New Deadlines for Times Reporters?

Are the deadlines at The New York Times about to change?

Moments ago, a big-bylined memo from Keller-Abramson-Landman-Geddes went out staff-wide to reporters and editors saying that, essentially, to make it easier on the digital side, copy flow at the paper needs to change.

They compare their current system to “an old-fashioned electrical utility.”

Too much copy is dumped at the same time, and the digital-side people have not a lot of time to deal with it all. No conclusions have been reached, though! So it’s time for the Times to do what they do best: setup a big committee to talk about it.

Susan Edgerley will lead, and deputies will help. Decisions will come in the “months to come.”

Here’s the memo:

To the staff,

We’ve made some great strides in the past year in combining our print and digital news processes. Some advances have been through broad deliberate moves as we’ve sought to reinvent our approach in news departments like Business, Foreign, and now, National and the Washington bureau. Some have been made through specific projects like Deal Book, City Room, our Dining blogs and our multimedia efforts. Others have come as we’ve sought to create or expand verticals in Health, Travel and the T’s.

Now we want to extend that print-digital integration further.

We want to streamline a workflow that now functions like an old-fashioned electric utility with everything geared up for the peak load when copy crashes down on a print deadline. The problem with this – as utilities long ago discovered – is that when demand isn’t at its peak, that capacity goes to waste. We want instead to refashion our flow because we think we can get stories edited and up on our site earlier, reduce duplicative editing and focus our skills and our people more smartly on where they can make a difference in serving our readers in both print and digital worlds.

What does this mean – well, we have some clues but no conclusions yet. Certainly changing our copy flow should give our Web producers, copy editors, art directors and design directors more time to target their efforts. For non-deadline stories, some departments have discovered, that they use that time to add new material (tags, Web headlines, summary grafs) to our stories that help them work better for our readers on the web, on mobile devices and in the electronic archives. Certainly we may be able to add more to our presentations on the Web.

We’ve asked Susan Edgerley to shepherd this process in the months to come. In taking on this project, Susan will rely for help on Lawrie Mifflin, Rob Larson, Peter Putrimas, Susan Wessling, Terry Schwadron and Patrick Laforge.

But the most important players will be all of you, the department heads, desk heads, copy editors, reporters, photographers, producers and our entire editing ranks.

It’ll mean examining some long-held practices to see if they still make sense. And it’ll mean finding new ways to fulfill an editor’s first responsibility: performing expert triage. Fundamental will be our commitment that New York Times-level quality should be the standard for work across all platforms and that our approach incorporates the Web not only as an essential part of our journalism, but as the first priority.

We’re looking forward to it.

Bill, Jill, John and Jon

New Deadlines for Times Reporters?