Impressions: Keeping our feet on the ground while our heads are in the ‘cloud’

<p>Nancy McCarthy</p>

For the past two weeks, I have been in the “cloud.”

You know what cloud I mean. Many of you were there before me.

You are much more computer savvy – heck my personal cell phone is still stupid. I didn’t get a “smart” phone until it was issued to me by the EO Media Group, which owns The Daily Astorian, Cannon Beach Gazette and the Seaside Signal, among other papers.

But I’ve been spending time in the “cloud” because we’re starting a new electronic layout system that requires me to learn a new language and digital process when it comes to placing the stories on the pages in the Signal and the Gazette.

It was all quite confusing at first, and it seemed somewhat cumbersome, but it’s here to stay, and this old dog must learn new tricks if she’s to play the game.

Like pretty much every other newspaper nowadays, we have our websites, our “apps” and our Facebook pages. We have a whole department dedicated to keeping us electronically up-to-date and future forward.

But what I like about working here is that, despite our eagerness to remain relevant in the post-computer age, our core focus hasn’t changed. We continue to produce old-fashioned newspapers.

And I say that with affection.

The Daily Astorian still comes out five days a week; the Gazette and Signal every two weeks. You can feel the paper between your fingers, carry it with you to read (without worrying about a WiFi connection) and, yes, even wrap your fish in it.

Hard-working reporters still grab their notebooks and pens and cover local government, businesses, organizations, schools, athletics, festivals and parades. They interview public officials, entrepreneurs, your neighbors and maybe even you to find out what’s going on in Clatsop County.

They do that work to inform you so you can make decisions or to give you a chuckle, to put a tear in your eye or to call you to action. That’s what a newspaper has always done.

Back in the office, the editors pore over the stories, ask questions, encourage reporters to dig deeper, straighten out the language.

Everyone is constantly on deadline. It doesn’t make a difference if it’s the daily or the bi-weeklies. There’s always the web, you know, and we can post breaking news, literally as it’s breaking.

I have enjoyed this company’s traditional approach to providing news for the five years I’ve worked for EO Media Co. But never did I appreciate it so much as when I learned that the state’s largest daily newspaper planned to reduce its home delivery from seven days to four days and to focus mostly on the digital production of news.

Even the editors will have new labels: They will be “content managers.”

When I worked full time at The Oregonian, from 1981 to 1996, there were upwards of 400 people in the newsroom. Most of them were reporters, working like we do here. In those days, we put out five editions a day.

I was hired as the assistant editor for the zoned community sections; we had five full-time reporters and 40 correspondents, all covering local news from McMinnville to Mount Hood and from Woodburn to Washougal, Wash.

The reporters typed their stories on typewriters, using different codes for punctuation and style; the stories were scanned, and we editors would look at them on the new computers that were just being introduced into the newsroom.

Later, after the Oregon Journal merged with The Oregonian, I worked in the newly established bureaus, as a reporter, deputy bureau chief and bureau chief. During those 15 years, I had the opportunity to cover a variety of beats and issues, including immigration, the first heart transplant in Oregon and state government.

It was a great training ground.

But while I had a variety of beats and positions, there was one constant: I was out in the community, working only with my pen, notebook and, in some cases, tape recorder. We all were. We looked our interview subjects in the eye. There was one-to-one communication. And we brought back the story as we experienced it.

Until recently, the number of newsroom staff members in The Oregonian dropped to 220, with about 90 reporters. After the latest round of lay-offs, there will be even fewer staff members, but, according to the paper’s editor, there still will be about 90 reporters. However, many of the bylines won’t be those that have been on the pages for years.

The paper is hiring new reporters, those who have, according to a recent advertisement, a “mastery of social media and digital interaction.” The “ideal” candidate will have experience using social media to “source and promote content.”

That same reporter also will have an understanding of the imperatives of multiple platforms, including print, mobile, Internet, etc. He or she will be able to demonstrate “knowledge of the methods and tools used to deliver content across a variety of platforms (Moveable Type CMS, SCC Budgeting and Archiving System, Smartphones, etc.). Knowledge of basic HTML or equivalent web language is a plus.”

I agree, it is imperative for media operations to keep up with current technology. It’s good for an old dog like me to learn new techniques, to consider different ways of doing what we have always done.

But my hope is that, while we may have our heads in the cloud, we don’t forget the humanity around us. That’s what this old-fashioned tradition of news gathering is really all about.

Nancy McCarthy is editor of the Seaside Signal and Cannon Beach Gazette and also writes for The Daily Astorian. Her column runs on alternate weeks.

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