I’ve been collecting information about how Wick newspapers plan their coverage from week to week and day to day. I’ve been asking editors when they meet, how long those meetings take and what they accomplish. The answers are interesting — and all over the map.
Most Wick papers have some kind of formal weekly meeting. They generally last from 30 minutes to an hour. But that’s where the similarities end. I would argue that the best newspapers have the best meetings and that those meetings shape coverage, art, layout and perhaps most importantly, help define the context of important stories for readers. (More on that in the next post.)
Some papers have very productive meetings. Some go over the week’s papers, giving positive feedback and noting where things can be improved with info boxes, photos, maps or other bells and whistles. Montrose Daily Press Editor Justin Joiner invites a guest from another department, knowing that someone new to the group, someone with her own perspective and ties to the community, will bring a breath of fresh air to the meeting.
The best practice is to emerge with a detailed story budget for the week. I am a stickler for an old-school approach to the budget. Ours at the Review look much like those from, say, the Washington Post in the 1970s. Each reporter sends me budget lines at the end of the meeting and each story suggestion includes a slug, story length, deadline, a rough draft of the lede and information about art. Often I answer back in bold lettering with my hopes for the story. In that way, we shape it together, long before deadline. As a result, I’m rarely surprised by a story that doesn’t live up to expectations.
At the Sierra Vista Herald, Editor Eric Petermann and staff employ a Google spreadsheet to plot stories for the coming week. It includes less detailed information than I would like, but it’s a real, collaborative planning effort. …
“The budget is the great equalizer in the room, allowing the editor to manage the workflow and empowering the reporters to be accountable to each other,” Eric said in an email to me on the subject.
On the other end of the spectrum, some of our editors more or less wing it. Story ideas are bandied about at the meeting and they might get translated onto a whiteboard in the newsroom that reads simply, “Sally: City Council, Thursday.” If that. That approach is almost guaranteed to portend a crappy process story that begins, “The X City Council voted 4-1 Wednesday night to …” People aren’t going to pay 75 cents for that any more.
Weekly news meetings are your chance to discuss context and that is the real value of a newspaper in the 21st century. We’ll discuss that in the next post.