An audience member at Tuesday's PRSA meeting asked Tennessean senior editor Deborah Fisher about how the paper's reporters are responding to all of the changes taking place in print and online. With reporters being asked to post breaking news stories during the day and post blog entries and the paper preparing to shift to an around-the-clock news room and begin training some of its reporters to record video as well as write articles, the workload is changing and increasing quickly for a staff that Fisher acknowledged is not making any major increases to its staff. She also shared her perceptions of how the newsroom is adjusting to what she described as a "somewhat chaotic" process of publishing news both online and in print:
"I don't know that we have gotten a lot of negative responses [from veteran reporters on staff]... When they begin receiving comments and story leads, they see the power of posting online. It helps eliminate the restrictions of the print cycle...Another attendee asked Fisher about perceptions that few of the paper's reporters either grew up in the city or have a thorough understanding of the local community. Fisher responded:
"In terms of breaking news, reporters realize that [online story posting] doesn't take a whole lot away from print reporting. It's also like writing a draft where reporters can crystallize their thoughts. One of the places where we do struggle with online updates is when the reporter is still working a story and needs time to keep following leads and make phone calls to investigate tips. It's more of a distraction than a time issue."
"Deep community knowledge is really important. We have a lot of staff who have been there a long time. In any market, you're going to have people come in and come out. The Tennessean, in contrast to other papers I've been at, has a large amount of people who have been here a long time...Reporters can come in to a situation and learn the lay of the land. We do a lot to help them know who's who in the community."The Nashville Scene and others have made an issue in recent years of reporting about increasing frustrations in the newsroom, departures of long-term reporters and a loss of this kind of community knowledge on the paper's staff. It can safely be said, I think, that modern journalism looks very different than it did 10 or 15 years ago, and that the skills required and demands made on reporters are as intense and as varied now perhaps as they have ever been. From what I have witnessed in print and online, it seems that the evolution of The Tennessean is definitely a work-in-progress, but I am hoping that its increasing focus on breaking local news and frequent online updates will ultimately lead to a stronger and more relevant newspaper.