2
0
1
9

From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

“His reporters are usually maxed out with news from yesterday and today. But those daily stories rarely are the ones readers bring up when they stop him at the park.”

Next year, faced with yet another cut to the newsroom budget, the editor of a small or mid-sized newspaper somewhere in the United States will decide to upend decades of industry convention: He will throw away beats based on broad topic areas and government institutions, and he’ll direct reporters to focus on a few select areas where they can make a difference.

In other words, he’ll restructure the paper to look like a local nonprofit newsroom.

His decision (even though it’s 2018, most newsroom leaders are still men) will be opposed by the publisher, other newspapers in the corporation, some reporters and editors, and many readers — at least, the ones that make their opinions known. His boss will ask why he doesn’t run another play from the newspaper downsizing handbook:

  • Institute a hiring freeze and don’t fill positions when people leave for new jobs or retire.
  • Layoff a few experienced reporters and tell others to add those beats to their workload.
  • Encourage a high-profile columnist to retire, but ask her to keep contributing on a freelance basis so readers won’t notice.
  • Cut the last statehouse reporter, which will save not only a position but rent for the bureau.
  • Move a longtime projects or investigative reporter to a daily beat.
  • Trim the copy desk again. Make the top editors deal with more daily copy.

The goal of those moves is to make the newspaper’s diminished journalistic capacity invisible to readers. But they’ve noticed. They say so in phone calls and emails: “You used to cover this school board/our small town/those kinds of issues in my community. And now you don’t.”

It’s true. This editor already merged the federal and the local courts beats into one job. Then he cut that position and asked one of the crime reporters to handle major cases as best she could. In practice, that means no one writes about even the high-profile murder trials that at one time were covered on a daily basis.

The education reporter has been expected to cover the local universities for years, and now he’s supposed to produce an occasional healthcare story. The opinion staff was eliminated; the editor splits the responsibility of writing editorials with a few others and relies on a clerk to deal with readers’ letters. The city hall reporter covers four or five different local governments. One of the police reporters comes to work at 6 a.m. to freshen up the website with crime and traffic news.

Bit by bit, this editor has overseen the transformation of his newsroom from subject-matter experts to generalists, similar to the local TV station. He went from a man-to-man defense to a zone, and now he has decided he won’t play the daily news game anymore.

So he’ll gather the reporters and tell them they no longer have to try to cover the waterfront. Instead, he’ll instruct them to focus on three or four ongoing issues — something with a life cycle beyond a couple stories, but narrower than a beat like “education” or “city hall.” Those issues won’t have to be on the agenda of government officials — in fact, he wants them to look for things that aren’t. He’ll caution that this doesn’t mean the end of daily deadlines, at least not every day. Reporters will cover these issues with a mix of longer, enterprise stories and shorter, incremental ones.

It won’t be hard for reporters to come up with their lists. They’ve all had the experience of starting to chip away at a significant story, only to be pulled away for something else. There are exceptions, of course; the editor is proud that despite the cuts, the newspaper still publishes a few marquee investigations every year.

In making this change, the editor will be taking a cue from nonprofit newsrooms. They’ve sprouted up in communities where reporters are stretched so thin, they can’t spend the time looking into a corruption tip. These newsrooms aim not to replace newspapers and TV but to fill gaps in coverage. Nonprofits must carefully choose how they spend their time because they’re too small to try to do it all. Sometimes, when they get a big story, newspapers and TV stations grab onto it; other times, they’re surprised other media don’t even try to catch up.

The editor has had to decide whether to chase those stories. His reporters are usually maxed out with news from yesterday and today. But those daily stories rarely are the ones readers bring up when they stop him at the park. They remark about the ones that shine a light on local corruption, hold officials accountable, and show how other communities are solving problems like theirs.

The editor’s gamble is that there are enough of these stories to become the focal point of the newspaper and website every day.

He’ll announce the change on the front page. It won’t be another story that glosses over downsizing by announcing a strategic pivot or a big project. He will explain that the newspaper has refocused itself to do original, fact-based reporting that creates change in their communities. Some readers will respond: “I thought that’s what you were supposed to do.”

Others will be angry, saying the newspaper has finally given up. But savvy readers know the paper has been giving up bit by bit for years. They see it in the four-page metro section, in the churn of superficially reported stories posted online.

This editor knows the risks of this change. Will it spur readers to cancel their subscriptions? He’s essentially redefining the product they buy every day, asking them to shift what they value: Do they want a package of things that happened recently, or do they want sustained coverage that seeks to solve longstanding problems?

