Monday, January 29, 2007

The L.A. Times manifesto

I hope you noticed and read the memo from L.A. Times Publisher David Hiller last week outlining the paper's new internet initiatives. It was a powerful manifesto; if they mean what they're saying, it's about genuine transformation,

Now we have editor Jim O'Shea's take on the same subject. A transcript of his remarks to the newsroom is available here. There's also an article about it here.

A few tidbits, including this note about a new senior editor in charge of innovation, and the staff-wide training they have mandated:

One of [the new editor's] assignments is to set up a training regimen for everyone in the newsroom to develop an expertise on the Internet and become savvy multi-media journalists.

A whole new world in out there -- video, photo galleries, chat rooms, landing pages. And to disprove the adage that you can't teach an old dog new tricks, I am going to be one of his first students. This training is mandatory for everyone.

Currently we have a newspaper staff and an staff. No more. From now on, there are no two staffs, there is just one. And we will function as one. One of Russ's first jobs will be to help set up that newsroom. Leo Wolinsky is already working on a plan and details will be coming soon. will become our primary vehicle for breaking news 24 hours a day. Reporters now enter the newsroom and tell editors what kind of a story they will write for the newspaper the next day.

Then -- we tend to think what can we do for the Internet, as if it were some kind of journalistic orphan.

That kind of thinking must change if we want to remain competitive.

We need to enter the newsroom and think about how we are going to break news on the Internet.

And then what we are going to do that will be different for the newspaper, which will become an even stronger vehicle for tightly-written context, analysis, interpretation and expertise. There is no better example of that than this morning front page story by John Horn and Gina Piccalo's piece on the Oscar's, a sohpisticaed analysis of the international forces driving the decisions of the judges.

Here is his analysis of revenue declines and their impact:

Now the truth is there are all kinds of reasons for that [revenue] decline. Delving into them would be a great MBA thesis at the Harvard Business School.

But we can't hide from the fact that smart competitors such as Google and Craigslist are stealing readers and advertisers from us through innovative strategies that are undermining the business model we've relied on for decades.

As many in this room have painfully discovered in their 401K statements, these developments are threatening the value of our stock portfolios. Equally significant, they are threatening the durability of crucial circulation and advertising revenues that enable us to effectively provide the news to a large and diverse audience.

Thanks to those revenues, we provide to citizens of this city, state, nation and world a vibrant great newspaper at a cost almost anyone can afford, 50 cents. Name me anything you can buy today for 50 cents.

If we don't help reverse these revenue trends, we will not be able to cost-effectively provide the news -- the daily bread of democracy. The stakes are high.

Among other things, O'Shea said

[This] newsroom can also be a cold, defensive, insular and conservative place, plagued by a bunker mentality that hides behind tradition and treats change as a threat.

UPDATE: The blog Below The Fold has some commentary worth noting, too (thanks again, Kathleen); it's available here, including:

The Times is as fractious and fragile as L.A. itself, as diverse and as divided. Layoffs, careless leadership, and ignorance of new horizontal media structures left The Times in the journalism Dark Ages. While other papers braced for battle and embraced the future, The Times cowered in its Spring Street cave like an injured animal

this is not a course The Times decided to take, but rather a decision it had to make.

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