Letter from the editor: New realities change the way newsroom does its work

For a few weeks in college, I worked for the Associated Press, the worldwide wire service that is fed by--and feeds stories to--newspapers. My posting wasn't Tokyo or Tel Aviv. It was Topeka, and I worked out of the AP bureau in the Kansas state ...

For a few weeks in college, I worked for the Associated Press, the worldwide wire service that is fed by--and feeds stories to--newspapers.

My posting wasn't Tokyo or Tel Aviv. It was Topeka, and I worked out of the AP bureau in the Kansas state Capitol.

It was my briefest job in journalism. But I learned a lot in those weeks. One of the biggest lessons: the withering pace of the constant news cycle. The AP publishes around the clock. We were always on deadline. I needed to report, write and move on quickly to the next story. I often wrote three or four a day.

Working at the News Tribune and all newspapers these days feels a lot like working at a wire service. Our Web sites allow us to -- demand that we -- publish constantly. It has changed our work and forced journalists to think differently about their jobs.

Not long ago, here's how our days looked, and had looked for decades:


Reporters generally arrived between 9 and 10 a.m. They checked in with sources, often trading gossip as they fished for news. Reporters with stories expected for the next day's edition began writing. Photographers loaded with gear dashed off to assignments. Editors edited and planned for the week.

In the evening, copy editors wrote headlines and laid out pages, eventually sending them to pre-press. Our work was done around midnight. The paper hit the street a few hours later. We all got up, read our newspapers, went to work and did it again.

These days, our world looks much different. Our first efforts start from home between 5 and 6 a.m. when editors, including this one, call up to see how our Web site looks. Newsy? Sufficiently full of photos, videos, reader polls and other extras? We have to approve all comments on stories to ensure that no one crosses the line. What have readers been saying about the news -- and each other -- overnight?

Our first reporter hits the door at 7 a.m., with the first editor close behind. Both are focused on gathering content for the site. News releases, weather developments, traffic accidents -- items that we once dismissed because they would be out of date or wouldn't fit in the next day's paper -- suddenly are relevant content for the site.

Other reporters and editors arrive and begin doing their jobs much as they used to. But they generally arrive earlier because of the Web. Traffic on begins building about 6 a.m. and usually peaks at midmorning, when many readers check in from their computers at work.

When any news breaks, we think Web first. Get the essence of the story and then get at least a few paragraphs up on the site. It's like my days at the AP. I remember the longtime bureau chief looking over my shoulder and saying, "You have enough there. Send it." But it didn't feel like I was done. It felt incomplete not being able to tell the full tale all at once.

That's how many newspaper journalists have felt as we've adjusted to the constant news cycle. We were accustomed -- trained, in fact -- to get the complete story before publishing. Now we usually do it in increments. Readers expect their news immediately. But we also have to report fully for the next day's paper. We've had to broaden our skill set. It has felt a lot like juggling.

Once you get the hang of juggling, though, it's fun. It also has been fun to use new tools, such as video, as we do daily with our partners at Fox 21 News and with our own daily Web news update on what we call "DNTV."


Reporters write exclusively for the Web through their blogs. They're finding new audiences and new sources. Copy editors who never used to write now blog, too. Many journalists in our newsroom shoot photos.

Editors still must plan for the print edition but also for the Web site. And they're doing a lot more hands-on production, as well as responding to the additional questions and concerns of the additional customers now coming to us through the Web.

The day doesn't end when we send our last page to pre-press. Copy editors post the next morning's stories and photos to, as well as video and other Web-only elements. They add "tags," or keywords, to each piece, enabling our site to load similarly tagged online advertisements.

Days sometimes end well after midnight, leaving our newsroom still short of a 24-hour operation, but darned close.

I never imagined my brief job at the AP in Topeka would teach me so much about the future of my career and industry. But I think often of those days as we work to get stories of our community out to you, our readers who come to the News Tribune and now to see what's happening through the constant news cycle.

ROB KARWATH is executive editor of the News Tribune. You can reach him at (218) 720-4177 or rkarwath@

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