LAT editors are back from retreat

The vision thing
Los Angeles Times editor Russ Stanton took 25 editors to the South Bay this week for a beachfront "off-site" to figure out how to stop the bleeding and regroup as a newsroom for the digital future. (Here was the reading list.) I'm told several editors got pretty tired of the touchy-feely rituals — hugs, talking sticks, gongs — and Stanton acknowledges there were some f-bombs thrown around. But his email memo this morning claims progress — though somebody should tell him that craigslist is not two words. (They also came up with a graphic that's supposed to depict it all...here it is bigger.)

From: Stanton, Russ
Sent: Friday, April 11, 2008
Subject: Editorial Planning Update

Colleagues:

I wanted to give you an update on the editorial planning retreat that 26 of our editors participated in this week.

Our goal was to develop a three-year plan for the direction of our newsgathering operation between now and 2010. I am very pleased to report that we made significant progress, laying the foundation for the process that will guide us toward this goal. Our work this week involved determining the values we want to guide us, what we want the newsroom to look like, and developing a plan to get us there.

On values, we defined:

--what we want to keep (our ambition, integrity, critical thinking)
--what we want to eliminate (dwelling in the past, arrogance, silo mentality)
--and what we'd like to create (greater focus on, and interaction with, readers; a more entrepreneurial environment, increased operational flexibility).

For the newsroom, the goal is that by 2010, we will have built a news operation that is ever-present and indispensable to people who live in Southern California, in every medium available. To get there, in:

--the rest of 2008, we will train all editorial employees in new skills in every medium in which we work (print/web/TV/mobile/radio); launch two or three coverage teams focused on a specific topic (for example, and only for example, immigration or health care); begin physically merging the print and web news operations. --2009, we will restructure the newsroom to better serve all of the aforementioned platforms. We also will engage our readers in the process of shaping coverage and telling stories.

To get us there, in the coming weeks we will:

--launch the training programs and schedule classes.
--pick the topics and the staff -- editors, reporters, web/photo/graphics, etc. -- for the new coverage teams.
--start consolidating print and web functions where possible. First stop: Metro on the third-floor newsroom, where a web pod is taking shape this week.
--Take inventory of how readers communicate with us (there are at least a dozen ways), and name someone to analyze, distill and distribute this information to the entire staff.

To help us better understand how to serve readers, we brought in Jim Buckmaster, the CEO of Craig's List, the small San Francisco company that is demolishing our traditional classified business. That website gets 10 billion page views a month (at our current rate of 100 million PVs a month, that's nearly 10 years worth!) and has only 25 employees. Talk about efficiency.

We also brought in Kevin Woodson, a visual artist from San Francisco, who has worked with companies like H-P, Cisco and HSBC that also are undergoing significant change efforts. Kevin spent all day with us on Wednesday listening to what we wanted our newsgathering operation to look like in 2010 and came up with a terrific mural illustrating our vision, a copy of which is attached. It is being digitized and laminated, and we'll put it up in the newsroom late next week.

The editors attending this retreat spent 27 hours in a hotel conference room over three days working on this plan. The discourse was wide-ranging and intense (we had fierce debate, laughter, f-bombs, angst), and it underscored the passion and commitment that we all have for our work and this great institution.

We aren't yet at the point of determining specific staff changes, and whether people will be getting completely new assignments and/or training. But it is clear that if you work in editorial and your job hasn't changed much over the past year, it will be in the coming months.

I know people are itching to get to the specifics, but the challenges we're facing today are complex, shaped by internal and external forces that were decades in the making. Neither we, nor anyone else in our industry, is going to come up with a solution in three days. The goal for this retreat was to develop the high-level framework that will guide our decisions going forward and keep us true to our mission.

Next up: This group reconvenes next Thursday to finish off the specifics of the plan for '08. I've asked the section editors to meet with their staffs over the next month and zero-base our coverage given the realities of our business. It will be during this portion of the process that you all will help determine how we sharpen the focus of our coverage, and what we will walk away from. In consultation with other members of the masthead, I will then make the final calls on those matters, and we'll share those -- and the rest of the overall plan --- with you in June.

Thanks for your ideas (many of you sent thoughtful suggestions after my previous note to you on Monday explaining the retreat) and your patience as we forge ahead with the important work we started this week. As I told the group when we broke camp last night, I am very optimistic about our future because we work in a great city for a great paper/website and have a dedicated staff of the very best journalists in the business.

Russ Stanton
Editor


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