Journalists in Operations Management

Article excerpt

The 1968 North Texas State University journalism graduate almost immediately went to work for one of the three nearby big-city dailies. While still a working journalist, he resumed his studies in Denton, earning an M.A. in history in 1970.

But 15 years later, he was helping plan his paper's move to a new, off-set production plant. Three years ago he was appointed operations director; in 1990 he was named production director.

"It was one of those happenstance situations," says Gerald Zenick, who last year was named a vice president. "The Star-Telegram has a pretty remarkable record for letting people grow and stretch" he said, crediting the paper for offering someone in his 40s a chance to "make what I thought was a fairly extraordinary change of hats."

Similarly, another journalism major bent on becoming a business reporter and an English major with no specific direction find themselves years later guiding their major metropolitan dailies from the operations side.

Though particulars differ, the overall direction of their careers is shared by other newspaper people, but only by a handful. E&P interviewed at length three members of that small group, whose differences are as notable as their similarities.

Largely because of the computer's rapidly expanding role from the days of text entry and typesetting only, changing, even merging, newsroom and prepress production environments have given rise to new titles, formal and informal.

System editors, assistant managing editors for graphics, and others at many papers serve as advocates for, trainers on, and midwives to the arrival of the new technology, be it database reporting, pagination, color computer graphics, or digital photography.

Though persons taking on such tasks often entirely shift their areas of responsibility and must bridge gaps with production, they remain essentially newsroom staffers with an emphasis on integrating and exploiting the new technologies' capabilities.

For generations prior to the advent of prepress electronics, reporters and editors came out of production or assumed management jobs in newspaper operations. A cub reporter or assistant printer/pressman might become a do-it-all weekly publisher or a run-it-all corporate executive Names like Franklin and Twain make it a familiar part of industry lore even to those outside the business.

Then as journalism and production became recognized as distinct academic pursuits, and each subsequently evolved into specialized, more technical disciplines, their separation seemed more firmly fixed. Nothing new here. It is the story of modern business everywhere - except that as a business, a newspaper by its nature exaggerates the obvious. Each newspaper company can properly be understood to comprise at least a half-dozen related but quite distinct businesses.

Unlike the technical editor, a few journalists have moved up and out of the newsroom, commissioned to oversee a wide area of operations. None we talked to a is a burned-out journalist, and all retain a love for newspapering and some link to their reporter's roots. Some day, some way, one said he fully expects to resume editing.

Besides leaving news for bigger jobs in operations, the three share at least a few experiences. They are employed at metro dailies belonging to separate large media groups, are close in age, and were involved in moves to new production plants.

20 newspapers in 18 months

Production exposure came almost immediately to the youngest of the three, for whom an early career decision precluded burn-out.

Throughout high school, W. Scott Sherman submitted sports scores and stories to the Seguin (Texas) Gazette. Today, at 37, he is Orlando-Sentinel operations director and a vice president of the Sentinel Communications subsidiary of Chicago-based Tribune Co. In various ways in the intervening years, circumstances kept curving his pursuit of a journalist's job to the production side. …

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