Sunday, June 26, 2022
June 26, 2022

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From the Newsroom: Working together, yet apart

By , Columbian Editor
Published:
2 Photos
Columbian photojournalist Taylor Balkom works in The Columbian's photo studio on May 4 with staff members Amy Libby, from left, Mark Bowder, Monika Spykerman, Scott Hewitt and Erin Middlewood.
Columbian photojournalist Taylor Balkom works in The Columbian's photo studio on May 4 with staff members Amy Libby, from left, Mark Bowder, Monika Spykerman, Scott Hewitt and Erin Middlewood. (Craig Brown/The Columbian) Photo Gallery

Is journalism a collaborative effort? Should it be? Those are big theoretical questions behind a few small projects we have been working on at The Columbian.

In the 20th century, newsrooms were loud and smoky and full of irreverent people at Steelcase desks. I am just old enough to remember the end of this era, which was supplanted by cubicles, computers and clean air. We still all worked together in a big room with constant interaction. More than once, I said working at The Columbian was like attending an all-day cocktail party with no booze.

The pandemic changed all of that in the course of a week. Since March 2020, the lights have mostly been off at 701 W. Eighth St., our lobby permanently closed to walk-in visitors. A handful of newsroom stalwarts are here every day — Amy, Mark, Merridee, Colleen, Jeff, Romana and others — but it’s been months since I have seen some employees. Whether they are working here or remotely, they all get their work done. I haven’t detected any meaningful differences in quality or quantity.

Still, I miss the interaction. Not long ago we brought the features news team into our photo studio to model some aprons for a lead illustration on the Mother’s Day Life cover. Although I wasn’t asked to model an apron, I felt myself drawn into the studio. I felt nostalgic as I watched the fun.

But is that enough reason to try to resurrect the traditional newsroom model? For now I think we are going to continue our hybrid approach of giving employees the option to work in the office or remotely, depending on their duties and their preferences. We just invested in some new teleconferencing equipment that will allow all of us in the office to gather in one room, and connect to remote workers via the internet, reducing the “12 boxes on a computer screen” form of togetherness.

We’re looking at rearranging the newsroom furniture to encourage collaboration. We want to create areas with couches and tables where we can work on a project together or just drink coffee and talk about story ideas.

It will be interesting to see if it lures more workers back to the office. If so, will it result in any meaningful gains in quality or quantity of news production? At the very least, it might scratch that wistful itch to work in a busy newsroom again.

Sweating the small stuff

Here are some other things going on:

  • Elections: We’re this close to rolling out a new elections page that we think will be very useful for you to find information about the candidates on your specific ballot. You’ll be able to see Columbian coverage, view any editorial board interviews, and see candidate bios.
  • Not in the running: I see that Craig Brown has filed to run for Republican precinct committee officer in east Vancouver. I admire PCOs, who are the grass roots of politics. However, this candidate is a different person who shares my name. It would be inappropriate for working journalists to run for elected office. But, good luck, Craig!
  • Missing page: A page of our May 1 e-edition went missing. Of course, it was the one with the New York Times Crossword puzzle, so we got a number of complaints. Worse, our first attempt to fix it ended up duplicating another page. The problem was mostly human error – someone made a typo in the upload instructions sent to our vendor’s computer, which caused the software to overwrite the page. So that was embarrassing. We’ll try not to do it again.
  • Community funded journalism: Since our April 20 announcement, we have received several more large donations, and smaller donors have kicked in more than $30,000. We are recruiting and interviewing for three new reporters to join our metro news team, thanks to this generosity. To learn more or to donate, visit www.columbian.com/cfj.
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