Forty-three years later, I remember my first professional newsroom like it was yesterday. There was crazy Bob Feit, from Hungary, whom we simply called Feit (as in yelling, Feit!!). He ran our financial wire service with utter joy, leaping atop his desk and waving his arms when big breaking news hit. Then there was Dave, the slot man. A Brit, he ate onion sandwiches for lunch every single day and re-edited the copy that young rim men (it was always "man" or "men" back then) like me produced from copy we ripped off a wire machine. Dave would then pass his work to Carmine, better known as “Ace,” from Staten Island, a gruff but lovable teletype operator. It was a fast, clean system. We mastered it.
I like my nostalgia, but recognize I must resist clutching onto it as the path to the future. Such restraint is critical for all journalists as they face a Herculean challenge: how to build workflows that produce journalistic experiences that meet the needs and expectations of audiences that live their lives on mobile devices. Across the industry, 60% to 80% of any news site’s traffic comes exclusively from mobile users with devices that vary in form factor, format and connection speed. Complicating this is the distributed nature of news consumption. Social can no longer be seen solely as slinging traffic-driving links. Every newsroom must also create mobile content that lives independently on the multiple distributed social platforms. Still, journalists remain steeped in processes that service print paradigms. These procedures can be self-defining, forging identities that are often reinforced by imposing buildings. The stately Time-Life Building in New York with its rabbit hutch offices comes to mind. For decades, it drove a mental hierarchy that made digital transformation, yet alone mobile transformation, almost impossible.
For me, the mobile challenge faced by the Los Angeles Times is exhilarating. Throughout our newsroom — and others owned by Tronc, our parent company — it requires editors, reporters, photographers and graphic artists to think expansively about their roles. Everyone needs to work with one another to understand how each does their specific job, in turn putting an end to silos. A number of years ago, I attended an event at Harvard for the launch of Riptide, an oral history of how the digital revolution disrupted the news industry. On stage, Arthur Sulzberger Jr., chairman of the New York Times Co., said he advised his "new reporters to take an engineer to lunch.” His point: They needed to understand a developer’s role. Today, that message applies to editors and reporters who must grasp the ins and outs of visual storytelling on phones.