Thursday, February 28, 2013

A failure to communicate

The part of Jason Halley's presentation at critique Wednesday that seemed to strike a chord for almost everyone was his direction to communicate better. Complaining about something not happening doesn't solve the problem, he said. Everyone needs to take responsibility for communicating the need, the progress and the delivery of every story and every piece of art.

Communication has always been a problem in newsrooms (except in newsrooms of one), and the lack of communication has actually seemed to get worse as fewer people are in the office at any given time and email and texting have taken the place of face-to-face contact.

Halley's suggestion was to use the phone, and it's a good one. But there can be other systems in place that would help everyone make sure all the elements of a story are available when it's time to post a package to the Web or slap it on a page.

My suggestion is to make a sharable runsheet in Google Drive not unlike the daily assignment board I once used in a TV newsroom. A runsheet for The Orion, though, would include plans for a week or more, rather than a single day. Here's what it might look like (click to make it larger):

The EIC, managing editor, photo editor, web editor, video editor and section editors would all share the spreadsheet and add assignments as they are made. Each day is represented by two columns, one with a story slug and the other with the staffers assigned: reporter/photographer/videographer/artist, etc.

The editors could choose to share the runsheet with members of the staff, with or without the ability to edit it. The advantages would include:
- a visual representation of sparse days for Web content that could be addressed early
- an assumption that stories can be due any day of the week
- instant communication about staffing for each story
- a plan for promoting stories through social media
- a virtual invitation for reporters and photographers (and artists and videographers) to talk to one another about their assignments
- A constantly updated snapshot of what the print paper will have available each week.

One person, probably the managing editor, would be responsible for hiding or deleting the previous day's columns so the current day's schedule is always in the same place, on the left side of the screen.

I think if everyone on staff would check a runsheet like this at least once a day, a lot of the communication that isn't happening could start happening. Worth a try?

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