So Much for the Tampa Tribune’s One-Section Experiment

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One week. That’s how long the Tampa Tribune’s one-section weekday paper experiment lasted. The new look debuted this Monday, and the newspaper announced on Thursday that it is going back to a more traditional multi-section format starting next Monday.

I haven’t picked up the new format, I don’t live in Tampa, and I don’t know the area or its people, so I’m not going to wax on about something I know nothing about by trying to critique the one-section format. Instead, I just wanted to make one observation.

First, a comment from Tampa Tribune executive editor Janet Coats in announcing the return to multiple sections, via The Feed:

It was a noble experiment, but we’re going to back up a step,” said Tribune executive editor Janet Coats. “People want sports in a separate section…they want to be able to hand sections around. Turns out, we had really disrupted the way people communicate with each other in the morning.

Now, a previous comment from Coats in announcing the launch of the one-section format, via the Tampa Bay Business Journal:

The new Monday through Friday Trib reflects what you’ve told us about what you want in a daily newspaper,” said executive editor and vice president Janet Coats in a letter to readers in Monday’s paper. “The result is a section that provides a more colorful, lively look at the day’s news in a format that respects your time.

I want to know what kind of audience research, if any was really conducted, led to the decision to go to a one-section format. Yes, surveys can be unreliable, and people often say one thing but really mean another. But when a change ellicits 3,000 complaint calls and 300 subscription cancellations in the span of about three days, one has to wonder if there weren’t warning signs along the way. And if the research really did indicate an audience affinity for such a format, then that calls into question the method by which the research was conducted.

Or, let’s say the research is sound and the newspaper really does believe that a one-section format is the way to go, then how is three days enough time to tell whether it is the right decision? Surely they must have expected negative reactions, and considering how drastic a change this is, they should have expected that reaction to be proportionally stronger than what a run-of-the-mill redesign would draw. If it’s an issue of trying to appeal to a younger audience but alienating your core of older readers in the process, that’s something that doesn’t take a genius to foresee and plan for accordingly. If you knew that you won’t have the wherewithal to stand by your new product for a little longer than three days, if you knew that you won’t be able to stand up to your core readers and tell them you are doing this because that’s what your future readers want, then perhaps you shouldn’t have made this product at all. If you believe it is the right solution in the long run, then you must be willing and able to absorb short-term losses and give the experiment a chance to bear fruits. If your operations aren’t set up to withstand those short-term losses, then you didn’t plan your strategy for this product very well.

Look, I’m not busting the Tribune’s chops for experimenting. They should be commended for that. I’m criticizing them for seemingly not doing good enough research to guide their experiments. Whatever research they did in this case, it obviously failed to reflect what the paper’s audience really wanted. And if the paper’s brass really do believe in the validity of their research, then they should be criticized for not standing by their product through the initial negative reactions. Whatever the cause for the negative reception, the end result is a waste of time and resources — first in producing a product the paper’s audience seemingly despises, and now in un-making that product — not to mention a PR disaster with your readers.

National Press Club Forum at UNC: The Future of News

I attended a National Press Club forum at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication last night. The topic was “The Future of News”. The forum was mediated by Donna Leinwand, a USA Today correspondent, the press club’s vice president and a UNC alumna. The four-member panel consisted of:

  • Orage Quarles, publisher of the News & Observer (Raleigh, N.C.)
  • Penny Muse Abernathy, the school’s Knight Chair in Digital Media Economics
  • Deborah Potter, director of NewsLab, a nonprofit journalism resource in Washington, D.C.
  • Jim Hefner, professor at the school and former VP and GM at Raleigh-based WRAL

A couple observations from the forum:

Continue reading National Press Club Forum at UNC: The Future of News

How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 4

portfolioOne problem that many journalist face in trying to leave newspapers mid-career is how to convince a prospective employer through your application material that you have the skills, if not the experience, to do the job. In this post, I’ll share some of the things that have worked for me. In fact, I’ve had to accomplish this task a couple of times — first when I went from designing newspaper sports pages to a job where I did scientific illustrations and designed science educational materials, then again when i went from being a designer at an ad agency to a PR position where I was hired for my writing skills. So it’s definitely doable.

