Saturday, October 20, 2007

WCBB, or: Execution, people!

Years ago at some touchy-feely management seminar where, I think, the point was never to risk offending anyone, we were instructed to approach morning news meetings with these handy acronyms in mind: WW, WCBB.

That stood for: What Worked? and What Could Be Better? The idea was, review the paper with an eye first to the successes and only then turn, gently, to the problem areas. Which should be expressed not as criticism, exactly, but as opportunities for future what-worked celebrations.

Well, OK, that is surely a nice way to put it, and it's probably invoked nowhere more welcomingly than in Seattle, the nation's per capita leader in thin-skinnedness, reporters and editors notably included.

I probably always tilted toward the WCBB anyway, but in my full-blown, semi-retired, pantleg-gripping grumpiness, I find that I see much more lately that could be better than that is working.

Take today's local papers.

The P-I strips across the top of the front page a giant AP story with the hed, "Cold medicines aren't for kids." This feels like incredibly old news to me, something I've been hearing now for at least a week. It took Michelle, filling in details from a conversation at the real news meeting, to tease out the news: The previous stories were about medicines for kids under 2; this is about children younger than 6. No clear mention of the distinction anywhere on the front; maybe they get to it after the jump.

A quick look at the Times front-page PDF shows they also lead with the cold medicine story, but it's played a little lower-key -- one wide column on the right -- and they underscore the key development clearly, right in the headline: "Warning widens on cold meds for kids." More like it.

Back to the P-I front page: An off-lede news story about a shooting in nearby White Center (fine, but why is the most important thing the fact that the "father of four" used to walk his kids to the bus stop?) and a massively overplayed feature about how life is changing for "liveaboards," the people who reside on their boats at a city marina. Yes, times change, and yes, prices go up, meaning old hippies need to make adjustments. All of which could make an interesting story, I suppose, but what this subject needs is a degree of detachment, not a lobbying pitch for its endangered "indicator species." Plus it's overwritten. If you can't get me rewrite, at least get me an editor!

I also notice the P-I has all but given up on a key feature of the last redesign, a "Top Stories" rail on the front page that offered a brief overview and index of what's going on and at least partially justified the Seattle-centric, news-lite decisions for A-1. On the Times front, which has stuck with the similar "Newsline" box, I learn quickly about some Air Force and Iraq news, a Hillary fund-raising debate and, locally, the new news that candidate Venus Velazquez' blood-alcohol level reportedly was 0.115. Pretty good.

I could go on. There's more to dislike on every section front.

We only get the P-I, and only on Fridays and Saturdays, so my old paper may end up getting a disproportionate share of my MNM rants, and I know I risk offending friends, former colleagues, and current mortgage-mates. Sorry, all. My seminar teachers would not approve.

But I also wish that for the sake of the paper's future, not to mention the poor reader and my own Friday and Saturday mornings, there was a little more attention paid to the details.

It's all in the execution, people. Much CBB.


kateco said...

I love this blog.

mich said...

Great post. I love these morning meetings. As usual we think alike: the dead dad lead especially bugged me. Maybe out of fairness, though (and to keep the Matassa family juju in balance) I should start adding some Times CBBs. I'm sure the Sunday paper will provide some OTBS (Opportunities To Be Snarky).

Janice said...

At least you all have a paper to read. Our local paper has forgotten the way to our front porch, the NYT finds it every morning. I called three times today, it will be there by 9, there by 11, still had to get by with the electronic copy. Don't these people realize, I'm the person who keeps them in business!