Friday, June 13, 2008

Getting To The Nut Graf

Yesterday, for the first time in a long time, all of the stories on the front page of the News-Press carried local by-lines.

These days, that occurs about as often as a total eclipse of the moon.

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The Teamsters Union took out a half page ad in this week's Independent urging readers and advertisers to boycott the News-Press.

The ad notes that the union has been at the negotiating table with McCaw for seven months with no results.

If you're keeping score, more than 90 employees and 10,000 readers have left the News-Press since McCaw became co-publisher in April of 2006, according to the ad.

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Can't wait for this idea to get to Santa Barbara. An anonymous L.A. Times staffer is blogging at Tell Zell (as in Sam Zell, the owner of Tribune, Co., which owns the Times and other papers.)

Imagine what would happen if someone still working at the News-Press was blogging anonymously from the inside. I'd plant a lawn chair in the middle of De la Guerra Plaza and sit there round the clock just to watch Wendy tear the News-Press building down trying to ferret out "the mole."

Actually Wendy could learn a few things from this guy. Here's a snippet of the advice he gave Zell on how to improve The Times.

News owners have to invest in reporting. Every dollar a newspaper gets should be plowed into the people that create it: the reporters, editors, copy editors, ad sales people, press guys, delivery folks.

Fire the consultant. Give up on the redesign. Stop hiring web programmers from failed start ups with no interest in reporting or writing or raising hell.

Send reporters out for training. Improve writing. Demand stylistic changes: why does every first paragraph have to be 25 words long? Why does the nut graf have to appear above the jump? How about classes in math? Or statistics?

Every story must have context. See the Economist for quiet, everday brilliance by insisting on context on most stories, delivered via a graphic that’s smart, not pandering (Are you listening USA Today? I didn’t think so. Too busy coloring.)

Sounds like good advice to me. But could someone out there tell me what the "nut graf" is?