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Big Changes At CQ

From an email sent to CQ staffers from Editor Mike Riley:

    During the past half decade, Congressional Quarterly’s news operation has grown significantly as we’ve expanded our journalistic ambitions and moved boldly into the online world. This transformation has brought rapid growth and a host of changes and additions to our enterprise, and it’s time to evaluate the organization we’ve created and to ask whether there is a better way to help us achieve our goals of practicing journalistic excellence, making CQ a great place to work, and attracting, retaining and developing talented staffers.

Read the rest after the jump…we’ve emphasized some of the more important parts…


    We must manage this growth well, and that’s a challenge that these days makes us the envy of many journalistic organizations. After spending several months assessing our complex news operation, I’m convinced that we need to make some changes in our structure to help us better manage our people, processes and publications. As you know, Bob Merry has been deeply involved with these matters since last year, and, in addition to being most helpful in the formulation of the specifics of this plan, he is firmly committed to it going forward. So let me outline the first wave of these organizational changes. As with most transformations, this one will evolve over time as we assess its impact, and I have no doubt there will be some tweaks and alterations down the line. While there are clearly some rough edges in this plan, these first few steps should help point us in the right direction, particularly if we embrace them with enthusiasm and optimism across this organization. Why do we need to make these changes? The reasons are straightforward. They will lead to better communication and coordination, bring greater clarity to our operation’s diverse roles and expectations, streamline the way we work and create some useful order, foster clear lines of responsibility, and allow us to better set priorities, make choices and create better decision-making in the allocation of our staff time and other resources. These changes will also further integrate CQ.com into the heart of our organization. We must acknowledge the central importance and value of CQ.com, and we must accept the fact that our future increasingly rests on our success online. This ongoing mixing of the print and online gene pools will strengthen CQ and open options for us down the road by fostering better organizational connections and enhancing possible career paths. Beyond this revised structure, we will also tap more deeply into the additional resources promised to the newsroom last year.

    Beyond the deputy Weekly Report editor position, which is close to being filled, we plan to hire five new reporters at this juncture. Those details are below. In the big picture, it’s best to view these changes as in terms of three interrelated and collaborative organizational parts: innovation, publications and news.

    Innovation

    First, let’s look at innovation. We’re going to create a central piece of the newsroom dedicated to innovation. After all, that’s where our future lies, in the creation of new products, publications and ideas, mostly in the realm of digital technology. Think of this as the laboratory for CQ as we move into the future. Editorial Product Development and some of our best innovators and technological online resources will reside here, led by an executive editor for innovation (Ken Sands, as announced yesterday), who will work across the newsroom and the company to help bring imagination and creativity to fuel our growth. This sharper focus also sets the stage for us to ratchet up our commitment to and improve our process for new product development.

    News

    The second primary group will focus sharply on news and newsgathering, which is, after all, the heart and soul of Congressional Quarterly. News is news, as we know, no matter the platform, and news is the engine that drives all parts of our enterprise. The focus here will be fully on the news, and most reporter and editor jobs will remain the same in terms of roles and responsibilities. The domains will be a central part of the newsgathering force, as will our real-time news team, though it should be noted that key newsgatherers will exist in other areas, such as the verticals and CQ Weekly. There are some key changes in news designed to help us set priorities and make difficult tradeoffs and choices. One addition is the appointment of a traffic cop, if you will, who will be the managing editor for news, Randy Wynn. He will act as a fully empowered broker of newsgatherers’ time and efforts. He’ll have the authority to make, in collaboration with his supervisor, Executive Editor for News Anne Hoy, and the editors of the publications, decisions on coverage and story assignments. That approach will allow us to allocate better one of our most important resources, namely our reporters’ time. In addition, I plan to add three new reporters to the domains to help with overall coverage and bolster our forces, which often get stretched thin. The specifics of these slots will be worked out in the weeks to come. In addition, we’re moving our committees/votes team and schedules to the news operation. Peter King, who will become managing editor for legislative tracking, will continue to lead this group. The committees team will become more fully responsible for handling markups, which will free domain reporters to pursue other stories. These reporters will also become full-fledged members of the news operation, which means they’ll be able to grow and develop on well-defined career tracks to move elsewhere in the organization. I also plan to add a new member to the floor votes group, which will help that team manage its challenging late-night schedules. We will combine this group with BillTrack researchers to create a strong team to monitor both chamber floors. Plus, I plan to add a new reporter to work with Bob Healy to strengthen our schedules operation and assume this task more fully from the committees’ team so that its members can focus more on writing markup stories.

    Publications

    This plan also calls for the consolidation of our print publications, CQ Weekly and CQ Today. These operations, which will be run by managing editors David Hawkings and Dan Parks, will be overseen by Executive Editor for Publications Susan Benkelman. Under this arrangement, we’ll see improved coordination of our product needs from the get-go, along with clearer communications and a smoother working relationship with the news department. The executive editor and managing editors of these publications will work closely on an operational level with their counterparts in news, talking constantly and meeting regularly, all with the goal of making clear decisions about our priorities, choices and resource allocation. The structure of CQ Weekly will remain largely the same, and by having both publications in the same stable, their coordination will be improved. One of the keys to making this work will be to define clearly and implement the revised publication missions, which are close to being completed. Under this arrangement, it should be noted that CQ.com will own the news tab on the Web site and will be, in essence, another customer of the newsgathering operation. Clearly, this arrangement is neither perfect nor final, so it will be the subject of regular assessment and some tweaking. What it will deliver, however, is some immediate improvements as we continue the challenging job of managing our growth.

    Along with these changes, I wanted to set forth some of my expectations in terms of shared newsroom values that we need to practice in our work as we move forward. They are fairly simple, and they are already deeply embedded in CQ’s DNA, but they merit mention because, as we all know, times of change can be stressful, and it is crucial to foster productive and positive working relationships, no matter the pressures. To that end, we need always to work together collaboratively. We need to communicate clearly, well and often. We need to coordinate our efforts, cooperate at all times and foster collegiality across all our departments and teams. Finally, we need respect fully everyone’s role and work in this operation. If we adhere to these values and practice them, we’ll accomplish great journalism, and have some fun along the way.

    Before I close, let me give you an update of some changes on other fronts:

  • We are nearing a clarification of our key mission statements, as I mentioned.

  • We have underway a team developing a set of recommendations to improve – and even supercharge – our training and development opportunities.

  • We’ve started holding regular Monday morning meetings of top editors to discuss and coordinate upcoming coverage and allocate resources better.

  • We’ve put together a leadership team of top editors to meet every two weeks on Wednesdays to help manage our overall operation.

  • We will also examine our editing process in the coming months, with an eye toward improving it. My belief is that editors and reporters both have important, specific and somewhat different roles in the creation of excellent journalism, and the closer they work together, the better the result.

    To recap, this phase of changes in Congressional Quarterly’s news operation is designed to improve our journalism, create a better working environment, and help us retain and develop talented staffers. Finally, I plan to hold a series of open meetings to answer any questions and hear any thoughts you may have. These sessions will be held in the Poynter conference room today from 5-6 p.m., on Friday, June 1, from 10-11 a.m., and on Monday, June 4, from 4-5 p.m. Please join me.

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