Friday, January 9, 2009

Central copy desk now not a certainty

Word is that the owners of Booth are not yet sold on the idea of a central copy desk for all the State's newspapers located out of Grand Rapids.

The cost saving measure to reduce and consolidate copy desk functions was perhaps the most confusing part of the Booth rescue plan.

Now word is that the Flint Journal (and presumably the other Booth properties) are being asked to craft proposals on how they would continue local copy editing functions with the personnel that remains after the buyouts.

Of course, a number of local copy desk folks have already accepted the buyouts after this word came down so one has to wonder if that was intentional or simply coincidental. This has all the appearance of a beached whale trying to find its way back to the ocean.

It is simply hard to imagine the lack of foresight and leadership in a business that so sorely needs it now. And yet, those in charge find a home for those most incompetent folks in the future leadership.


inky said...

To attribute this amusing fire drill to a bigger conspiracy is giving the management too much credit. To answer your rhetorical question: Yes, they are THAT dumb.

Anonymous said...

I'm hearing that Booth is reconsidering the idea of regional copy desks at several papers. I'm told they're knocking out walls in Grand Rapids to get ready for some sort of new copy desk.

Anonymous said...

The most efficient, best cost saving and probably highest quality thing that Booth could do is to ship copy editing work to India. A lot lower price and MUCH few mistakes

Anonymous said...

Surely the last commenter is joking. "Highest quality" by outsourcing to India? Cheapest, sure. But having local copy edited by (even well-intentioned, capable) people half the world away will not ensure highest quality unless you mean strictly getting the punctuation placed primly and neatly.

One regional desk, or two, makes sense for efficiency and still allows the editors to benefit from familiarity with the Booth cities and statewide landmarks/issues.

The optimal solution is one well-managed central desk, preferably in a lower-cost market than Ann Arbor or Grand Rapids (perhaps Jackson or Bay City) where the salaries go farther and housing costs are lower than AA or GR. Maybe Flint.

Probably also would want to have at least one person in the home cities' newsrooms who can drive InDesign and do some emergency last-second editing/layout/production in the proximity of the reporters and editors themselves so there isn't the need to bounce copy and pages between newsrooms on a story that is arriving after the last second. This perhaps isn't crucial, depending on the lines of communication between the home cities and the central desk, and the power of the budget software everyone is using.

The silent alternative -- in the post-buyouts world -- of having a tiny copy desk or copy "pod" at each of the papers takes away any flexibility and backup depth. How does anybody take a vacation day or not work 7 days a week on a copy desk that has 3 or 4 people? Pregnancy leave? Sick time? Holidays? You have to have a large enough desk that you have backup for more than one person (actually, more than a few) to be out of the lineup any given day or days in a row. So the big desk idea makes great sense to handle that issue. It also helps ensure that you have people in the room who have the full range of abilities in Photoshop, InDesign and Illustrator despite not having a full-blown Art department.

You could argue that a couple of regional desks might accomplish the same thing, although it would have perhaps only half the number of bodies in the room and reduce the scheduling flexibility.

How many layout/editors are enough? Depends largely on how capable the employees are. I'd take 2 really persistent, competent, assertive, seriously pro people who know how to move their butts to get copy and pages out the door over six who don't or won't, or who make a big deal out of small problems that crop up, or who don't know how to use their time effectively and multitask. A central desk requires copy editors to not hesitate a moment to pick up the phone and get a reporter or editor to answer a question. No waiting around.

Booth papers have many good copy/layout editors, although I'm not sure how many of them are taking the buyouts. But how many all-star, super-pro layout/editors do the papers have, and how many will be left after January?

Anonymous said...

I'm a Boothie, and I heard our publisher admit that outsourcing to India was considered and (so far) rejected.
He could/would not explain why the option of American copy editors telecommuting from home was immediately ruled out.
That seems a good answer to me. Telecommuting would be such a natural evolution for journalism! Why have reporters in a newsroom at all — the news happens everywhere else.
Eventually that's what news will be: an organization linked electronically with no physical plant at all. However, it's looking like this company does not want to be a part of that future.