Newsroom workings and symphony orchestras

Rough Writer

By Michael Johnson - [email protected]



A wise editor from my past once told me, “Think of the newsroom as a symphony orchestra and you are the conductor. It’s your job to ensure that all parts are working in harmony and doing what they’re supposed to be doing. And when everything works as it should, it is, indeed, harmony.”

That analogy works, assuming that everything flows as it should. Unfortunately, he failed to give me a heads up that, sometimes, you might also have to be First Chair while conducting that symphony.

Such is the life of a journalist of a small community newspaper like ours. Not only do we ensure coverage of local news, we also write it, take photographs, proofread, collect small community news items such as weddings, births, reunions, birthday announcements (what we call “card showers”), calendar items, obituaries, update news on our website, post content to social media and much more too numerous to mention in this space.

Speaking of space, I plan to use this opportunity each Saturday to talk about the newspaper business and, more specifically, the processes we use here at Ohio Valley Publishing so that you, the reader, will have a better understanding of what exactly it is we do every day and why we do it.

In addition to the printed product, we are also producing and uploading online digital content in an effort to keep up with the demands of our internet and social media audiences.

At each of our newspapers in Gallipolis, Pomeroy and Point Pleasant, we have one reporter responsible for all of the aforementioned tasks, as well as event coverage. We have a small stable of freelancers who are only available to cover certain events or areas.

As editor, I oversee all three locations and ensure we are keeping up with those tasks and covering events. I also jump in and shoot photos, video and write stories as needed, as well as make administrative (in consultation with the publisher) and news decisions, and coordinate placement of those news stories. That sometimes means working until 10 p.m. (sometimes on weekends, too) and putting in a solid 12-hour day or more.

In sports, we have a staff of three responsible for covering 10 schools across three counties and two states. That equates to one person covering each county — three in Mason County, three in Meigs County and four in Gallia County. They, too, face the same challenges as myself and the news staff.

The only thing we don’t do locally is physically build the newspaper. That is done off-site at a sister publication by another set of dedicated journalists we call “paginators” at a “pagination hub.” The newspapers, however, are printed at our Gallipolis facility.

When I first started my journalism career 28 years ago (as of Aug. 22), I was fortunate to see the inner workings of an “old-school” newsroom. There were specialized editors and reporters with “beats.” Each focused on a specific area, such as education, entertainment, cops and courts, local politics, etc. Photographers only shot photographs and produced prints in a “darkroom.” Reporters only wrote stories about their particular beat, and copy editors only edited stories and other items. In fact, at some larger newspapers, stories had to go through several copy editors before it was good enough for print.

The editor and publisher made all of the administrative decisions, as well as weighed in on big stories and long-term projects.

Today, because of shrinking revenues nationwide caused by several factors, staffs have also shrunk. Reporters are now also photographers, copy editors, clerks and “experts” on a wide range of subjects. Editors, in addition to administrative duties, are also reporters, photographers, clerks, several copy editors rolled into one, and “experts” about whatever subject they’re reading about at any given time — a jack-of-all-trades but master of none.

We often hear from readers when we make mistakes or fail to cover an event, or that we “have no news.” Most folks are nice and polite about it; a handful of others … well, not so much, but we do appreciate and welcome all of the input. We strive to be perfect and accurate each and every day. Just know that we are doing the best we can and will move to correct any situation as quickly as possible.

This isn’t your father’s, or even your grandfather’s, newspaper anymore. But that doesn’t mean we’ve stopped trying to be. At least we know you’re reading us.

My staff and I have discussed this topic many times. We deeply care about community journalism and we enjoying doing it, or else we’d find something else to do with our lives. We certainly don’t do it for prestige, given the public’s trust of the media these days, or to fall into any one person or group’s favor, or even the money, for that matter. We love it — which is a difficult thing to find these days — and we feel like we’re providing an important community service.

And when mistakes happen, no one is — or can ever be — more critical than we are of ourselves.

That’s how I know we care — and that’s music to my ears.

Rough Writer

By Michael Johnson

[email protected]

Reach Michael Johnson at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.

Reach Michael Johnson at 740-446-2342, ext. 2102, or on Twitter @OhioEditorMike.