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RIP, the Daily Paper: As Headlines Document the Death of Print Media, How Will Quad Cities Newspapers Survive? - Page 2 PDF Print E-mail
News/Features - Media
Written by Jeff Ignatius   
Wednesday, 18 March 2009 06:00
Argus /Dispatch: "We've Flattened the Newsroom Structure"

While Taylor paints a rosy picture of the health of the Argus and Dispatch, there's no doubt that the papers' profitability has come at a cost.

"Consciously in the last year, we've trimmed about 40 situations - about 20 percent of our workforce," he said. A lot of the cuts, he said, were a function of consolidating operations into its Moline building, shutting down the Leader, and backing off the WiMax project undertaken by its Quad-Cities Online division.

But the news operation has also been trimmed. Taylor said his newsroom has approximately 10 fewer people than the 65 it had a year ago - and the losses have been split roughly evenly between reporters and editors.

"We've flattened the newsroom structure out a lot," he said. In the past year, "we totally reorganized our newsroom."

Gone is the traditional structure with beats and sections and what Taylor called "silos."

In their place are six "information pods," groupings with four to seven reporters and one information editor. Two of those are fairly traditional newsroom departments - sports and photo - but the other four represent a different way of doing business: a breaking-news pod that typically covers police, crime, and government, an entertainment/community pod, a business/health pod, and a special-sections pod.

While reporters no longer have traditional beats, he added, they still specialize in a few areas. "You're trying to broaden their horizons, but you're still maintaining some focus," he said.

"The whole thrust of that was to try to make sure that we could have more writing talent, more reporting talent than we could get out of the old system," he added. "The information editors in some cases are going to act more like reporters than editors."

Taylor said that one aim was to refocus on "individuals and lifestyles," and he used the example of covering issues that affect the Arsenal because it's become the area's largest employer. It's a subtle difference, but the emphasis is less on institutions than the people affected by those institutions.

The new structure, Taylor said, was the idea of a committee of approximately 20 members of the news staff. They were charged with looking at how the newspaper could be produced with fewer resources, he said: "Assume that you're not going to have any more help than you have today in terms of news. Assume in fact that you'll probably have less. ... How do we make better use of the Internet ... to get people to help provide content for our papers?"

(To that end, the Argus and Dispatch last month started QC Capture, a user-submitted photo feature.)

There's no doubt that every company has its organizational inefficiencies, but a critical question is whether the quality of journalism suffers when the newsroom staff is trimmed by more than 15 percent.

Taylor boasted that "we still do a lot of enterprise," but when questioned about what that entailed, he defined it far more broadly than its traditional meaning of in-depth or investigative journalism.

"Our notion in today's world is that we try to do what we like to call 'targeted local enterprise,'" he explained. "That means trying to keep those various groups within the community in your sights and in your mind at all times." The Argus/Dispatch, he said, added a Hispanic columnist, and for the past few years has sought for its "viewpoints" page column-length submissions from groups and perspectives that have been underrepresented in the newspaper in the past.

"While investigative reporting is something we'd like to do more of, the first reality is: We need to keep those local groups in our sights, in our focus, and in our pages," Taylor said. "We need to get their faces in the pages of the print product, we need to get their faces and their pictures à la QC Capture on the Web site, we need to give them something they can't get anywhere else. And hopefully we'll find some time to do some investigative stuff as it comes along."

That diversity within the pages of the Argus/Dispatch is what Taylor said he's most proud of in the past year: "It isn't a single project or a single story. I think we've gotten more people - more local people - across more of ... our targeted groups. I think we've managed to get them into the paper, onto the front pages, onto the section fronts. ... I think we've done more of that at a time when we've been losing staff than I would have ever imagined."

In that same vein, the papers started a partnership with the Latino newspaper Hola in which the publications share some content. "That's a significant hunk of the population in terms of the Hispanic population that we don't reach with our traditional paper, and probably aren't likely to," Taylor said.

Along with that shift in newspaper content, there's less room for content - although Taylor suggested that most of the cuts in his papers were national and international news, and sports. "We've tightened up the papers," he said. "We've tightened the news hole and redistributed it somewhat. ... You'll see some redistribution of how we do things on different days of the week. ... Maybe a little less newspaper, a different[ly] designed newspaper on certain days of the week."