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USA Today To Become An ‘Orchestra Of Voices’

Name a reporter at USA Today with a powerful brand–a columnist or blogger you follow.

You probably can’t, says Jay Rosen. “USA Today has always been an editor’s paper—very digestible news is the big idea—not a home for writers or a school for sensibility.” But new president and publisher Larry Kramer says that that time is over.

“We really can’t survive if all we do is commodity journalism. We have to do things that… we say things differently, we help people understand things,” he told Howard Kurtz on CNN. “I’d like us to be more complete and more outspoken in several areas, including stories about the impact of actions by government and business,” he told Politico’s Dylan Byers. ” “What we need here is what we haven’t had before — a lot of strong voices…Here, it was just the USA Today brand by definition…” he told Marketwatch’s Jon Friedman.

He also said that he plans to hire “unique voices”–Kramer’s way of adding value in a supersaturated media landscape. Rosen says the thought is good, but: “Overthrowing that approach isn’t as simple as hiring a few bloggers or loosening the rules for writers. We’re talking about ideological change within an occupation that sees itself as having no ideology. That’s… tricky. And there’s no guarantee that people who excelled at the old way will be any good at the new.”

USA Today announced another round of furloughs last month, the fourth in four years. Parent company Gannett Co. is still profitable, but its profits have fallen far and its revenue has declined for five straight years.

An In-Depth Review Of Pressfolios, The Newest Portfolio Site For Journalists

Earlier this week, sister blog 10,000 Words wrote about a brand-new site that allows journalists to easily gather their clips in one place without any fuss, without having to know the first thing about coding, and without any design knowledge.

I got an invite code to check Pressfolios out (it’s currently in closed beta, but co-founder Marc Samson tells me that people aren’t having to wait too long to get their invite codes).

Here’s how it works (with help from Pressfolios’ own Tumblr).

After signing up, you can add stories simply by pasting their URLs into the site.

The site automatically determines the headline, news outlet, and image associated with the story. Ok, sometimes it gets the news outlet wrong. But it takes about five seconds to manually edit it. It also seemed to get the wrong photo or no photo for most of the stories I uploaded. But changing the photo is surprisingly easy–I did it in about three clicks without leaving the site. (I imagined I’d have to click on the article, download the image to my hard drive, and re-upload it to Pressfolios. Luckily, this isn’t the case.)

The site doesn’t yet get the date from the story, which is unfortunate, because it has to be manually entered each time. I assume this is on Pressfolio’s punch list of things to fix before the site goes into open beta.

Once you’ve added a few stories you can arrange them:

And you can tag them, which will create separate tabs on your main Portfolio page. You can also create an About page (which is also showing its beta-ness in that some of the fields that you can fill in on your profile don’t actually display anywhere on the public-facing site).

Here’s what it looks like when you’re done:


Neat, yeah?

If you’re logged in, you can also download a PDF of each clip from your Dashboard, a handy option.

So here’s what the site can’t do yet. It can’t batch-import clips. Freelance marketplace Contently, believe it or not, will find what it thinks are all of your clips from a given site in one go. (Contently’s mission is not to provide journalist portfolios–that’s just a side benefit of membership there–so it may not be surprising that for now, the visual appeal of Contently’s portfolios is a bit lacking.)

You also can’t change the layout of the portfolio. Everyone’s looks the same: square images, white background, etc. It doesn’t hurt that this is an attractive look, but design is one of the improvements Samson notes his company is working on. I’d like to see an array of pre-designed templates for users to choose from, as well as the option to change the colors of said templates. Best might be something that presented more text–though humans are a visual species, I suspect editors really do want to read a prospective journalist’s clips, not just look at how pretty they are.

So, okay, Pressfolios is clearly still a beta product.

BUT. With all that said. The old way of making a portfolio site sucked. Either you just pasted text links, as do most of my freelance colleagues, or you had to manually cut and paste headlines, blurbs, links, and possibly images. I’m not gonna lie. It didn’t take forever, even if you knew no HTML. But it wasn’t fun either.

If Pressfolios rockets out of beta with these minor issues fixed, it might not change the world. But it will make a lot of journalists’ lives easier. And isn’t that good enough?

Pressfolios is currently free; once out of beta, the core features will remain free, Samson says. Go sign up for an invite code and try it out for yourself.

WaPo Newspaper Division Posts $22.6 Million Loss

The newspaper division of the Washington Post Company recorded a loss of $22.6 million for the first quarter of 2012, compared to $12.8 million a year prior.

That’s on revenues of $142 million, down 8 percent from $155 million, largely “due to reductions in general, classified and preprint advertising,” the company said. Online revenue from washingtonpost.com and Slate.com fell 7 percent to $24.2 million. That means digital now makes up 17 percent of the company’s revenues.