He’ll have to go out in the community to convey the value of this approach — part mission statement, part sales pitch. He’ll tell them the newspaper is now doing the work he had said it was doing all along.

It will be easier to make the case to readers after his newsroom starts working on the stories that were on the back burner. The change will reinvigorate reporters and editors, who will feel like they can finally do the jobs they were told they had. They’ll walk in the newsroom every day with one thing on their minds: What problem will I help my community solve today?

They will write their stories differently. Before, their stories were almost all news and reaction. Now they will be rich with context, analysis, and background — all the things they couldn’t find room for in the daily digest.

And they’ll develop expertise again. They’ll be able to reuse knowledge from one story to another rather than starting over as they bounce from topic to topic. They’ll follow stories as they cross from one topic area to another. They need not worry about whether a story is on the city hall or education beat. They’ll become guides to their communities.

Will this approach stop the circulation declines? Maybe not. The editor knows that. But, he figures, at least it will push this community toward a more functional, thriving future by focusing not on what happened, but what matters.

Steve Myers is editor of The Lens and a Nieman Fellow.

Jim Friedlich   Meet Citizen Kane 2.0

Ernie Smith   The year we step back from the platform

Cory Bergman   Journalism as a technology service

Efrat Nechushtai   Journalism wants to be your friend, not your teacher

Salem Solomon   Correcting our corrections

Ole Reißmann   The rise of vertical storytelling

Peter Bale   Venture capital runs out of patience

Steve Grove   A reckoning for tech’s work with news

Jesse Holcomb   We’ll get better at making the case for local journalism

Andrew Ramsammy   The great re-pivot to audio

Jenée Desmond-Harris   It finally sinks in that some people aren’t white

Nisha Chittal   The homepage makes a comeback

Kainaz Amaria   We consider who’s behind the camera

Juleyka Lantigua-Williams   Podcasting battles East Coast bias

Tshepo Tshabalala   Ahead of African elections, unlock partnerships with fact-checkers

Lauren Katz   Community becomes a core newsroom value

Jonathan Stray   More algorithmic accountability reporting, and a lot of it will be meh

Simon Galperin   After capitalism’s fire, journalism’s secondary succession

Joe Amditis   Give the audience a seat at the table

Whitney Phillips   Our information systems aren’t broken — they’re working as intended

Callie Schweitzer   The rise of the conveners

Greg Emerson   Power to the user

Catalina Albeanu   Being responsible for what we don’t know

Christa Scharfenberg and Vickie Baranetsky   The year of the lawsuit

Ernst-Jan Pfauth   Readers are only getting started

Carrie Brown-Smith   Advocating a healthy civic life is no journalistic crime

Cherian George   Fake news wins in Asia

Soo Oh   Just showing our work isn’t enough

John Saroff   The pivot to reader revenue’s unintended consequences

Logan Molyneux   Seeing social media for what it is

Patrick Butler   Measuring impact will increase audience trust

Julia Rubin   Meeting people where they are

Shannon McGregor   More bogus embedded tweets in our stories

Annie Rudd   A more intimate aesthetic of politics — on Insta

Almar Latour   Reported facts, weaponized in service of action

Dheerja Kaur   A focus on problems, not platforms

Nikki Usher   Three ways national media will further undermine trust

Gabriel Snyder   Journalism doesn’t fit well in a funnel

Mariana Moura Santos   From pageviews to impact

Joanne McNeil   Building a digital hospice

Errin Haines   Say it with me: Racism

John Garrett   You can’t raise prices forever

Elizabeth Dunbar   Local reporters reflect on what’s not important

Jake Shapiro   Podcasting is media’s slow food movement

Matt Waite   “I went to Node.js because I wished to live deliberately”

Renée Kaplan   Our future could lie within our own organizations

Amy King   We should listen to the kids (especially on Instagram)

