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DEAR READER: Missourian changes should bring improvements to print, online content

Friday, September 10, 2010 | 12:01 a.m. CDT

Dear Reader,

The Missourian newsroom has been working hard to be digital-first for some years now.

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It's not easy. The habits of print die hard: The work flow and even the language of the newsroom are built around the presses rolling at a certain time and the paper hitting your doorstep in time for that morning cup of coffee.

The trouble, design editor Joy Mayer says, is that when the staff dreams, "we dream in print." So in May the editors made a series of decisions that are being put into place now.

First, the disclaimer: The print edition isn't dying. In fact, I hope you'll see improvements. (More later on that.) Still, the newsroom reorganization over the summer is the most significant in years.

So is one at USA Today.

According to an article in The New York Times, the national newspaper is turning its eye to a digital-first operation. The print edition remains, but the company’s focus will move to getting breaking stories up on the Web 30 minutes after the event, and to multiple platforms such as digital news books.

USA Today already has a website. It was early on the iPad scene with its own "app" (short for application). That’s not enough, according to the Times piece.

It’s not enough at the Missourian either. So some of the changes:

  • Standard news reports of the day go up to ColumbiaMissourian.com immediately after being approved by a city editor; the copy desk completes further edits after the article is posted. More complicated enterprise reports or sensitive stories go through copy editors before publication.
  • The copy desk — the place where traditionally stories were polished and headlines written — has an expanded mission. It is now responsible for publishing to all the various outlets (Facebook, Twitter, mobile, etc.); for finding interesting links to related material; for updating an article with new information, and even for monitoring comments and providing answers to questions (or referring them to reporters). That’s why it has a new name: interactive copy desk.
  • A central coordinating desk — called the “hub desk” — includes editors for graphics, still photography, multimedia and article assignment. Its purpose is to better communicate ideas in the works and to assign the right piece of a story to the best vehicle for telling it.

Early results are good. You should be seeing more items throughout the day on ColumbiaMissourian.com, not just after midnight, which is a print deadline for getting pages to the press room.

It’s too early to read much into numbers, but at least they're promising: The week of Aug. 24 saw a 50 percent increase in traffic over the same week a year ago.

The most radical change is one you shouldn’t notice. A print team has been created. It is charged with producing, and improving, the print edition of the Columbia Missourian. It is separate from the rest of the newsroom. Sealed off, if you will, from the digital production.

The group of students who proposed most of the restructuring said the Missourian could never truly concentrate on digital publishing until it became “unhinged” from print. At the start of the decade, a small band produced the digital Missourian while everyone else concentrated on print. Today, a small group produces the print edition while everyone else concentrates on digital.

I’ll still dream in print. But the way I, and the newsroom, work have changed.

I hope you’ll let me know – good or bad – of changes you notice.

Tom


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Comments

tina fey September 10, 2010 | 8:01 a.m.

Dear Tom,

The future of the Missourian will need to follow the path of Rupert Murdoch's Wall Street Journal distribution model. It is hands down the most successful online 'digital' newspaper and actually generates profit from its subscription revenue model.

The refreshing success of the highly acclaimed publication is likely due to its hybrid value - it packs a wallop into its print edition, and repeats that content value in its online version along with additional content. This hybrid value and distribution model follows the path of success of most of the Internet e-tailing models such as WalMart(.com) and NIKE(.com).

Therefore, the greatest challenge to the future of the Missourian may indeed be generating valuable content regardless of print or digital platform. Interestingly, Rupert Murdoch's success in his adoption of the digital platform is based on the value of objective journalism that does not alienate conservative readers. Those conservative readers have money and will support fair and objective content.

For example, the WSJ would likely have published positive stories regarding the economic impact of IBM's move into the community of Columbia. As you recall, Tom Warhover obsessed over his Oliver Stone-like conspiracy theories regarding shadowy back room agreements and scene's reminiscent of David Ferrie's gay orgy get-on. Man, I followed Tom Warhover's coverage of IBM's move into Columbia like a Craigslist call girl following the Tiger Woods pay for porn saga.

