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NY Times online, print integration

It’s one of those copyeditor conundrums: Should it be online-print, or online/print … I chose the comma because online and print are not yet integrated at The New York Times — but the march toward integration has begun, according to a Times memo posted by Romenesko (6/30/2006 3:43:34 PM).

Effective immediately, the Web newsroom and the continuous news desk will be combined under the leadership of Jim Roberts. He’ll get a new title, editor of digital news, and a big job involving two parts of our enterprise that are growing in size and ambition. So it’s time to rethink the way they work and how they should be led. (From the memo, sent by Jon Landman and Rich Meislin)

Along with Fiona Spruill (“editor of the Web newsroom”) and Neil Chase (“editor of the continuous news desk”), Roberts will:

lead important experiments in conveying information and communicating with readers in ways that go beyond the old definitions of news and journalism.

Okay, enough with the staff announcements. Here’s the meat and potatoes:

… the Web newsroom is ever more central to our work — not, any longer, just because it reshapes newspaper articles for a multimedia world, but because more and more of what we do is conceived with the Web in mind. Reporters and photographers are shooting video. Producers are reporting. Editors from Escapes are blogging in Sports. Foreign bureau chiefs are enhancing topic pages. Newspaper desks are dreaming up Web presentations.

I haven’t chatted with anyone from NY Times Online lately, but I hope I will get the chance to do so in the coming months. Some folks on the online staff — formerly in a wholly separate building from the print staff — expressed some reservations last year about the whole brave new world thing announced by the Times (see the earlier NY Times memo, at Romenesko 8/2/2005 12:09:38 PM).

The gist of their concern: With a gigantic print staff being encouraged to suggest and generate new online content, the much smaller online staff might be smothered in an avalanche of requests and ideas. I have been in that situation — you can spend an amazingly large percentage of your time listening to people’s ideas and then tactfully explaining why those ideas can’t take priority right now … after a while, you have to work at home some days to get your real work finished.

The August 2005 memo said:

By integrating the newsrooms we plan to diminish and eventually eliminate the difference between newspaper journalists and Web journalists — to reorganize our structures and our minds to make Web journalism, in forms that are both familiar and yet-to-be-invented, as natural to us as writing and editing, and to do all of this without losing the essential qualities that make us The Times.

I believe this is absolutely the right attitude for a news organization today — but it’s not easy to steer people into a new mind-set.

One of the biggest hurdles is knowing what makes sense online.

What I often hear from publishers, top editors, and even rank-and-file journalists and photojournalists (and not only old ones — young ones too) are ideas that just don’t make sense. Sometimes an idea doesn’t make sense because the project would take too long to complete, or would have too short a shelf life to warrant its production. That’s because the print people have not been schooled in what goes into making an online package.

Some types of online packages would need frequent updating to be worthwhile. If you can tie the package to a database, updates become automatic. If you can’t, then updating may be impractical.

And finally, some ideas from the print folks just have no audience … or have an audience only of other journalists. “Who would look at that?” I ask. “Well, I don’t know,” is the reply … or, “I would! Because I’m a big news junkie! Isn’t everyone?”

This really should be two posts instead of one, but I don’t want to split it. The New York Times is saying all the right things, and I want to applaud them for that. But I also wonder whether anyone in the newsroom has thought about the process of re-education, and how essential that is to a successful integration of online and print journalism.

Re-education is not all about using software and hardware. Re-education goes to the heart of how we think about journalism.

A list of the NY Times Online staff is here. It’s apparently not up-to-date because the new top-job titles are not there yet.

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