Nathalie Malinarich   Video — yes, video

Andrew Donohue   Voting rights becomes the new climate change

Justin Kosslyn   Text hits a tipping point

Elisabeth Goodridge   Yes, they signed up — but our job’s not over

Celeste LeCompte   Local news needs local conversation to survive

Zuzanna Ziomecka   News leadership gets an overdue upgrade

Colleen Shalby   Representation becomes more than a talking point

Umbreen Bhatti   The story doesn’t end for the people we quote

Bill Grueskin   Toward a symphony model for local news

Jonathan Gill   Publishers build a common tech platform together

Angèle Christin   Algorithms and the reflexive turn

M. Scott Havens   Time to swing for the fences

Alexis Lloyd & Matt Boggie   The year product leads media

Candis Callison   Learn from Indigenous journalists on covering climate change

Matt Karolian   Publishers come to terms with being Facebook’s enablers

Michael Rain   The year of the culturally relevant curator

A.J. Bauer   The coming splintering of conservative media

Shalabh Upadhyay   A culture clash on India’s growing Internet

Rick Berke   The year of loyalty

Tim Carmody   Unlocking the commons

Emma Carew Grovum   The year of the loyal reader

Masuma Ahuja   Make foreign coverage less foreign

Frank Chimero   Leave the phone at home and put news on your wrist

Manoush Zomorodi   Tech will do for information overload what it did for mindfulness

Simon Rogers   Data journalism becomes a global field

Talia Stroud   Engaging people across lines of difference

Kevin Douglas Grant   A year to embrace journalism as public service

Adam Smith   Platforms will have to help rebuild trust in news

Matthew Pressman   The battle over objectivity intensifies

An Xiao Mina   The death of consensus, not the death of truth

Ariel Zirulnick   Participation gets professional

Pia Frey   You can’t solve a crisis without treating it as a crisis

Pablo Boczkowski   Reimagining the media for post-institutional times

Laura E. Davis   More access, but not that kind

Taylor Lorenz   Personal branding is more powerful than ever

Robin Kwong   Tech shouldn’t be the only field pollinating “news nerds”

Jean Friedman Rudovsky   Cross-newsroom collaborations strengthen communities

Don Day   Timewalls and other reader revenue experiments

Elizabeth Bramson-Boudreau   A more sincere definition of “community”

Axie Navas   The traffic hunt, CMS battle, and magazine identity crises loom

Raney Aronson-Rath   We learn “digital” doesn’t have to mean “short”

Heather Chaplin   Agree we’re partisan — for the democratic system

Betsy O'Donovan and Melody Kramer   The most beautiful sentence in 2019 is “No.”

Amy Schmitz Weiss   Local news isn’t where you thought it was

Michael Grant   More newsrooms experiment their way to success

Josh Schwartz   A pullback from platforms and a focus on product

Joel Konopo   Influencers become the new liberated power in Africa

Robert Hernandez   Racists and sexists get replaced

Mat Yurow   Content competition from the tech companies

Tyler Fisher   This is journalism’s do-or-die moment

Craig Newmark   The end of “loudspeakers for liars”

John Biewen   Podcasts keep getting better

Millie Tran   There is no magic — you’ve got this

Mario García   The rise of content “pilots”

james Wahutu   Think 2018 was bad? Wait until you see 2019

Steve Henn   Smart speakers get smarter

Sarah Stonbely   Mapping the local news ecosystem — with scale but detail

Claire Wardle   Forget deepfakes: Misinformation is showing up in our most personal online spaces

Stephanie Edgerly   It’s time to understand the un-audience

Alyssa Zeisler   We expand what (and how and who) we serve

Winny de Jong   Data journalism goes undercover

Andrea Faye Hart   Doing less harm, not just more good

Cristi Hegranes   A year to invest in the security of local journalists

Jeff Chin   We detox from Chartbeat

Julie Posetti   The year of the fight back

LaToya Drake   Listen up: New stories, new storytellers

Jonas Kaiser   Catching up with “Neuland”

Geetika Rudra   The year of actionable (local) journalism

Sue Robinson   Reporters go on the offensive

Joshua Darr   The nationalization of political news will accelerate

Kristen Muller   Local news fails — in a good way

Libby Bawcombe   Haikus of the news

Francesco Zaffarano   Towards a rethinking of journalism on social media

Hossein Derakhshan   The news is dying, but journalism will not — and should not

Elizabeth Jensen   Going where the Acela can’t take you

Rachel Davis Mersey   Local news goes minimalist

Nicholas Jackson   More transparency around newsroom decisions

Adam B. Ellick   Video forensic reporting goes mainstream — and local

Rebecca Lee Sanchez   We are all actors in the running rampant of political theater

Rodney Gibbs   A bright — and young — year for audio

Sue Cross   Return of the water cooler

Elite Truong   What do we owe the next generation?

