From a game, we choose which story to tell. A feature, the same thing. A notepad, we choose the notes, use what's important, throw what isn't away.

    What I see too often in news are So and So Important Person Is Now Saying This stories. Drives me nuts. Or, Here's What Happened in Last Night's Meeting stories. I quit writing advances and gamers that way 15 years ago. My position has always been "I'm Going to Tell You What the Story Is," and I'm not going to let anything or anybody get in the way of that. Sometimes I need people to tell me what the story is. Often, I know what the story is and understand these sources are telling it like it is while these other sources are trying to spin me. And the spinners either don't get quoted, or get quoted in the context of flying in the face of the facts.

    Anyway, I don't want a reporter to to see him/herself as a middleman of information, but s the community's source of what needs to be known and what the score is on any number of issues. And if you immerse yourself in your beat, you should know what's going on and what's important and that should guide what you're working on. Also, at any given moment, you should be able to come up with a newsy notebook of tidbits you've yet to put in stories; and, typically, stories should simply kick out of your beat based on that immersion.

    BTW, the exiting editor managed to alienate the newsroom, so the next person will have that going for them. If it is me, it will be my aim to empower the staff, to be its advocate. Of course, that means getting everybody on board, encouraging their autonomy and driving their proactivity. That would be the idea.

    These are my thoughts.
    I invite further response.

  11. reformedhack

    reformedhack Well-Known Member

    I'll offer a different tangent. If you do take the job, be sure you give your replacement room to breathe.

    I stepped into such a situation many years ago, when I replaced a sports editor who moved into the managing editor's chair. He was a good guy, personally, but he remained very hands-on with my department -- moreso than any other department. It was, to say the least, not comfortable ... not a good fit.

    I left after 10 months, realizing I could never make much of an impact under those circumstances. (The two sports editors who followed me also bailed after relatively short tenures.) It costs a lot -- in time, in money -- to hire new people, so if you get the higher-paying ME gig, sprtswrtr10, don't sabotage things by being a helicopter parent.

    Good luck to you.
  12. Why did you quit writing the easy stories? It comes down to habit. What do you hope to accomplish by changing things? It has to be more than "better journalism" or winning awards. It's tough to accept that some people just don't make too much of an effort, or don't have the talent, but you might have to.

    Will changes bring the paper more revenue? Do you think you can change the mindset of your co-workers? Have you ever talked with them about how they view their job and journalism in general?

    I looked back and saw your first post. Are you happy you stayed in the business?
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