The loss comes from the decline in revenue, the company said, as well as an $8.6 million pension expense and nearly $2 million in early retirement expenses. Newsprint, however, cost the company 11 percent less, as it was using 11 percent less of it.

The company as a whole, which also owns Kaplan, a test-prep and education company, is still profitable: the company reported an overall profit of $31 million, but $20 million of that is from a branch of Kaplan that the company sold earlier this year. And revenues at Kaplan were down 11 percent to $553 million.

It doesn’t look good for Washington’s paper of record, but a couple of recent strategic hires may help turn the paper around.

‘New York Times’ Staffers Protest Contracts & Pension in New Video

Staffers from The New York Times have issued a new video speaking out about contract negotiations and their pension plans.

A memo about the video was sent to staffers. Here is the text, courtesy of Jim Romenesko:

Subject: your colleagues on Guild pension video, now up on YouTubeA few weeks ago, the Guild asked a number of the paper’s journalists to sit down and talk on video about the negotiations, the issues important to them, how they feel about working at the Times, and so on.

The first video is finally ready. It is about several issues, but particularly about pensions: why they are so valuable, and how much the Times is trying to take from us by demanding a pension freeze.

The original target audience is inside our own building –members who may have doubts about fighting to save the pension.

But it’s powerful enough – I think – to be shown to any audience.

Please have a look – it includes David Dunlap, Jim Dwyer, Clyde Haberman, John Schwartz, Nadia Taha, Joyce Wadler, George Vecsey, Willy Rashbaum, Claiborne Ray, Erik Piepenburg, Andrea Kannapell, Karen Grzelewski, Jennifer Mascia, Kevin Sack and myself. Others also spoke and I gather the plan is to use them in future videos

NYT Contract Negotiations ‘Slightly Less Offensive’

The Newspaper Guild of New York says that the latest proposal from New York Times management is “slightly less offensive” but still retains a number of key provisions the Guild is unhappy about: frozen pension accruals, cuts to severance pay, and overtime paid on a weekly basis rather than a daily basis.

The paper’s current contract with its newsroom expired in 2011 and negotiations have been continuing since then.

The management did mention pay raises, though: a raise for this year (2012) of one percent upon contract ratification and a one-percent bonus in 2013.

“Guild members are angry over huge executive severance packages, alleged secret bonus plans and secret pension plans for top managers,” guild president Bill O’Meara said in a memo. “That’s against a backdrop of recent news of more than 400,000 paid digital subscribers, and paying off Carlos Slim. The picture for The Times has gotten a lot brighter – yet the people who produce the product are being treated poorly. This is not a time to have a fight with the people you need the most.”

The Times is also offering a 3 percent 401(k) contribution for employees with less than 10 years of service and a 5 percent contribution for those with more than 10 years. Guild actuaries (yes, those exist) say, though, that the Times needs to kick in a 12 percent contribution to match the loss of the pension, which is (we think) unheard of.

The guild meets Thursday to formulate a counterproposal.

Jim Romenesko has the memo.

What Editors Would Have Done Differently

If these editors had a time machine and could tell their past selves about the present, more journalists might be employed right now. Or not – if they’d messed with the past it’s probably equally likely that Skynet would be running our lives or resurrected dinosaurs would have eaten all humans.

But that’s not the point this Nieman Reports piece is trying to make (as much as we’re sure they love dinosaurs as much as we do)–actually, Nieman asked six former editors what they’d do differently if they were back in charge at their old papers.

The answers may surprise you, ranging from hiring more investigative reporters (Ronnie Agnew, former editor of The Clarion-Ledger) to using amateur photos from readers (Mike Pride, former editor of the Concord Monitor). That’s quite a difference.

Skip Perez, former editor of The Ledger in Lakeland, Fla., had a different take: it’s not about what to cover or how to cover it, it’s about preventing burnout. “But my sense is that almost everyone is overlooking the “people piece,” meaning the newsroom staffers who should care deeply about the quality of their work and feel good about it every day…How might newsrooms recapture that essential spirit, short of hiring a managing editor for psychotherapy?…a commitment to staff training is essential. Training budgets are among the first to be eliminated when money gets tight. But the right kind of training will boost morale and reward the news organization with dedicated staffers itching to tackle groundbreaking assignments. And those who are given training opportunities will gladly share their experiences and ideas with colleagues at a meeting or brown bag lunch.”

Now that’s a revolutionary idea.

Philly Guild Says No To Layoffs

Last month, the Philadelphia Media Network said it had to get rid of 37 staffers.

It asked for buyout volunteers before resorting to layoffs.

