Wick Communications

Posts Tagged ‘Planning’

Better planning…

In journalism on 6 Apr 2017 at 12:43 pm

Let me ask you a philosophical chicken-and-egg kind of question: Does planning save time or chew it up?

This week I spoke with editor candidates who had entirely different views on that question. One went so far as to say that planning more than a week at a time was just about impossible. Things happen too fast for that. Things change. Of course, that is true, and you can spend all your time in meetings and suffer from paralysis. That’s no good either.

I’m of the view that you need a loose structure and story plan, understanding all the while that it’s bound to change, or you won’t be able to do your best work.

I’ve always thought about planning for what we do as three separate tasks: Planning your day, planning your week, and planning your year. In fact, I was so enamored with this idea several years ago that I created a blog devoted entirely to the concept. If you are with me so far, you might want to click the link and consider this is a bit more depth.

To plan my day, I often create a list. Here are three or five or 10 things that I have to do today. Sometimes I list them in order. I cross them off as I get them done. It keeps me focused and gives a feeling of accomplishment when I see the list crossed off. This is hardly ground-breaking stuff, I know.

The weekly plan is the most important for us, I think. I think a weekly staff meeting for everyone in editorial is crucial. It’s so important that I make it sacrosanct at the Half Moon Bay Review. It is almost always at 11 a.m. on Wednesdays, and it almost always takes 45 minutes, give or take. We discuss vacations and scheduling things, we make sure we have a plan for the next couple of magazines, and then we go around the room and everyone floats story ideas from their beats. We benefit from the wisdom of the crowd. Often someone has a good source for a colleague’s story or something to say about a photo angle. From this we derive a weekly budget of stories, their length and when the can be expected, and art ideas. All of it is subject to change, but it’s a plan. Without it, I would have zero confidence on deadline day. … Read the rest of this entry »


Context is the reason we print

In journalism on 8 May 2014 at 2:38 pm


So we’re talking about those weekly meetings. How they almost necessarily shape the coverage you provide. Here’s the next point I want to make: If you don’t emerge from a weekly meeting as a team, you are doomed to produce three kinds of stories – fluff, process and breaking news.

OK, OK, let me define terms.

Fluff you know. These are stories about the bake sale to raise money for the cheerleading squad or a local who appears on a reality TV series. They are stories about an art show, the school fundraiser, a church picnic. All of this stuff may belong in your newspaper, but it’s fluff. It’s not going to fulfill your inner journalist, nor is it going to win you awards at year’s end.

Process refers to things that come from government machination. City Council meetings, planning commission workshops, school board gatherings. This stuff is important too. It’s a matter of public record. But it isn’t why you went to J school.

Breaking news will get your heart pumping. The scanner honks and next thing you know you are chasing ambulances. Covering breaking news is crucial to our existence and people want to know why there is smoke around the bend. It’s also a crutch.

What’s missing is context. Context, as you know, brings things into focus. It’s a bit hard to define as it relates to a newspaper story, but you know it when you see it. It’s the sports page story that delves into the need for more youth playing fields. It’s the news story that segues from yesterday’s car crash to efforts to make dead man’s curve safer. It’s not a regurgitation of standardized test scores, but rather an examination of how demographics in your community affect those scores.

Context requires forethought. The weekly news meeting is your best shot at accomplishing that. You might not know that the bridge planned over Municipal Creek could present a danger to the smelt that run underneath it, but the sports writer might. Your weekly meeting is a chance to triangulate, to see tthe story from different angles, to hear the voices of everyone in the room. … Read the rest of this entry »

No substitute for weekly meeting

In Management on 8 May 2014 at 2:26 pm


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. … Read the rest of this entry »

Of budgets and busy work

In Online media on 4 Apr 2013 at 4:23 pm

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I am a big fan of Steve Buttry, the news guru at Digital First. He has a long history in the news business and is one of our industry’s most important multi-platform evangelists. I almost always agree with him. But this is ridiculous.

OK, I take that back. His head and heart are in the right place. He’s just over-thinking it, in my humble opinion.

As he says in his blog post, he was asked to consider how best to reflect digital opportunities on today’s story budgets. This is an interesting and important topic. I can’t say that I have given it appropriate thought and I’m glad Buttry brought the issue out in the open.

To back up a moment, most of us have some kind of story budget. The best of those probably emerges from a weekly meeting and lists fairly specific information about upcoming stories. I like ours at the Half Moon Bay Review to include a slug (file name), likely length in print, day it can be expected, a best-guess lede, the name of the writer and plans for art. I think all of those items are important for planning purposes and allow the editor to give necessary feedback on the front end, before crummy stories come over the transom on deadline.

Buttry is suggesting taking that much farther to include plans for publishing across digital platforms. I applaud the idea … even if I think he has made planning an end in itself.

He suggests creating a spreadsheet with 22 additional columns. That’s right – 22 additional columns. All of them relate to digital publication, on Google+, on Facebook, over email alert, and on and on. … Read the rest of this entry »

Pitching your stories

In Writing on 9 Dec 2011 at 9:42 am

If you are a staff reporter, you probably don’t think of yourself as “selling” your work. You may not consider your story budget conversations with editors as making pitches for space in the newspaper.

However, I submit to you that that is exactly what you are doing when you tell an editor what you are working on.  You are a pitcher.

So, you have two choices. You can mumble something about covering a city council meeting, or you can speak up and say you have an exclusive about a city program that has lost thousands of taxpayer dollars even though it was initially designed to save money.

Now put yourself in the editor’s chair. Would you plan on putting a generic story about the city council on the front page or would you rather have something specific, a well-considered story that has real people, conflict, surprise and art? … Read the rest of this entry »

The day the world stopped

In journalism, Uncategorized on 18 Feb 2011 at 9:09 am

Tucson Daily Star Managing Editor Teri Hayt had just finished getting her hair done when the news came. It was a Saturday morning in January. A fellow newspaper editor was calling to say he heard U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords had been shot.

She returned the macabre favor, calling Poli Corella. The newspaper’s metro editor was with his young daughter at a JC Penny in Tucson. “I was learning the difference between skinny jeans and jeggings,” he said with a chuckle many weeks later.

That is how big news begins. It shatters the day. It renders irrelevant the best-laid plans. It leaves family considerations in the dust and it can bring a newspaper’s staff together – or tear it apart.

Hayt and Corella led a webinar this week at the behest of Suburban Newspapers of America and Associated Press Managing Editors. They gave a rundown of how the events of the day affected their town, their newspaper, their reporters. It was pretty fascinating.

Hayt says the shootings came at exactly the wrong time, as big news seemingly always does. It was a Saturday morning when few staffers were around. As it happened, the newsroom was being painted and new carpeting being installed. In addition, the shootings took place in a part of town that is notorious for spotty cell phone coverage, she said… Read the rest of this entry »

Prepare for bad weather

In journalism on 15 Oct 2009 at 8:06 pm


Winter is on the way. Perhaps you’ve heard.

Well, earlier this week, we had a doozy of a storm on the California coast. By the standards many of you employ elsewhere, it can hardly be called “epic” but then these things are relative. An inch of snow in Atlanta cripples the city, whereas Buffalo digs out quickly from 10 inches falling overnight. It has to do with resources and experience.

Resources and experience also come into play in terms of how your newsroom covers a significant weather event. I think we learned some lessons at the Half Moon Bay Review this week and I want to offer them knowing full well many of you have dealt with far worse and have significantly more experience planning for bad weather than we do on the temperate California coast. So when I’m done talking about what we did and what we’ll do better next time, I’d love to read your comments on the ways in which you all plan for bad-weather coverage… Read the rest of this entry »