EVERETT, Wash. – Opening and closing sessions of the 2009 APSE Northwest Regional Meeting on April 27 at The Herald set a clear tone of finding ways to share content and solutions.
Thirteen sports editors from Washington, Oregon and Montana attended the annual meeting, which used a round-table format that allowed a free-flowing group discussion.
The opening session on "Doing More With Less," was moderated by Joe Palmquist, sports editor of The Spokesman-Review from Spokane, Wash. Each journalist began with an introduction that included a brief recap of recent staff, budget and circulation losses. Those recent Sports staff cuts ranged from one each in Everett and Yakima to four at The Seattle Times and three in Bozeman. Spokane has dropped from 19 to 12 full-time positions.
It’s clear the landscape won’t change any time soon, so solutions were the order of the day. Palmquist and Spokesman-Review Deputy Sports Editor Gil Hulse said it now considers candidates without journalism backgrounds to fill part-time slots and uses writers in the office to compile local non-wire roundups. Not only does the latter solution plug a hole on its beleaguered desk, it improves the relationship between reporters and desk editors.
Sharing stories was clearly an idea editors wanted to explore. The Seattle Times and Spokesman-Review are beginning to swap University of Washington and Washington State University stories. The arrangement could save thousands in freelance dollars. Similarly, The Columbian in Vancouver, Wash., and The Register-Guard in Eugene, Ore., share University of Oregon and Oregon State University content. Editors in Salem and Corvallis, Ore., are also discussing swapping content.
The second session, "Making the Web Work For You," was moderated by myself and Jim Day of The Salem (Ore.) Statesman-Journal. Discussions ranged from how to give reporters time to blog to how to get more video on the Web. Will Holden, a reporter attending from Bozeman, Mont., is one of many reporters doing his own video while writing and blogging.
Next was a session called "Psychotherapy for Sports Editors," moderated by Everett’s Kevin Brown. It turned into a way to let off steam and share stories of handling complaints from sometimes-misguided readers.
One piece of advice hit home: "If you’re not getting angry calls, you’re probably not doing a good job," Brown said.
He also pointed out that if readers call, it shows they care – a lot. More sage advice: Keep your cool and don’t ignore complaints.
Several papers have what was dubbed a "Say Yes," page. Such community pages can be a good home for content on local teams and individual accomplishments that used to not find a home in print. The Salem Statesman-Journal and The Herald both have such pages.
A session on "Improving Preps Coverage," was moderated by Jerrel Swenning of The Yakima Herald-Republic and Dave Rosbach of The Bellingham Herald.
Swenning said state high-school tournaments allow papers to market outside their customer base, selling papers to fans in town for games and getting online traffic from users hungry for content. Yakima’s Tourneytown.com is an example of a great state-tournament site, and is produced by a former sports staffer who is now the paper’s news editor.
Several good prep ideas came up. Some examples: how schools and districts are dealing with the current budget crunch, the shot-clock recently adopted by Washington’s boys, athletic directors losing their jobs as budgets get whacked, and how young athletes market themselves online to college recruiters.
The final session, "Life After Newspapers – What To Do When the Ax Falls," was as poignant as it was informative. A panel of former newspaper journalists who recently lost their jobs was composed of Nick Rousso and Jim Moore of The Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Ron Newberry of The Daily Olympian in Olympia, Wash., and Paul Ramsdell, a former assistant sports editor at The News-Tribune in Tacoma who has also worked for ESPN.com and The Seattle Times.
Newberry mentioned taking classes, including some for Web design, to sharpen skills and make himself more marketable. Ramsdell, who is working as a golf-course manager, said journalists often have trouble translating their skills to non-newspaper jobs. He said not to sell yourself short
"As journalists, we’re flexible and we’re experts on everything," Ramsdell said. "We’re able to adapt."
Ramsdell pointed out that our communications skills are excellent, and we also are adept as facilitators, making deadlines and managing conflict.
"We are seen as valuable commodities," Ramsdell said. "We are valued."
The panel agreed that journalists have a lot of ego tied up in their jobs and that the initial shock of being out of work is a humbling experience.
"Think about what you’d do if you had to," Newberry said. "Have something to fall back on."
Moore, a former P-I columnist, also had some basic advice: Save some money and don’t underestimate how much money you need to survive, including health insurance.
Rousso had a final thought that left a big impression: "Your allegiances have to be to you, your family and your career," he said. "Not your employer. Don’t forget that."