Vol. 19, No. 3/Spring 1997
Lessons from the Poynter Seminar
by Victor Greto
The Poynter seminar "News Libraries: Leadership for the 21st Century" took place from Feb. 2-7 at the Poynter Institute in St. Petersburg, Fla. It inspired a great deal of helpful discussion on the increasingly changing role of the Research Center or News Library.
Poynter instructors Nora Paul and Paul Pohlman expertly shaped the 16-member group's discussions into a constructive critique of the problems news researchers and librarians face. News librarians or researchers, the group understood the first day, do not simply archive and fact-check anymore. We also act as technology liaisons or coordinators, anticipating the needs of the newsroom; we evaluate and organize information in the role of "information consultant;" we understand what and where specific information exists and provide options for obtaining the information; and we teach reporters' critical thinking as they try to evaluate a continuing stream of both bogus and primary information from the Internet.
How do we make information manageable and efficiently serve one's client? M.J. Crowley of the Star-Ledger provided some answers: formulate a mission statement for your department; focus on automation and simplicity (especially in archiving); do not exclude reporters from information retrieval; and always provide access to as much information at the reporter's desktop.
The Seattle Times' Tom Boyer emphasized change. The Times had bifurcated its library between research and archiving before Tom got there, so his mind is squarely set on research and the ever-changing technology that goes along with cutting-edge information. His mantra: "News research is a competitive advantage." After all, 10 percent of a reporter's notes goes into a story, while 25 percent of research makes it in, he said.
How do you get the money for the latest hardware and software? Feel entitled to get these resources. Projects that become usable and well-used will get money when needed to expand. Agreed "benchmarks" reached by the group under Tom's guidance included: one full-time researcher for every 50 full-time newsroom personnel; your budget ought to reflect 50 cents per subscriber per year. Tom also urged a longer-term orientation for research: "content is king," so become immersed in the possibilities of computer-assisted reporting. Make change a value and an everyday event.
To concentrate on research, CAR and long-term projects, the new research center ought to prune: let reporters do the work they can or should be able to do; get rid of those subject and keyword terms that no one uses; don't keep track of missing magazines and newspapers; eliminate the "just in case" collection.
Mary Kate Leming of the Palm Beach Post talked about technology and what management expects from us when they hand us money, from better accuracy to more news, as well as better interaction with the reader, including the use of chatrooms.
As with any group of professionals who meet for an intense week of discussion, one of the most important results of the Poynter seminar was the camaraderie and networking that took place among its members. Don Pine of the Associated Press shared his pain as he tries to develop a Research Center for the organization; Lynn Dombek and Justin Scroggs of Time magazine shared many of the problems and successes that go with working for a large company; Veterans Ginny Everett of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Alice Pepper of the Detroit Free Press, John Cronin of the Boston Herald and Joyce McMillin of the Christian Science Monitor showed many of the newer members to the field how research is done professionally and quickly; and Sandy Mehlhorn of the Hartford Courant showed us that news libraries will be professionally staffed well into the next century.
Altogether, the Poynter seminar was a professionally satisfying experience for all those involved. Many of us have already begun changing our research centers and libraries because of the seminar. As for the Colorado Springs Gazette, the introduction of a new front-end system later this year has opened up a range of possibilities for change, from a marked split of research and archiving, to the building of a viable Intranet and databases that everyone has access to with the click of a mouse. Stay tuned.
Contact Victor at the Colorado Springs Gazette through his email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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