The Guild says it received 21 volunteers to take buyouts at the Inquirer, the Philadelphia Daily News, and Philly.com. The company is now saying it will conduct an additional 19 layoffs.

The Guild says that those on the layoff list include: Two full-time Inquirer reporters, three part-time Inquirer reporters, four part-time Inquirer copy editors, one part-time Inquirer artist, one full-time Daily News reporter, one part-time Daily News reporter, three part-time Daily News copy editors, one full-time Daily News desk assistant, one Daily News part-time editorial clerk. and two part-time Philly.com multi-media content producers.

“It is our position that between the significant savings of the salaries of the members who volunteered to leave, and the concessionary contract in 2010 that gave the new owners $6 million in cost cuts from our union, that enough is enough.”

Well, the company said it needed 37, and only got 21. But they’re asking for 40, now, so neither side is really making much sense right now.

Guild president Dan Gross and executive director Bill Ross wrote that they believe Philadelphia Media Network is attempting to cut more costs in order to make the papers look like an attractive investment. The company made $4 million last year.

Creative Loafing Papers Cut Pay, Staffers

Creative Loafing, the company that owns the Chicago Reader, City Paper, and Creative Loafing Atlanta, has announced cuts in staffing and pay at the three papers.

At CL Atlanta, four positions were let go. The paper is saying farewell to managing editor/digital and food critic Besha Rodell, staff writer Scott Henry, arts writer Curt Holman, and special projects director (and former managing editor) Chanté LaGon.

At the Washington City Paper, some employees had their hours reduced to part-time, but no staffers were cut. At all three papers, everyone got a 5% pay cut.

Washington City Paper publisher Amy Austin said that she was looking for a new owner, preferably local, for the paper, Poynter’s Andrew Beaujon (himself a City Paper veteran) reports.

Over 50 Employees Lose Their Jobs As Village NetMedia Ceases Operations

The owner of Maine newspaper publisher Village NetMedia announced Friday that he would be ceasing operations of his four papers, effective immediately.

That means 56 people are losing their jobs, the Bangor Daily News reports. There will be no severance.

The four weekly papers and related websites that are being shuttered served Rockland (The Village Soup Gazette), Belfast (The Village Soup Journal), Bar Harbor (the Bar Harbor Times), Augusta (the Capital Weekly), and entertainment rag The Scene.

“The profound changes in the newspaper publishing business, a weak economy and our investment in new products created severe financial challenges. Over the recent months, I have worked with outside professionals to achieve a financial restructuring that would allow us to continue. These efforts failed as of 3 p.m. today, March 9, 2012. We can no longer sustain our operations,” owner Richard Anderson said in a statement.

Before the Village Soup papers were purchased by Village NetMedia in June 2008, they were called The Courier-Gazette in Rockland, The Camden Herald in Camden, the Republican Journal in Belfast, and the Bar Harbor Times. The first three of those papers are each more than 140 years old, and the Bar Harbor Times was nearly 100 years old.

The Bangor Daily News printed a follow-up yesterday about what’s in store for the laid-off Rockland employees. On Monday, they met with a career counselor from the state’s rapid response team.

That counselor’s former job? Editing the Camden Herald, a job he lost when Village NetMedia purchased the paper in 2008.

New York Times Editors Respond To Protests

A number of New York Times staffers held a “quiet protest” in the hallways of the building yesterday to express their dismay about the way contract talks have been going. Today, executive editor Jill Abramson and other editors have issued a response.

In a letter from “Jill, Dean and John,” who we take to be Jill Abramson, managing editor Dean Baquet, and managing editor for operations John Geddes, the Times brass say that “Negotiations are certainly best left to those at the bargaining tables.”

The letter, obtained by Romenesko, isn’t all dismissive. “We all acknowledge that the push-pull of the negotiating process can be wearying. But we have been here before. Like you and our colleagues on the negotiating team, we are committed to finding a solution…We thought this was a good moment for us to underscore our commitment to you and to affirm our faith in the future of The Times. After all, we are all in this together.” But it also takes an arrogant tone at the end:

“The New York Times stands almost alone in being able to offer talented journalists a promising and fulfilling career. We are the destination for those committed to the highest standards of excellence.”

Ira Stoll, former managing editor of the New York Sun, writes, in essence, WHAT?

For the benefit of Times employees who might feel trapped by the message from “Jill, Dean, and John” — first names only when delivering that iron-fist-in-velvet-glove management message — here are just a few of the many other places (I am sure I am forgetting some) that can offer talented journalists promising and fulfilling careers:

The Wall Street Journal
ProPublica
Texas Monthly
The New Yorker
Time magazine
Sports Illustrated
NPR

Stoll goes on; we won’t. But the message is a sound one, we think.

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