Continue reading How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 4

How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 3

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I wrote yesterday about how to approach your job search as you try to get out of newspapers. Today, I’ll talk about some of the fields that you can get into with the skills you used in journalism and, in some cases, a little bit of extra learning. This isn’t meant to be an all-inclusive list, just a few things off the top of my head. I’ll talk about the skills you need for each job, why it could be a good fit for a former journalist, and why it might not be a good fit.

Continue reading How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 3

How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 2

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After spending the first part of this series badgering and bludgeoning you into deciding that it’s time to leave journalism, I’m going to use this post to talk about how to approach a job search in trying to land a non-journalism job using the same skills you used in your journalism careers.

Compile a List of Job Sites and Check It Frequently

Just as a beat reporter would check with his/her sources on a regular basis to see if there’s any news, a job seeker needs to make the rounds. You’ve got your usual suspects like Monster and Careerbuilder, and I’ve found Craigslist to be a very abundant source for writing and design jobs, especially at smaller local companies. Also, be sure to check the classifieds in your paper (oh irony of ironies) and other local publications.

Aside from those general job sites, look for:

  • Industry-specific sites, such as creativehotlist.com for design jobs.
  • Sites of various trade associations.
  • If you are looking to remain in your current area, look around and see who the biggest employers are, then go find the job boards on their sites.
  • Nonprofits’ Web sites. See if there is a Web site for an association of nonprofits in your state, which likely would have a job board.
  • State and local governments’ sites

Once you have your list of job sites, check it frequently. When I was in my job searches, I checked daily, which at times can be frustrating because it might feel like you are seeing the same handful of unappealing jobs forever. However, you never know what might turn up tomorrow. Continue reading How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 2

How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 1

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This post isn’t going to whine about the state of the industry, and it isn’t going to offer solutions on how to solve the problems that ail newspapers. I’ve done both of those on other occasions. Instead, this is the first of several posts offering suggestions and tips for journalists looking to leave the business before the business forces them out the door.

Just to be clear: I do believe that journalism has a future. However, no one can deny that the next 10 years or so are going to be very tumultuous, and from the way things look, the cuts will keep on coming for quite a while. Even after the industry stabilizes, I don’t think many of those lost jobs are coming back. There are, of course, a good number of journalists who want to tackle that challenge, which is great, and I have a ton of respect for them. Without them, journalism won’t have a future. However, it’s also asinine to expect people, especially those with financial and family obligations, to willingly sacrifice a decade of their lives, perhaps more, to help turn around an industry that treats them like crap and won’t hesitate to cut off their livelihood if it means pushing the profit margin up a few more percentage points. In the face of that, you can’t blame people for throwing up their hands, saying “To hell with this”, and leaving to do something more rewarding with their lives.

But how do you go about doing that? How do you leave behind the passion that drew you to journalism in the first place? How do you go about making a career change mid-life? What skills do you need?

I’ve had some friends who have gone on to do things that are complete departures from journalism. One went to law school, another went to open up his own batting cage business. As for myself, I’ve been trading on the skills I used in journalism — namely writing and design. I’ll try to share some of the things I’ve learned along the way to help those who are looking to transfer the skills that made them good journalists over to other fields.

Continue reading How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist, Part 1

Not So Insignificant Hiccup

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If you actually visit this site on a semi-regular basis, you might’ve noticed that it had been out of action since late last week. My blog suffered pretty much a catastrophic hack. After spending a day e-mailing back and forth with the tech support guys at my Web hosting service, I came to the conclusion that it’s much easier to start over. It’s not like I had too much that was truly valuable anyway. In any case, I’m happy to be back up and running. Not being able to blog these past few days meant that I missed the chance to write several posts, including a fantasy football one that would’ve been titled “Hell Hath No Fury Like DeAngelo Williams Scorned” (about how I cut the Panthers running back in one league only to play against him in another and watch him score three, THREE, touchdowns to pound my team).

The good news is that the one item of relative value I had written — the “How to (Voluntarily) Become an Ex-Journalist” series — will be restored. I managed to fish the posts out of Google’s cache (see, it’s good for something other than digging into the age of Chinese gymnasts). I’ll be restoring those posts in the coming days, and I will try to make them conform to the old URLs so that incoming links won’t be broken. I might also put in a new theme while I’m at it. So changes are on the way. Sorry for the downtime. Hopefully this will be the last of it.