editor on the verge

Online musings from the newsroom and beyond . . . by Yoni Greenbaum

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Your newsroom could learn something from TMZ… No, really

February 2nd, 2008 · 5 Comments

Do your story meetings look like TMZ‘s? If not, maybe they should?

In most newsrooms, story meetings are near clandestine events, with participants marching, piles of paper in hand, to a conference room (or office) only to emerge anywhere from 30 minutes to an hour and a half later looking haggard and, in some cases, confused and dejected.

For those of you who watch the very popular television version of the “entertainment news, celebrity gossip and Hollywood rumors” website TMZ.com, you will know that their meetings are done in the open with seemingly broad participation. Editor and founder Harvey Levin stands at the front of the room and users a clear board to note stories that the show will be using. There is a free exchange as the individual staffers (or are they editors?) offer their story ideas.

Now, back to what goes on inside story meetings at most newsrooms.

Participants are typically gathered around a conference room table or the perimeter of an office. The individual running the meeting, usually the editor or managing editor, sits at the head of the table. And then in a very stodgy and organized fashion the editor goes around the table, having each of the attendees read the budgetlines they’ve prepared. If there is an exchange, it is definitely not a free one.

Now granted, the TMZ meeting is filmed, so how much of it is done for camera, I don’t really know. And whether or not it has an impact, positive or otherwise, I can’t gauge from my seat on my couch. But it’s hard to argue that their meeting approach is the more positive and likely more productive one. Before you start shaking your head saying that’s TV, pay attention to the meeting occurring in this video:

While it may lack the pizazz of TMZ, it does seem to mimic the open part. The New York Times is not alone, there are other newspapers that have moved the meeting out into the open and still others that have even taken their meetings online (but I would suggest that those are the same as the traditional meeting, except the stodginess is shared with the online audience).

I would suggest trying the TMZ approach. Open your meeting (maybe just the morning meeting) to the entire staff. Build the budget from those in attendance, editors can speak for staffers not in attendance, staffers can offer their own ideas based on what they’re working on or what they know is going on. Encourage that free exchange. I think you’ll find that the meeting will boost morale, encourage collaboration and even increase productivity.

If nothing else, film the meeting and throw it online. Heck, it works for TMZ.

Tags: Best Practices · Editors · Industry · Innovation · Meetings

5 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Greg Linch // Feb 3, 2008 at 2:14 pm

    I completely agree, we should have open story meetings. It hits at the “two heads” clichĂ©. Why wouldn’t you want and more varied perspectives in deciding what to cover?

    I’m going to try it in our newsroom, despite the office being fairly small.

    Here’s my related post:

  • 2 Aurora // Feb 3, 2008 at 2:52 pm

    The idea of making the meeting available to view online is an interesting one. I think most readers are in the dark about how decisions are made in the newsroom and that secrecy gives people reason to believe that editors are motivated by their own biases. Making the decision making process visible to the public creates a transparency that would be helpful. Of course, it presents some challenges, but I think the benefit would outweigh the drawbacks.

  • 3 Steve Woodward // Feb 3, 2008 at 4:44 pm

    TMZ’s approach is better than the traditional news meeting. But I don’t think it goes nearly far enough. If newspapers are supposed to be a conversation with readers, why aren’t we involving readers themselves in news decisions? I don’t profess to know how to do this. But at the very least, I would mount a webcam so readers could watch and hear the news meetings in real time. Perhaps a reader chat room runs simultaneously with the meeting, monitored by a staffer or projected on a big screen. Readers would thus have input, although decision-making still falls to editors. All I know is that opening news meetings to all staffers doesn’t strike me as all that revolutionary.

  • 4 Yoni Greenbaum // Feb 3, 2008 at 4:55 pm

    Aurora and Steve – Online broadcasting is indeed an interesting idea. To see how one newspaper is doing it, check out BostonNow who broadcast their weekday meetings online. I agree that it opens some new avenues and I like Steve’s big screen reader chat room idea. My thinking was that for newspapers not willing to go from a shuttered meeting to online broadcast, open meetings would be a good intermediate step. Steve, how does it work at the Oregonian?

  • 5 Steve Woodward // Feb 5, 2008 at 2:23 pm

    At The Oregonian, all staffers have an open invitation to sit in on the news meetings. The truth is that few ever do, apart from the two dozen or so editors who are expected to attend. The meetings are held in a special meeting room called The Well, which is located in the dead center of the newsroom and whose walls are retractable. So anyone walking by can see and hear any meetings in progress. I suspect that staffers don’t attend the news meetings because they would consider them a waste of time. The daily news budget is posted our our intranet anyway.

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