The Memos Are Coming!

May 17, 2007 at 10:29 am

Tuesday morning the St. Louis Post-Dispatch unveiled its new Here & Now section, a byproduct of the newspaper's decision (go here and scroll down for that memo) to bury its Everyday section within existing "focused weekly sections."

In case you missed it, page one was laid out kind of like a Web page, with a big HERE & NOW banner at the top and five featurettes arrayed beneath. The topics: the "Kiss Cam" at Busch Stadium; first Communion; the Webkinz craze; an Olivette woman who famously belches on YouTube; and a group of Nerinx Hall gals who've chartered a school bus to take them to and from their prom. Only one of those bits jumped inside (the Kiss Cam one); the remainder of the section looked pretty much like an everyday Everyday.

Tepid? You be the judge. Inside the Post newsroom, the section was greeted like a fart in a crowded elevator. Several reporters from the Metro section barged in to a morning editors' meeting, demanding to know what the heck was up. The give-and-take that ensued led to an afternoon follow-up, to which all newsroom employees were invited. Many came (it was standing room only).

Today I got the memos (reproduced on the jump) written by managing editor Pam Maples and Christine Bertelson, the newly appointed assistant managing editor for features, that address the fallout from those meetings.

I also spoke with another Post-er who was present at both gatherings. That staffer (no names, please) characterizes the dialogue as "a proud moment for the staff and the newspaper," and one that was initiated by "people who don't have a dog in the fight other than they want the paper to be better. There's a vanguard of people who do care."

The inaugural Here & Now was viewed as short on content, poorly executed and derivative. "If you hold up the ideal of what a feature section is supposed to be, that's not it," the staffer says when asked to sum up the general reaction within the Post newsroom. Perhaps the greatest disappointment was the fact that the Tuesday edition of the Everyday section had been viewed in the newsroom as the paper's last bastion of the true "feature" story form: "Tuesday was the last pure feature hole," the staffer says. "[The Everyday] section was broken. But this is not the way to go forward. We could do better. I think we all agree."

And what of the folks who'd had a hand in producing Here & Now? "Reaction? I don't know," says the staffer. "I think there'd be more concern about that if it weren't so unanimous that this isn't the place we need to be. I think there were definitely bruised egos, but if someone got hurt, that's OK. We're professionals."

The memos from Maples and Bertelson go pretty heavy on the platitudes (to put it mildly). But the staffer points out that the meetings made it clear that among those who were none too pleased with Here & Now are some Post editors. Additionally, Maples and Bertelson are new to their positions: Bertelson just this week moved over from the editorial page, while Maples came to the paper late last year from the Dallas Morning News with a résumé filled with hard-news cred. Of the former, the staffer says, "She's got a great reputation here"; of the latter, who has emphasized an open-door policy: "Pam rose to the occasion."

That said, things might get worse before they get better. Tomorrow marks the maiden voyage of Screens (featuring film and TV coverage), which fills the Everyday void on Friday. And on Saturday another new vehicle, Weekend.

-Tom Finkel

FROM PAM MAPLES (MANAGING EDITOR): We had a pleasant surprise Tuesday in the morning 1A meeting and I am hoping that it will happen again... and again ... and again.

Several metro reporters -- and a photographer -- joined the editors who usually populate that meeting.

They had questions and concerns about the new Here & Now section and they helped us have a useful discussion about what we're hoping and trying to do.

We didn't answer all of the questions, or relieve all of the concerns. But I'm please that at least we started a conversation -- one that Christy will continue in the meeting she's set for this afternoon. (I hope a lot of you will take her up on the open invite to that session.)

The news meetings are always open to anyone. Everyone is busy, but anytime you want to come -- even if it's just for a few minutes -- please do. You don't need a magic password, and you don't even have to talk -- though your constructive comments are always welcome.

To those who came this morning -- thanks!

-- Pam

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That's the word that springs to mind in thinking about the standing- room-only meeting many of you came to in the newsroom yesterday at 3 p.m. to discuss the new "Here & Now" section in features. To quote one staffer who was there, "The newsroom has a pulse after all!"

What sparked the 3 p.m. meeting were questions and concerns brought up by a group of reporters in the Tuesday morning news meeting. But the discussion of Here & Now quickly developed into something broader and richer as you put your fingers on some of the most provocative questions -- and profound fears -- that lie at the heart of our daily enterprise: What do readers want? What do we publish in print and on line? How do we adapt to the challenges of limited resources, time-starved readers and a fragmented audience? Is our work valued? Is design dictating content? Is advertising dictating content? Who's running this show, and where are we headed anyway?

We'll be sending out an email tomorrow distilling the notes Christy took on the flipchart.

We'll also be exploring some of these issues in greater depth at staff meetings Arnie and Pam are in the process of setting up for next week. (Stay tuned for details on time and place.)

It was a challenging and exhilarating session, and we want to thank all of you who brought your A game and came to play. It also was the most spontaneous outpouring of ideas and energy we've seen in our newsroom in a long time. We need to find ways to do it often.

Meanwhile, please know that your ideas, questions and constructive criticisms are always welcome whether they're delivered in person, in an email or, preferably, baked into the middle of Mrs. Boothby's Blueberry Pie (See recipe in today's Let's Eat section.)

There's only one way we're going to get better: together.

Pam and Christy