April 7, 2009

Job Description & Budget

Mr. Lubbers was nice enough to share their newly-updated sports writer job description and his daily budget on the day we visited:

Q & A with Sports Editor Rick Lubbers

Recently Ben and I caught up with Rick Lubbers, the sports editor at the Duluth News Tribune to discuss the future of journalism through the eyes of an editor. Rick was more than gracious in providing us with valuable time and information; here are the highlights of what was said:

Q: How different is being an editor now than it was five years ago?
Rick: A lot. In fact, it’s vastly different from what it was just four months ago. Now the paper’s web site demands are greater than ever, it needs to be fed new content constantly. It used to be, ‘well nobody reads the paper ‘till tomorrow anyway, so what’s the rush?’ Now, we’re always competing to be the first to break a story. All the media outlets in town want to be the first to get that scoop, to break the story open. It makes things a little more hectic, and a lot more computer-based; but it’s also a very exciting time to watch these changes occur.

Q: How have these changes affected the newsroom dynamic?
Rick: The set-up of our newsroom has become much more compact. It used to be sportswriters were in this corner and news was over there and it stayed that way. Now everything’s being merged as we build more and more on to our site. Our reporters also used to have a lot more to do with layout. That’s not the case anymore. Layout has become its own department as the web site becomes more involved with our financial future.

Q: How is the emphasis on finances different at the paper than it was in the past?
Rick: More and more that has become the number one concern of papers everywhere. Advertising and reporting or editing used to be kept apart at all costs, but that’s not true anymore. For the UMD men’s hockey playoffs, one of our sports guys wrote a play-by-play blog of the event. Since it was not readily available on TV around here, that got a lot of people on to our site; but who advertises that? We’re seeing more companies recognize that they have easy access to specialized audiences through our blogs and content. We did a sort of series on cross-country skiing a while back. It got a bit of attention, so we were able to get a local rehab company that specializes in cross-country accidents pay us to advertise on that page. Or, for another example, we developed the idea to sell flowers through our obituaries. Simply by looking at an obituary on our site, a reader can link straight to a flower shop and buy a bouquet for the deceased; it’s really become a popular feature.

Q: How have budgetary cutbacks affected the sports department in particular?
Rick: The biggest changes have come in what we’re able to cover. Just recently UMD’s men’s hockey was in Colorado, the women’s hockey was in New Hampshire and Duluth East had just made it to the state hockey tournament in St. Paul. We only have three reporters and we just spent a bunch of money on UMD football, so who do we pick? A few years ago we probably would have considered all three, but that’s just not realistic anymore. We have to think about our demographics and the truth is, we get a lot of our money from people living in the Duluth East district. It’s a relatively wealthy area, and there’s a little more passion there so usually we’d pick that; if we could afford to cover any of them. We’ve also seen a big change in the prep sports that we’re able to cover. Being in such a unique location (Northern MN) creates a tough problem for us. Everyone north of Duluth expects us to cover their teams, but we have to wonder how many of them actually buy our paper. We used to cover International Falls High School. If they made it to state, we’d sent a writer. Now, we have to consider where our readership is. Something like 95% of our readers come from Duluth, Superior, Hermantown, Cloquet, Esko and Proctor so we try to cater to their schools and other immediately local prep teams.

Q: How are you able to overcome these budgetary restrictions and still report all the news?
Rick: We rely a lot more on wires now or working within our publisher’s resources. Forum Communications owns us and a lot of other papers in the area, so it helps to work together. If three high schools qualify for state and each town has a paper owned by Forum, there’d probably only be one writer going to provide blanket coverage for all the teams.

Q: What qualities are needed to become an editor in today’s climate?
Rick: The most important thing is to have a critical eye. You need to look at everything, no matter how good it is, and think ‘how could I make that better?’ I notice myself doing that even when I watch movies now. It’s also vital that you know how to deal with people. An editor is kind of like being an air traffic controller. A good editor needs to keep everyone calm on deadline; or there will be too much chaos. As time goes by, it’ll be more and more important to be competent on the web. I think there will always be a paper copy, it’s one of those generational things that will never go away; but it’s a good idea to be as versed as possible. Be able to write a blog. Have the ability to snap some pictures or take video. It is never a bad thing to be versatile.

Q: What steps has the paper taken to embrace the web?
Rick: Besides the blogs and the actual site, which are growing and growing in popularity, we’ve started a few projects to get more and more content up there. Now we’re doing what we call the ‘photo of the day’ where every writer we have takes turns going out into the city and taking a picture that will be featured on our site, which has led to our paper becoming more and more of a ‘community journalism’ paper. Now that term used to be negative, but we kind of like it now. The DNT isn’t a national paper or a huge regional presence but we are the top media outlet in the Northland and we like that standing.

Q: What’s the future of copy editing?
Rick: It will increasingly become more and more web-related, but the proofreading and the skills needed for paper-based journalism will never go away. I’d tell students now to keep a critical eye, do lots and lots of reading of other people’s material simply to learn and to pick up as much multimedia skill as you can. The newspaper business is not going away so the right attitude can accomplish a lot.

April 6, 2009

DNT Slideshow

Here are some photos I took when Mark and I visited the Duluth News Tribune.