It started with Gannett Co., Inc.
Three years ago, Gannett announced it was launching five design hubs around the country, intended to find an efficient way to produce quality news pages for many of its community newspapers.
Since that move, most newspaper companies have established their own version of production centers, focusing on the printed newspaper and consolidating copy editing and design talent. MediaNews Group, The E.W. Scripps Co. and Tribune Co. are among those that followed suit, along with The Bee's parent company, The McClatchy Co., with a center at the Charlotte Observer two years ago.
This is important work. Copy editors check facts, write headlines and help make sure coverage is fair. Great design improves your reading experience. It is visually pleasing. It also is utilitarian – designers use headline and image size to create emphasis and tools like a "highlights box" to give you fast-read opportunities.
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This new centralized model was born out of a deep recession when businesses laid off staff and focused on survival. It's fair to say plenty of journalists didn't like it. Those in home newsrooms couldn't walk over to a copy editor to discuss changes to a story; they had to call or instant-message the center. It was disruptive.
Yet by combining forces, newspapers could work to protect the quality of their journalism. There was practical operational value as well – it ensured a deep enough staff to handle unexpected issues that leave a copy chief with a sudden hole in the work schedule. Flu. Family issues. Jury duty.
As we've watched centers develop and the economy slowly recover, I've come to believe centralization makes sense for another reason as well: Technology is changing our world at lightning speed, and journalism along with it. Centralizing the work, expertise, learning and necessary new equipment should enable faster and more capable change.
That's the philosophy behind a major investment we're launching this month called the California McClatchy Multiplatform Desk, to be located adjacent to the newsroom at The Bee.
We started our planning more than two years ago, initially taking a cue from the industry and focusing on print production. As we added mobile apps and digital subscriptions, it became clear we needed a new industry model, a desk that is expert on all platforms. Our goal: Develop a center of journalism production expertise and new technology that allows us to provide news wherever our customers want to read it.
Anna Buchmann, former senior editor for the universal desk, will lead the center. Buchmann brings strong journalism credentials to the role, including teaching copy editing at Stanford University and writing The Bee's style guide.
Fifteen McClatchy journalists will join our Bee production staff by summer's end, and we'll hire another five to create a desk that will be fully operational by mid- October. The desk will handle news production for three McClatchy dailies and four weeklies – copy editing, design, selection of national and world stories, management of digital products and news alerts.
"What's lost in one sense – copy editors, say, working next to assigning editors – is gained in another," said Managing Editor Scott Lebar. "That is, we have a unified group having the benefit of all working next to each other in one physical space, on all our platforms.
"To me, this transforms how we produce the news, with a more cohesive understanding of what we are doing everywhere," he said.
Today's copy editors and designers increasingly are becoming digital journalists. They pay attention to data that show which stories get readership, how to write headlines likely to bring in readers from Google and other searches, and the value of many kinds of "digital assets" attached to stories (video, databases, photo galleries, etc.). They're talented wordsmiths and visual journalists as well.
We're adding new technology to help with the new duties. For the past couple of weeks, we've been testing our new publishing system, CCI's NewsGate 3, which is designed for multiplatform journalism. (Last Wednesday's Food & Wine section was the first section fully produced in NewsGate 3.)
Our features staff will be trained through the end of July and transition to the new system in early August. News, Opinion and Sports will follow over the next three months. We will convert simultaneously with sister papers The Modesto Bee and the Merced Sun-Star.
This will be the biggest project we've taken on in our newsroom in the 25 years I've been at The Bee. We'll be juggling training as we produce news every day.
"What I'm most excited about is having all that talent under one roof," Buchmann said. "The convergence of these two projects – a combined production desk and the new publishing system – will allow us to focus that talent on what we do best: copy editing and presentation, on all platforms."