Sunday, February 3, 2008

How many editors are enough?

While the Flint Journal cleans house of its reporting staff, there has been little reduction in the ranks of the editors.

Through attrition, a number of copy editors have left, but mostly, the management type editors are still intact. In fact, one good reporter was promoted to an editor spot despite the mass exodus of many reporters.

I did hear that two copy editors from another Booth newspaper were involuntarily assigned to begin working at the Flint Journal Monday, Feb. 4 so as not to overburden the management staff.

In the meantime, reporters are told they must produce as a quota, one news story per day, and a Sunday show piece every two weeks. So now newspapers have gone from a creative enterprise to the newest widget factory.

A Sunday, Feb. 3 column by the editor claims that print readers are not being sacrificed to the new online efforts of the Journal. That is total bullcrap. News content in the print paper has already suffered from the major buyouts as evidenced by the lack of local business content due to the loss of its veteran business desk.

One reporter now is assigned to the work of what was a five-person desk.

A little honesty from the editor to his readers would be welcome. This putting a happy face on such dramatic changes is unbecoming a big city editor. (See the story below about how the Los Angeles Times editor handled his situation).

Don't blame the reporters, they are stretched thin and many are new, part-time people who are in the process of learning the ropes.

So now the Journal is giving away its entire product online for free and wondering why its print version is losing money. There is no question changes had to be made, but ownership should have started cleaning house at the top, where it really matters, rather than gutting its essential product.

It's probably not politically correct, but the old saying "too many chiefs and not enough Indians" applies here.

The old ratio of editors was already about 1 to 1, so I can't imagine what it is now.

Add to this that many of the editors rarely lift a finger to help the reporting staff by covering an event, ripping off a news brief or making a phone call or two to help the overworked reporting staff.

So to sum up, while reporters depart in droves and the remnant picks up the beats of those departed, many of the editors are not sharing in the division of work they are so quick to hand to others.

True, the paper is hiring new part-time reporters with little previous experience and at a lower pay and benefit scale so the heavy lifting, for now anyway, continues to fall to the veteran reporters left behind.


geewhy said...

It's hard to say what the future holds for newspapers at this point. People are getting their news online in ever increasing numbers, but the online ad revenue simply doesn't match the money print ads used to bring in. It seems like papers are scrambling to get material online, but there's no real way to make money at it, at least not right now.

Thanks for your blog. The public needs to know the human side of this situation, not just the financial numbers.

I posted something about your blog to help you spread the word:

oakland said...

First, comparing the editor of the Flint Journal to the editor of the Los Angeles Times is a lot like comparing the Archies to the Beatles.

That said, if readers are to believe that the Journal can produce the same amount of content with half as many reporters, but it can't get by with half as many editors, then the current editors must be twice as unproductive as the reporters.

How many editors does it take to screw up a newspaper? Apparently at the Journal, quite a few.

sshum2003 said...

Where do all the collumnist (Brenda & Heller primarily) fall in all this? It seem that many of them previous did not have a report beat just writing their column. It seemed like a waste that a person just had to product 2 columns a week compare to a regular beat writer that might write almost daily articles and then produce a column like the Offbeat column that the police reporter did. It seems like the Flint Journal added video game column and fantasy football to Heller's load, but beyond that...

oakland said...

From a resource allocation standpoint, I should think Flint Journal management would be hard pressed to have two lifestyle columns -- especially columns by white suburbanites -- when they're leaving entire beats like city hall uncovered and two days behind on breaking news.

Think there'll be any reporters left to write the Flint Journal's obit when all of the editor's "exciting new changes" are implemented?