Wick Communications

Too much to do

In Time management on January 27, 2012 at 9:38 am

This week I had the distinct pleasure of talking on the phone with Steve Buttry. He is the director of community engagement and social media for Digital First Media. Digital First Media used to be known as the Journal Register Company and it owns a bunch of news properties in the Northeast and beyond. Steve is a well-known innovator in the journalism world and often speaks to industry groups about his experience with the hyperlocal news startup TBD.com and other ventures.

I wanted to talk to Steve about why I am so damn busy. Actually, I wanted to pick his brain about ways to deal with the ever-increasing workload we all feel as journalists in the 21st century. Why bother an even busier guy with a question like that? Well, because, Steve is presenting a webinar titled “Managing your Changing Workload.” (It’s from 1 to 2 p.m., CST, Feb. 10, and it would be $35 well spent.)

Newspapermen and women have always worked at break-neck speed. It’s just that we did far fewer things in the not-so old days. We used our time to obsess over comma splices and AP style. We still do that, but now we have to update the Web, tweet game results, write blogs that add nuance to our coverage, upload videos, moderate comments, curate user generated content… Obviously, something’s got to give. …

“The standard response is that we have to do more with less,” Steve said. “But that is a management lie.” Unless, Steve says, we are given technology that automates tasks or otherwise creates efficiencies. The advent of pagination, which made page layout much easier, was one such innovation.

Usually, we have to prioritize our myriad tasks. Steve says – I say — we have to recognize that we live in an increasingly digital world. It just isn’t possible any longer to deny that and carry on as if the newspaper is your fundamental platform. It follows, therefore, that you should prioritize your workload in order to maximize what you can do online.

Here’s a version of an example Steve gave me:

Say you’re a court reporter in 1992. Say you are planning on covering a murder trial. You will sit in the courtroom for some number of hours and then come back to the office to negotiate a story with your editor. You say you need 20 inches to write it. He says you’ve got 15 inches. You write for an hour and a half and turn in 18 inches. He spends the next 20 minutes cutting two inches out of it. The next morning, readers get your story, which is now 12 hours old.

Now say you are a court reporter in 2012. Say you are planning on covering a murder trial. You go to the courtroom armed with a smartphone or iPad (presuming the judge goes for it), and that allows you to live blog from the trial. The murder junkies get live, streaming coverage that includes much more detail that you could have ever slid past your editor 20 years ago. Your coverage is instant and comprehensive. Then you come back to the office and write a 10-inch wrap up. It is much easier to write because you have that digital archive of live blogs to rely on. You tease in the paper to the full story on the Web.

That requires prioritizing your workload and a little forethought.

As an aside, I have a theory about why people of my vintage have a hard time putting digital first. We were taught that the AP Stylebook was a bible and that every story had to be edited two or three times before it was ready for the public. We were the gatekeepers, the Fourth Estate. To be told that there is another way, a more democratic flow of information, can feel like an invalidation of all that we used to find holy.

I plead guilty to piling more on your plate. It’s up to you to find a balance that best serves readers and viewers. I urge you to check out Steve’s webinar.

Clay

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