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  • LEDE members begin training visits to GateHouse newsrooms

  • Members of the 2010 GateHouse News & Interactive LEDE class have begun their summer visits to some of the company's top newsrooms to learn how they operate, from daily print and web execution to planning and communication.

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  • Members of the 2010 GateHouse News & Interactive LEDE class have begun their summer visits to some of the company's top newsrooms to learn how they operate, from daily print and web execution to planning and communication.
    The 10 members of the LEDE class (complete list in sidebar at right) will each spend two days working with top editors, and follow an initial three-day trainign program at N&I headquarters in Downers Grove, Ill., and a summer of exercises where participants researched and reported on each department in their local operation. This year's program will culminate in another training seminar in the fall in Downers Grove.
    The goal of LEDE - Leadership, Education, Development and Enterprise - is to teach editors of small newsrooms and section editors of larger newsrooms the skills they need to lead in the next decade.
    As each participant completes his or her summer newsroom visit, we will publish a Q&A at GHNewsroom.om. Look for others in the coming weeks.
    LEDE member: Nate Birt, editor, Boonville Daily News
    Newsroom visited: The Patriot Ledger (Quincy, Mass.)
    1. Talk about one idea you brought back to your newsroom that could right away change the way you operate.
    The idea of gearing web content toward multimedia immediacy resonated with me. I was very impressed by the way The Patriot Ledger takes a local event — when I visited, for example, a state trooper was involved in a vehicle accident — and quickly turns it into a text article that also features photos and video. Most of our quick turnaround content involves text and photos, but everyone in our newsroom is onboard with the idea of getting as many videos taken and posted as possible. We've already begun brainstorming about how we can incorporate more quick-hit videos into our operation, and we're excited about the possibilities. The staff of the Ledger showed me that it's quite easy to turn a breaking news story (or any story, really) into a quick video that engages people online and doesn't require a large, documentary-style time investment. That was really encouraging.
    2. What did you learn about internal communication and planning strategies in a successful newsroom model?
    I got a lot of great advice about planning, and a piece of advice from Chazy Dowaliby was particularly helpful: Whenever you're planning to launch a new feature, make sure you have at least three weeks' worth of content already prepared. That way, you can maintain momentum and continue the series or feature without running out of material. Something that I've struggled with since arriving in Boonville is the question of how to produce a daily newspaper while also taking adequate time to plan for future content. It's difficult to work on content and hold onto it for a period of time when you need great content to go into the paper on a daily basis. Editors at the paper suggested building into the paper several regular features and engaging members of the community to help with writing — in the editorial department, for example. These are ways that we can manage our time and let readers know that they can expect certain types of content on specific days of the week.
    Page 2 of 3 - Another helpful suggestion: Spend just a few minutes at the start of budget meetings critiquing the previous day's paper. Start with positives, then discuss things that could have been done differently. This is something we're not doing in an organized way, but I think it could pay huge dividends, both in terms of morale and improved group performance.
    3. What did you learn about newsroom leadership in your visit?
    I think the biggest lesson I got out of my visit in terms of newsroom leadership was this: Leaders need to know the strengths of their co-workers and let them flourish with as much support and enthusiasm as possible. Based on my observations, people at the Ledger genuinely enjoy working together, and they do journalism that benefits the community — investigative work, features and political coverage, among other items. Moreover, they're passionate about what they do, and they're able to provide clear instruction about how to do certain things (for example, shoot a quick web video) and why it matters (examples on the news side include making people feel like they're a part of the newspaper and community, and getting readers to engage in a discussion about a hot-button issue; on the editorial side, an example might be moving state officials to pass needed legislation).
    Leadership certainly happens at the highest levels of management, but it also happens when everyone is on the same page in terms of talent and collective purpose.
    4. Long term, what ideas or practices did you learn that you plan to use to build your skill set or make improvements in your newsroom?
    I had an excellent conversation with Chazy and copy desk chief/visuals editor Jen Wagner about ways I can hone the corrections policy I've been developing for our newsroom. Their suggestions were incredibly helpful and hit on several key points:
    • Tighten it as much as possible so that it's easily to understand and manage, and can be included as a supplement to GateHouse's overarching newsroom expectations
    • Focus on group performance. Don't isolate all reporters or editors with a list of goals. Pick several things to focus on and applaud group improvements.
    • Monitor performance in a time-effective way. It would be impossible to track a whole host of different errors. But it wouldn't be too difficult to keep a log of page 1 errors in headlines and photo captions. By isolating a few areas for review, it's possible to identify problems and work to fix them.
    I'll continue to work on this policy, and these points are among those that I want to use in its development, and in newsroom work as a whole. Online news editor Dan Medeiros also told me that he has been sending out memos to co-workers that break down web strategy in terms of what types of news should be posted at which times of day. I think that this would be another excellent tool — as our web operations grow, it would be great to get more of an internal conversation developed about how we can best serve our web readers according to time of day, SEO and so on.
    Page 3 of 3 - The editors also gave me great advice about encouraging co-workers and addressing problems. One item in particular — work with employees to help them get their next job — really stood out because it's an area I know I need to focus on. I've always found this to be true in internships I've performed: The best editors and managers are interested in you as a person, and in your potential for the future. I want to do more as an editor to help reporters in my newsroom to get as diverse a skills set as possible so that they can easily step into work as editors, publishers and so on.
    5. The memory from your visit that will stick with you the most:
    I think I was most impressed by the willingness of everyone at the Ledger, at their own time and expense, to offer any of their own resources to help our paper in Boonville. They provided business cards, sent links with examples of investigations they've done, offered to share templates for editorial-page content, offered to answer any multimedia questions as they arise and so on. I hope I can be as gracious with others if I'm ever in the same position. Even on a Friday — which I understand is an incredibly busy day at the Ledger because the staff has to finish that day's paper and wrap up Saturday's — they went above and beyond to show me the ropes.
    They also asked a ton of great questions about Boonville and catered the training specifically to how we can implement, in a smaller city, what the Ledger does in a larger community. It was empowering, and I thoroughly enjoyed it.

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