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Teaching Online Journalism

A model for changing how newsrooms work

Tear down the newsroom and remake it in the image of digital reality — that’s what The Atlanta Journal-Constitution has done, according to Shawn McIntosh:

… we had to address our newsroom’s core structure. The AJC and ajc.com had to become faster and more nimble. Having more than a dozen desks and departments devoted to specific sections of the newspaper had worked when print was king, but the new reality required significant change. Foremost in our minds was finding ways to reduce management layers, promote quicker decision-making, and enable faster movement of resources. We also had to more tightly focus our mission on our competitive edge — our knowledge of metro Atlanta, our deep local reporting resources, and our expertise on topics of local interest.

… our paper’s editor, Julia Wallace, along with a small leadership group, decided to abolish all existing departments and invent a new newsroom.

The newsroom structure now: Two content departments, News & Information and Enterprise, and two production departments, Print and Digital. All four “function in tandem,” McIntosh wrote, “which means that our newsroom system demands collaborative decision-making.” At the same time, each of the departments has its own role, described in McIntosh’s essay (scroll about halfway down to see the details).

What I do not see is any mention of news graphics. It appears that design and production are effectively split into print side and online side — but where are the people who create the infographics? Nowadays those folks need to be hybrid masters, straddling both digital and analog, Web and print, for the sake of efficiency as well as portability.

The AJC’s new “Web first” structure was only four months old when the essay was written, and not without tensions and stresses. McIntosh said she’s confident that the reorganization will work — in part because “our newsroom won’t continue to look the way we redesigned it earlier this year.” The new newsroom is supposed to be capable of changing, gradually or rapidly, as needed.

Romenesko had the memo when the re-org was announced — one year ago.

I love to hear from people who work in newsrooms that have been reorganized. I’ll keep my eyes open as I go to conferences for any name tags that say Atlanta Journal-Constitution!

Update (Feb. 19): Thanks to a reader, I discovered a fact error (in a pronoun). Shawn McIntosh is a woman. My apologies. Her job title at the AJC is Director of Culture and Change.


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3 Comments

  1. Mindy, thanks for your interest in Atlanta and the AJC. The transition is going well here and we are pleased, so far, with our results.

    You correctly identified one of the biggest challenges, news graphics. In our first pass, we had to do something really difficult — separate the news graphics department into the two presentation departments, Print and Digital. One group specializes in graphics for the print newspaper and the other is becoming more expert in flash and multimedia. It was a tough decision because it meant breaking up a team that had been together for a while and worked well together. The folks who went to print worry about being “left behind” and the folks who went to digital worry about not having the full benefit of being surrounded by their print counterparts for creativity and collaboration. Of course, they still work together regularly, but I completely understand both concerns.

    It is my hope that we can eventually work out some job trades and cross-training. But for now, it was important to have them both specialize in the very different reader experiences of digital and print. Mastering flash and multimedia is a long and time-consuming process and it made sense to have some folks dedicated to it full-time, rather than switching off between compiling print graphics and learning programming.

    As I said in the article, I’m sure there will be changes in the structure ahead — in fact, we’ve already made some. We’re certainly committed to news graphics in both print and digital and may see more changes and emphasis in those areas in the coming year. As we redesign the newspaper to keep loyal readers engaged, we know visual journalism will play a key role. And of course, it plays a huge role at ajc.com.

    Cheers,
    Shawn

  2. Mindy says:

    @Shawn: Thanks so much for taking the time to contribute a comment! You make a very good point about how efficient it is to allow some people to specialize while others carry the ball on the daily print graphics. In the first stage in your new newsroom organization, this makes sense. I hope you can groom and nurture your Flash people to the level where they can also train others to do the basic steps.

  3. [...] some newsrooms (e.g., The Atlanta Journal-Constitution) have done is turn the workflow around — in a way that makes sense when the number of [...]

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