Relocating Newsrooms: Smaller, Closer, Faster?

November 28, 2013 • Media Economics • by

In the U.S., many newspaper companies have sold their headquarters in the city centers and moved to smaller buildings in the suburbs. Those that haven’t are sharing their buildings with others firms. For example, San Francisco Chronicle has moved in with Yahoo! Inc., Los Angeles Times with a call-center and Seattle Times with a wine company. In one extreme case, a casino and a luxury resort is to be built at the facility where the Miami Herald was printed until a few months ago. The Malaysian tourism company Genting bought the newspaper company’s property at the seaside for 236 million US dollars. The Miami Herald’s newsroom is now located in suburban Doral, approximately 20 minutes by car from the Miami city center. Is the financial crisis of the newspaper industry responsible for these drastic measures? Probably so, but there may be more to it.

Nikki Usher, assistant professor at George Washington University’s School of Media and Public Affairs, argues that smaller spaces offer new possibilities for the improvement of newsroom structures. As part of her fellowship at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism she tracked the numerous relocations of newsrooms in the U.S. and concludes that newsrooms often improve their workflow when they work in a smaller space..

Usher has compiled a list of 29 metropolitan newsrooms in the U.S. which are currently moving, or have previously moved and sold their buildings in exchange for new space. The study tracks news publications such as, The Miami Herald, The Seattle Times, The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Star Telegram, The Boston Globe and USA Today.

For many newsrooms the move gives them a chance to reconsider their workflow and to focus on their digital-first strategy, Usher says. Most of the newsrooms decided to emphasize breaking news. They realized they don’t need much space, but need a smart layout to facilitate communication between editors and reporters.

The Star Telegram in Texas has built a raised platform in the middle of the newsroom – named Starship Enterprise by Usher – to have everyone involved in breaking news together. Jim Witt, senior vice president and executive editor of the Star Telegram, explained the concept. “The goal was to make it noisy and create energy and be the center of attention.” He added “We knew we wanted everyone to be able to work with two screens so they could constantly monitor social media and other websites while they worked, and to have plenty of TV monitors to give it that ‘news is breaking all the time’ feel.”

Nikki Usher spoke to many journalists affected by the moves – the responses were generally positive. One reason may be that as the newsroom workforce shrank the newsroom became too big and unwieldy. A Miami Herald journalist said: “It’s demoralizing to be here. You look across the cubes and it’s just rows and rows of empty desks. No one’s here anymore.”

At the Seattle Times too, the newsroom team was “too small for the space”, but there seems to be another reason the staff were happy to move: the old building was run down. Journalists say the last major maintenance works took place more than ten years ago. The building housed ancient coffee stains and cockroaches: something the reporters who worked there will not miss.

“Goodbye it is to old spaces and old places – created for a time when newsrooms had the ambitions and the profits to justify homes far larger than they are today,” writes Usher. “We’ve watched change from the inside; now we can see change on the outside too.”

This article was translated by the author from the German “Bessere Kommunikation auf kleinem Raum

Photo credit: Patrick Rasenberg / Flickr Cc

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