The Seattle Times before short, trendy posts were a thing.
The Seattle Times before "short, trendy posts" were a thing. Seattle Municipal Archives

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As Seattle Times reporters continue to await news on exactly how many of their colleagues will take buyouts or be laid off, they've received a lengthy memo from editor Don Shelton promising significant changes to how they do their jobs.

In an email sent to the newsroom Wednesday afternoon, Shelton told reporters and editors: "We are talking about nothing less than changing the overall culture of our newsroom. We’ll be more urgent, more reader driven, more productive and more accountable." (Read the full email at the bottom of this post.)

Shelton wrote that the paper will "pull back on posting some stories and covering some beats," but did not specify which areas those will be. While breaking news and deeper reporting "remain the main course of our content menu," he wrote, reporters will also be expected to do more shorter stories (like the "short, trendy posts" the paper has started publishing online in the morning) and to aggregate stories from other sites. The newsroom will use analytics to determine what reporters should focus on.

"I know some of you are worried about being given quotas on how many stories to post and how much traffic is expected," Shelton wrote, echoing the anxiety that ripples across the industry every time another legacy news organization goes "digital first."

"We have no plans for a one-size-fits-all quota," he assured the staff, "but we will monitor our productivity... We will agree on the right mix of news, features and enterprise and the right number of posts, graphics or photos for your beat or job. You will be involved in these conversations."

Shelton also outlined changes to the editing and layout process, including less editing and simpler design for stories that aren't on the front page, which could signal potential layoffs among copy editors, editors, or designers.

Some Times employees have heard layoffs are to begin today. The company did not immediately respond to a request for comment. By email, a spokesperson for the company did not respond to a question about whether layoffs were indeed coming today and said only: "We do not disclose confidential employee information externally." UPDATE: Staff received details about buyouts and layoffs Friday night.

In 2016, 15 Times employees, including some who had worked there for decades, left the paper through buyouts or layoffs. This time around, one staffer told The Stranger last month, "We are into the bone." The Times cuts are the most high profile in a string of recent bad news for local media: KOMO also cut several positions in its newsroom this week, NBC recently shut down its Seattle-based Breaking News app, today is Northwest Cable News's final day of operations, and the nonprofit Seattle Globalist is struggling to find funding.

Here's Shelton's full memo:

Wed 1/4/2017 4:09 PM

News - All Employees

What's Ahead in 2017

Support The Stranger

Colleagues,

Some of you have asked me what the plan is for the newsroom in 2017. Although I realize the timing is awkward this week, I’d like to address that question broadly before the start of the two-week voluntary period for Guild employees.

We’re going to move forward with urgency this year but also with intelligence and care. The landscape is shifting so quickly that we need to move fast, but the decisions are critically important for the future of The Seattle Times.

So what does that mean for the newsroom and for you?

It means we’ll be posting more content earlier (and throughout the day). That means your shift will very likely start earlier so that reporting and editing can occur on a digital, not print, cycle. The Morning Initiative, which started in September, was a first step toward getting more content up earlier, when analytics tell us readers want it. Now we need to spread that earlier/faster philosophy throughout the newsroom. We’ll also move print deadlines earlier, which will also allow more stories to be posted earlier and take pressure off an afternoon/evening news desk that will be smaller and more focused on print.

The editing process will be streamlined. Inside (non-cover) and online-only stories will generally get just one desk edit and won’t be slotted before being posted. Cover stories, including enterprise and sensitive ones, will still be edited more closely. Flattening our editing process will speed up posting times and allow us to focus on the deeper stories that need more attention. Likewise, inside print pages, except those for special projects, will be simpler and more templated, and we won’t spend as much time designing or adjusting them.

Under the Morning Initiative, we are doing more short, trendy posts, helping us find a better mix for our digital readers (including breaking news and enterprise). We won’t change our mission of doing great journalism, including investigative and watchdog stories and longer profiles and features, and strong graphics, photos and video will increase the impact. Those remain the main course of our content menu and the core of what we do journalistically. But we’ll need to do shorter posts and aggregate interesting content from other sources to find the right mix of stories that analytics show readers want.

We’ll also be giving reporters, producers and editors the tools to post more often, plan better and monitor analytics more closely. We’ve given reporters and their editors dashboards so they know how their stories – and the other popular stories posted each day – are doing. We’re working behind the scenes at improving our workflow and upgrading the tools we use to write and edit stories. Among those improvements will be a better planning tool that will allow editors to plan, execute and monitor digital performance much better. This will help us gain efficiencies. We’re working closely with IT to make that happen.

I know some of you are worried about being given quotas on how many stories to post and how much traffic is expected. We have no plans for a one-size-fits-all quota, but we will monitor our productivity. Reporters can expect to sit down with their editor and a senior editor sometime early this year and re-evaluate their duties. That will include not only what they’re doing, but how and when they’re doing it. These conversations will occur across the newsroom, in every department and job category – from photographers and photo editors to desk editors and designers. We will agree on the right mix of news, features and enterprise and the right number of posts, graphics or photos for your beat or job. You will be involved in these conversations.

And soon we will re-evaluate what we’re covering and the structure of our newsroom. We’ll examine analytics from The Seattle Times (both print and online) and industry sources and decide what our core beats should be as we try to reach new readers and satisfy our current audience and mission. Some are obvious, but others may be surprises. We’ll stop doing some things that don’t make sense, and pull back on posting some stories and covering some beats. We will identify the right coverage areas to focus on and then restructure accordingly. Many of you will have new beats, duties or shifts, and this restructuring could mean your department and newsroom will look very different.

We are talking about nothing less than changing the overall culture of our newsroom. We’ll be more urgent, more reader driven, more productive and more accountable. That doesn’t mean we’ll compromise our standards and our journalism, but it does mean we will change how we do our jobs.

I can’t promise you this will be easy, but I promise that you will be given clear direction about how to move forward and what our goals are. I promise to communicate with you often about where we’re headed and how we’ll get there, and to be open to any new ideas. Some will work. Others won’t. But we will not be afraid to experiment and try new things – and we will be quick to discard what isn’t working. As long as these changes don’t compromise The Seattle Times’ journalistic mission and credibility, they are worth considering.

So, to summarize, 2017 will include earlier shifts and deadlines, a streamlined editing and design process, a better mix of online content, improved workflow and better tools for reporters and editors, and re-evaluation of coverage areas and the structure of the newsroom. It adds up a different newsroom culture and a major shift in responsibilities and duties for many of us.

I hope this helps you understand where we’re heading and how your role in the new newsroom may change. As always, don’t hesitate to ask questions or voice your opinions or concerns to me, Michele or Lynn.

Don