Some of us do change. We get smart and wise up to reality. I hope that Tom Warhover and the Missourian do the same.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez September 10, 2010 | 6:32 p.m.

The Missourian really needs to take the comments off the front page and just show them off the end of the various articles. That would leave room for another story or another front page advert to help with costs. Try it out and see how it looks for a 6 month trial.

(Report Comment)
Ellis Smith September 11, 2010 | 6:54 a.m.

As a matter of curiosity can you supply us with a NUMBER, the number of persons engaged in doing all of this?

(Report Comment)
Nick Jungman September 11, 2010 | 3:24 p.m.

Ellis, I'm one of the Missourian editors involved in the transition.

There are four faculty editors who teach the classes and manage the teams involved. One of those editors, Jake Sherlock, manages the print production team in the evening, five nights a week. The others -- Maggie Walter, Laura Johnston and I -- rotate management of the interactive copy desk, which operates about 16 hours a day on weekdays, less on weekends.

We've got nine student teaching assistants, working 10-14 hours each per week, across both print and interactive.

Then there are 17 students in the News Editing class, Journalism 4406 and 7406, and they're doing the lion's share of the work on the interactive copy desk.

We've got eight students in the News Design class, Journalism 4500 and 7500, and they're doing the lion's share of the work on the print production team.

Let me know whether that answers your question.

Nick Jungman
Senior Editor for Transition
Knight Visiting Professional

(Report Comment)
Nick Jungman September 11, 2010 | 3:27 p.m.

Carlos,

I'm curious about your idea. Do you object to featuring the comments on the home page? I've actually been wondering whether those should be more prominent!

Nick Jungman

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez September 11, 2010 | 3:48 p.m.

@Nick Jungman lots of times in the past potential readers might look at the name(s) on the left and say to themselves "Oh no those idiots are at it again" which could drive readers away. It has been stated openly before when this question came up of allowing comments to be seen on the front page.

One other solution/option is to change your "coding" so only one comment per story/article shows on the front page instead of all of the comments from the entire article hogging the front page. Do you see what I mean? That might be another good alternative in itself if your programing coder can work out the bugs which might not be so easy.

One thing to is to find somebody who can help you with your spammer issues that are a continual issue. Adding certain strings into your filters might help that issue as it seems these spammers are always posting in the same manner. Spammer posting and types are so predictable after you have run your own sites for some years.

I love the online edition and it only needs some tweaking here and there to make it real nice. I also love the idea of student journalists too. There are other things to that could help your discussions in the long run with getting your student journalists more into researching and answering some of what the posters are presenting or doing more investigative research into issues locally and world wide that are brought up by your readership/posting members.

Just some thoughts to make the front page more appealing.

(Report Comment)
Nick Jungman September 11, 2010 | 5:01 p.m.

Carlos,

You and I are on the same page. If I were to change those comments, I'd like to feature the comment itself rather than the name of the commenter. And yes, we probably could filter that feed so that there is only one comment per story.

Our development staff is really busy on several projects -- some of which you'll hear about soon -- so this probably won't change right away. But I'll see about adding it to the list.

We actually think the spammers are human, so we don't think a CAPTCHA string will necessarily stop them. But it's something else we're looking at hard.

You're going to see our interactive editors engaging more in the comments of the stories. That is on their to-do lists.

Definitely on-point observations, and they'll help shape our planning. Thanks for posting them.

(Report Comment)
Carlos Sanchez September 11, 2010 | 5:28 p.m.

@Nick Jungman anytime. What is your email I have another great idea that you might like.

(Report Comment)
Nick Jungman September 11, 2010 | 5:37 p.m.

Carlos,

Last name and first initial @missouri.edu.

(Report Comment)

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