editor on the verge

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

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When the walls start crumbling it’s time to act

February 6th, 2008 · 9 Comments

At too many newspapers reporters have been given smart phones to use when they’re out in their beats only to return to the office and work on circa-1980s desktop computers. They sit on chairs that are held together by bubblegum and Scotch tape and talk on phones that are a mix of handsets, cords and cables scavenged from other phones. Photographers use digital still cameras and hi-def video cameras and work on new(ish) computers with big monitors that receive power thanks to enough extension cords and outlet multipliers to bring a fire marshal to tears.

I can not think of a more fitting symbol for a troubled industry then crumbling offices and derelict buildings.

While much of this may exist outside of the watchful, critical eye of readers and advertisers, it is not lost on a newspaper’s staff who, understandably, interpret the poor conditions as a symbol of low regard. To them, if their corporate or private owners cared about them and respected what they did, they would not let them work in that environment.

With revenues continuing to shrink, it is understandable that there will be those readers of this post who will argue that I cannot in good consciousness be suggesting that companies invest limited dollars in infrastructure. While I respect that opinion I think it misses the point. I would say how can you not invest in infrastructure. All the equipment a staff uses, from the pens and pads to the computers and servers to the copy machines and printers have a direct impact on bottom line. Can you imagine an automobile manufacturer expecting its employees to churn out contemporary vehicles using old and broken equipment in an antiquated facility?

I recognize that increasingly, newspaper companies are faced with difficult decisions about how and on what to spend limited funds. But I think the approach of ignoring infrastructure, from office furniture to computers, to phones, to even the paint on the wall and the bulbs that go in the lights, needs to stop. Everyday, editors and publishers expect more and more of their staffs and, all too often, offer less in return. Frankly, there needs to be more of a balancing act otherwise performance will continue to degrade, morale will continue to suffer and more and more employees will continue to leave the industry.

So my advice to newspaper companies is to look elsewhere for savings and to spend at least some of what is needed to improve their facilities. And if the response is that there is no where else to look, I would reply look harder — your business and your future depends on it.

Tags: Compensation · Industry · Leadership · Online · revenue

9 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Damon Kiesow // Feb 6, 2008 at 9:23 am

    The problem at this point is newspapers need to spend about 200% over a sustainable baseline for a few years just to catch up after years of neglect.

    Facing that fact, it is easier to just ignore the problem and continue the subsistence funding until computers and systems actually break beyond repair.

  • 2 Yoni Greenbaum // Feb 6, 2008 at 10:09 am

    @Damon – Good point which is part of the reason why I think newspapers need to start thinking of moving away from owning their own crumbling buildings and moving into upgraded rental space. Especially since in most markets, official rental space is cheap. And the price most papers would be able to get for their current land would be significant. Improve facilities and the bottom line in one move.

  • 3 JohnofScribbleSheet // Feb 6, 2008 at 11:42 am

    The problem is their is honour in owning the building with your logo slap bang on the building. Its pride. Pure pride.

  • 4 matt king // Feb 6, 2008 at 8:19 pm


    I know this isn’t your intent, but the first place they’ll look to save is on the editorial staff. It’s my computer or my job. Smart phone? That’s funny.

  • 5 Yoni Greenbaum // Feb 6, 2008 at 10:09 pm

    @Matt – I hear what you are saying and yes, that was not my intention. Nevertheless I think this is an argument that needs to be made, just like strong editors need to argue to save reporting slots.

    @John – Is it pride or is it vanity? I thought this Samuel Butler quote would be fitting “The truest characters of ignorance are vanity, and pride and arrogance.”

  • 6 Pat Thornton // Feb 7, 2008 at 12:14 am

    It is time to act. If anyone has an employer like that, leave. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

    We both know newspapers won’t actually spend money on infrastructure, especially if it makes no real difference on the staff or the final product. But if all the best talent left, newspapers would either have to change their views or they would die.

    And both options are fine by me.

  • 7 Meranda // Feb 7, 2008 at 12:40 am

    We have relatively lean eMacs, which run what reporters need just fine even if they’re a few years old. (The editors have nicer, newer and more powerful machines. The photo and graphics, even better.) The local staff also has a batch of new MacBooks with phone cards to take out on assignment, which to be honest, we’re not using enough.

    Our phones, however, could use some work. There is no caller ID, no call waiting and no signal when you have a voicemail. You don’t realize how much all those things come in handy until you don’t have them.

    My complaint about the office has nothing to do with the technology, which I’d consider more than adequate. Instead, if I could fix one thing it’d be this: Our newsroom has no windows. Now, that sucks. When it rains, we don’t know. If it’s been snowing for an hour, we’re the last to know. Luckily, as a reporter I’m frequently in and out of the building, so I don’t get that closed-in feeling. I don’t know how I’d feel if I spent all day without any natural light.

    Also, parking is a disaster. (But that’s a city-wide issue we can’t really remedy on our own.)

    Guess I’m lucky, or just optimistic about my lot. But I think we’re doing OK here.

  • 8 Mircea // Feb 7, 2008 at 4:05 am

    I’m astonished… I live in Romania (Europe), an ex-communist country. Free press started only in 1990. In certain aspects Romanian papers look and act like the American press of the 80’s. For 16 years I’ve been working as reporter, editor, chief-editor at local daily newspapers. I can’t believe, American press, our model, has the very same problems we have over here!

  • 9 Mark Dykeman // Feb 7, 2008 at 7:55 am

    Any professional deserves a decent place to work and good tools.

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