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Editors conquer hardship through optimism

February 28, 2012

By Rachel Rodgers
Eastern Illinois University

When facing reduced staff, slashed budgets and quashed moral, journalists have the opportunity to reach more readers in more diverse ways than before, a news editor said on Feb. 11.

Penny Weaver, the news editor of the Charleston/Mattoon Journal Gazette & Times Courier, joined Jason Piscia, the online editor of the State Journal-Register in Springfield, and Karen Workman, the community engagement editor of the Oakland Press in Pontiac, to address how to overcome hardship in the news industry.

Weaver said she experienced a 50-percent cut in staff about six months ago after the merger between the Charleston and Mattoon newspapers and realized that one could look at the situation in two different ways.

“One way is to say that we don’t have enough people to do everything we used to do, and in the newspaper business, it is like we all have a disease where it is all a matter of who drops first,” Weaver said.

The other view consists of thinking of ways to reach audiences by using tools, like in-depth online coverage, to recruit and retain more readers, she said.

Piscia explained how the State Journal-Register had to shut down its press about a year ago and they print the newspaper in Peoria, which is about an hour away. They also face losing their copy desk in June, he said.

He spoke about how he saw two important areas of change, one being logistical with having reporters shooting videos and posting blogs, and the other being psychological with staff members grieving over what the past used to be.

“Now there is the psychological effect of showing up to work to empty desks of people who have worked with us for years that aren’t there anymore,” Piscia said. “After staff cutbacks, we know not to expect much out of people the next day because they are broken.”

Another aspect of the emotional side of the situation was that they felt the perception change in the community where people did not think they were the Springfield newspaper anymore, he said.

“The staff is smaller than what it was, but things really haven’t changed around here in terms of what we do and what the job descriptions are,” Piscia said. “Some of the cards have been taken out of the deck, but it is time to reshuffle and redistribute job titles and job duties now.”

Workman described how most of the Oakland Press’ staff cuts occurred in 2005 so she and her team had time to adjust.

She said after the staff reductions and bankruptcy issues, she noticed that the staff began to realize that everyone, no matter the skill level, had something to bring to the table.

“Veterans can teach young people like me so much about being a good journalist with the basics of good writing and good reporting, and they provide great examples in that way,” Workman said. “The other people in my team can bring some of those technical skills to the table like learning how to edit video and figuring out how to use Facebook and tweet.”

Workman said the key to overcoming hardship in the newsroom is to strive to become a cohesive team united with the goal of involving the community and creating conversation through news coverage.

“It feels like we have a purpose. We have a future, and we have a direction again,” she said.

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