Vol. 23, No. 4/Summer 2001
from the Chair
With downsizing, frozen positions and budget cuts all around, it is clear we are experiencing austere times. Whether this is a temporary adjustment, a trend or the reality of the future in the news industry isn't exactly clear at the moment. It may be a little of all three.
How we respond and cope, all the while maintaining quality of staff and services, is the challenge and also the opportunity.
Think back to the pre-digital era of news libraries. The industry was changing dramatically. Our roles were changing. We seized the moment during the turmoil of newsroom changes from front-end systems to PC-based operations in the early 1980's and repositioned ourselves armed with a unique combination of skills and knowledge.
We were way ahead of the learning curve in online and digital technology. The newsroom depended on our skills and knowledge to show them the way. We leveraged ourselves with our technical prowess to a department that demanded respect. One that had a prominent place, both literally and figuratively, in the production of the news product. We began attending daily budget meetings so that we approached news research in a more pro-active way.
Our opportunity is to make sure our news organizations are aware of what we bring to the table - that the quality and integrity of the product must remain intact at all costs. If attention to news integrity is compromised then the costs will be much greater. Quality and integrity of the product have always been the mainstay of every news research library.
With reporting positions held open, reporters need the assistance of news librarians more now than ever before. Many are covering multiple beats and have little time for in-depth research. If a reporter does a reference interview up-front with a librarian the research will be ready and waiting once the reporter completes the reporting. Without research their stories will lack the depth and context necessary for quality writing and reporting.
This is a turning point in our profession. Our survival depends on how we react to the austere measures that are encroaching on our ability to provide quality research and services.
We have several ideas in the planning stages. Michael Jesse, Jennifer Small Evert, Debra Bade, the yet-to-be named strategic planning committee chair and I will be working on programs and initiatives throughout the year that will address these issues, as well as others that you help us identify. Listed below are two very ambitious projects now underway.
UNIVERSITY OF MINNESOTA
Nora Paul, director of New Media Studies at the University of Minnesota, and U.M. faculty member Kathy Hansen have invited the News Division to help with a study. They are interested in how the new media environment is affecting our profession. They propose doing a comprehensive "state of the state" study of news libraries and plan to hold a summit on the different aspects of news production, news archiving, research and the potential for contribution to revenue.
The questions on the survey would be filled out by the experts - news librarians. It was decided that the same survey would be given to editors at each news organization to answer as well.
The summit would include a discussion of the issues from experts inside as well as outside news librarianship. Task forces would be developed and position papers written. The findings of the study would then be the catalyst for the News Division's continuing education day at the 2002 Special Librarians Association Conference in Los Angeles.
Look for the study to arrive in the next few weeks. Please take part and return your completed survey to Nora and Kathy right away. The deadline for submitting a proposal for the 2002 CE course is just around the corner for chair-elect Michael Jesse and education chair Jennifer Small Evert.
Laura Soto-Barra announced during the News Division's business meeting at SLA in San Antonio that she had talked to Paul Pohlman at the Poynter Institute about adding a News Research seminar to their next course catalog. Poynter agreed to talk to us about a plan.
Since I'm in Tampa, just across the bay from St. Petersburg, Poynter's headquarters, I set up a meeting with Paul to see what they had in mind.
Poynter has agreed to help us plan a session to be held on their campus. It won't be hosted completely by Poynter. We will be responsible for most of the planning and funding. Paul has agreed to moderate.
It will likely be a 4-night 3-day session to be held in the fall of 2002. The suggested size of the seminar class will be 16 people.
In the coming weeks, Jennifer Small Evert, Laura Soto-Barra, Michael Jesse, Debra Bade, along with the new strategic planning chair and I will begin to put together a proposal. We will explore ideas in an effort to make it as low cost as possible, decide on the scope of the subject matter as well identifying possible instructors.
As you can see these are ambitious undertakings, but all pointed in the right direction... strategically planning our role in news research.
I welcome your ideas and comments.
Jody Habayeb is the Archive & Research Manager at The Tampa Tribune/WFLA & Tampa Bay Online in Tampa, Florida. You can contact her at Jhabayeb@tampatrib.com.