Renan Borelli   Developing loyalty means developing your talent

Nico Gendron   Reaching Generation Z beyond the coasts

Victor Pickard   We will finally confront systemic market failure

Mike Rispoli and Craig Aaron   Government funds local news — and that’s a good thing

Heba Aly   The rise of international nonprofit news

Seema Yasmin   We will create our own spaces

Brian Moritz   The subscription-pocalypse is about to hit

Dan Shanoff   Bet on sports gambling

Bill Adair   Another year fighting Trump’s falsehoods

Mandy Velez   Putting the social back in social media

Jared Newman   AI-generated fakes launch a software arms race

Rubina Madan Fillion   Fighting the reality of deepfakes

Angilee Shah   The year news orgs say “yes” to real leaders

Kjerstin Thorson   Time to get mad about information inequality (again)

Ruth Palmer and Benjamin Toff   From news fatigue to news avoidance

Glyn Mottershead and Martin Chorley   When a tech company pulls the plug on your story

Kelsey Proud   Journalism becomes the escape

Borja Bergareche Sainz de los Terreros   Entering a more balanced era

Cindy Royal   For journalism curriculum to change, its faculty needs disruption

Alexandra Svokos   Good luck convincing us millennials to pay

Tamar Charney   Seriously: What do you do for people?

Eric Nuzum   The year of the DIY podcast network

Francesco Marconi   The year of iterative journalism

Adam Thomas   In Europe, foundations invest in news

Rasmus Kleis Nielsen   A long, slow slog, with no one coming to the rescue

Sarah Marshall   A return to destination journalism

Jeremy Gilbert   AI finally becomes helpful

Darryl Holliday   Let’s talk about power (yours)

Reyhan Harmanci   Selling more stories to Hollywood

Rishad Patel   A design system for responsible publishing

Carl Bialik   Fatigued news consumers will pay more for less news

Kate Myers   Journalism continues to be bad for democracy

Stefanie Murray   Local news wakes up and starts collaborating

Ståle Grut   A new dawn for 3D tech in journalism

Moreno Cruz Osório   Damaged credibility and a new threat in Brazil

Zizi Papacharissi   Old interface, say hello to the new interface

Elva Ramirez   News — but make it cinematic

Zainab Khan   Publishers whose products can stand up to social media giants will win

Marie Shanahan   Newsrooms take the comments sections back from platforms

Jack Riley   Facebook refugees, from ad revenue to news habits

Hearken   Pivot to people

Monique Judge   Committing to the truth, calling out lies

Frank Mungeam   Tonight at 11: News, sports, and climate change

Mike Isaac   The old exit doors for digital media companies are closing

Seth C. Lewis   The gap between journalism and research is too wide

Matt Skibinski   Quality and reliability are the new currencies for publishers

Tushar Banerjee   Interactive ads will be the new face of display advertising

Chase Davis   We can acknowledge what we don’t know

Mandy Jenkins   Fight the urge to run away from social media

Ben Smith   The pendulum starts to swing back

P. Kim Bui   The misfits become the bosses

Carolina Guerrero   Spanish-language audio blows up

Peter Cunliffe-Jones   The focus of misinformation debates shifts south

Heather Bryant   We are responsible for how we use our power

Thomas Hanitzsch   The rise of tribal journalism

Steve Myers   From trying to cover it all to covering what matters

Eric Ulken   The year you actually start to like your CMS

Linda Solomon Wood   The year of the climate reporter

Jennifer Dargan   You don’t build diversity through one-off training sessions

Alexandra Borchardt   Newsrooms need to build trust with their journalists, not just the audience

Alberto Cairo   A year of uncertainty and confidence

Becca Aaronson   From bridge roles to product thinkers

Gideon Lichfield   Goodbye attention economy, we’ll miss you

Jesse Brown   Canada’s subsidy for news backfires

Kyra Darnton   A shift to depth in video

Rachel Glickhouse   Newsrooms will prioritize audience needs

Ben Werdmuller   The platform tide is turning

Sarah Alvarez   Simplify and redistribute

Kawandeep Virdee   Media wants to take care of you

Mike Caulfield   Ditch the media literacy cynicism and get to work

Knight Foundation   A year of local collaboration

Rebecca Searles   From silos to Swiss Army knife teams

Meredith Artley   Huge demand for…anything but politics

Dave Burdick   Seeing our blind spots

Johannes Klingebiel   We all grow hooves

Charo Henríquez   Pivot to journalism