Thursday, June 15, 2006


Spokane daily now webcasts live its daily news meetings


Beginning yesterday (Tuesday), The Spokesman-Review of Spokane, Wash., began streaming live online its 10 a.m. and 4:30
p.m. editorial meetings.

Anybody, including competitors, can watch.

I heard about the idea this weekend, while I was in Spokane teaching a workshop for the Society of Professional

For some time now, the paper has blogged about its editorial meetings in a section of its Web site called "Daily

The site includes a nice primer to help the public figure out what is going on during the meetings.

I e-mailed the paper's editor, Steven Smith, to find out more:

[q.jpg] Al Tompkins: Why are you doing this?

[a.jpg] Steven Smith: It's an experiment. The late James Carey once bemoaned the reluctance of newspapers to experiment,
by definition an exercise in which the outcome is uncertain. Editors tend to want certain outcomes before they take a
step. We have built a pretty substantial infrastructure around our "transparent newsroom" initiative, an effort to engage
our readers in conversations about news, the editorial decision-making processes and so on. Our experience is that
readers value the interaction, love to participate and often provide information and feedback that informs our journalism
and gives it focus. But, as journalists, we always retain the right and ability to set our own agenda, to say "no" to
ideas that won't work for us. We remain independent, that independence in no way compromised by reader engagement.

Webcasting meetings, something I've wanted to try for more than 10 years, is a way of taking advantage of current
technology to extend the conversation with readers. But it's an experiment and the outcome is uncertain.

Will anyone actually watch? We have the technology, but we don't always have the drama. Will our competitors gain an
advantage? Will our staff be as open in public as in private? If the experiment does not further our goals, does not help
us do our jobs more effectively, we'll stop. The technology is being used for many other purposes so the modest
investment is not wasted.

[q.jpg] You have been blogging the morning meetings and inviting people to attend your meetings for some time. How
popular has the blog been, and how many people have taken you up on your invitation to attend your meetings?

[a.jpg] The blog readership and meeting attendance vary with the run of news. When the stories are running hot, interest
and attendance are up. On routine days, interest wanes. We have some hundreds of regular readers/contributors to our
"Daily Briefing" and "News is a Conversation" blogs. We'll have meeting guests once or twice a week, a bit more
frequently in the fall and winter.

[q.jpg] How did you get the idea to stream the meetings? Do you know of any other newsroom that has attempted this level
of transparency?

[a.jpg] Well, I first expressed interest in the idea when I was editor of The Gazette in Colorado Springs, [Colo.], back
in the late '90s. We had an innovative Web operation, and Webcasting from the newsroom seemed a reasonable, inevitable
step. But the technology was new and broadband penetration -- a must for this experiment -- was quite low. Now, 10 years
later, technology, cost and broadband penetration have converged in a way that makes this possible. I'm not familiar with
any other paper that has taken this step. I'd guess those few who might have an interest in the idea will wait to see how
things go here. Stay tuned.

[q.jpg] Let's be clear: You are going to broadcast the actual editorial meeting -- not a pretend one for public

[a.jpg] We will start by Webcasting two meetings each day. The morning meeting (10 a.m. PDT) begins with a critique of
the day's paper. During the critique, we'll match our day's performance against our stated newsroom values. We'll involve
readers through their e-mails to There will be no off-limits comments during the critique
portion of the meeting. The second half of the meeting is a first look at the following day's paper. We'll cover the vast
majority of Page One and section-front-worthy content. There will be times when we will not discuss an important
enterprise or investigative story for competitive reasons. Those exclusions will be relatively infrequent and I'll note
to viewers that we may not be discussing an important story on this particular morning. The first meeting is conducted by
me. The second meeting (4:30 p.m. PDT) is the typical afternoon newsroom meeting where second-cut decisions are made on
Page One and local news content, [photos], etc. That meeting is conducted by the managing editor, Gary Graham. Our goal
is to hold back very little. Again, there may be a rare case when a story cannot be discussed publicly. But by that time
of day, our competitors, mostly local TV news operations, won't really be in a position to report even exclusive
enterprise stories. It's important to remember that this is an experiment. We may change the parameters a bit as we learn
how our competitors are using (or not using) the meeting.

[q.jpg] Will you discuss long-term investigations and special projects during this meeting too?

[a.jpg] Our projects and investigations meeting, and our twice-weekly Sunday meetings are not yet part of the Webcasting
plan. We will evaluate their inclusion, as well as the editorial page board's major weekly meeting, as we approach the

[q.jpg] Won't competitors, including TV stations, just pluck your best stories before you get them in print?

[a.jpg] As I noted above, there is a chance this might happen. But we have 134 staffers in our newsroom. No local TV
station has more than six street reporters at any one time. My belief is they'll be unable to catch us on the vast
majority of our stories -- and those few times they try, they'll be doing us a favor by unintentionally promoting our
deeper, better-sourced and better-presented content. This advantage might not exist in larger markets, where TV stations
are better staffed and more competitive. But it's our reality.

Note from Al: The paper also says on its Web site that it "welcomes readers to attend our daily news meetings." The site
even gives a phone number for folks to call to set up the visit. What do you think of this idea? Do you know of any
newsroom doing something similar? To continue the discussion, drop a note in the feedback section of this column.

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