John Robinson, former editor of the News and Record in Greensboro, N.C., writes in part 2 of his look back on his former job, from the perspective he has gained a year out of the job (part 1 here), the reasons why he thinks he didn’t do more of the things that, in hindsight, seem so obviously needed. I encourage everyone to read it, not just editors. He posted it a day after I was asked, by everyone from a publisher to his reporters, how to fit new things into all the things they already do. The answer stems from everything John wrote about. And I agree with him completely that maybe you need to step out of the newsroom to see where events tend to sweep a news staff along.
The short answer I gave to the question was that if you want to start doing something, you have to stop doing something. John didn’t put it quite that way, but his explanations about “Space must be filled” and the inertia of the beat structure — together, the feeling of urgency to fill the paper (presumably, the urgency stems from feeling the need for LOCAL bylines) plus the easy availability of incremental news from the beat structure — are at the heart of what I meant. News staffs are smaller than ever. They are being asked to do a wider variety of tasks than ever. You can’t have it all, and they can’t do it all. Choose your battles.
And my last advice asks the most of the editors at the top. Follow John’s suggestion:
Had I organized monthly meetings with the public to hear how we could serve them better, it would have improved our journalism, and I would have been a better steward of their newspaper.