News & Publishing, Printing and Imaging

Data, Technology and Digital Readers are Shaping How the Printed Newspaper Looks Today

By Gretchen A. Peck

If newspaper design had a motto, it might be: “Stick to the format. The design and layout is the brand.”

And that remains true today with iconic titles of newspapers rendered in familiar fonts and layouts that are distinctive in their own right. Think of how familiar and distinctive a title like USA Today is when you flip through the pages. The color, the layout, the way the headlines grab your attention—all part of the brand.

Newspaper publishers, by and large, have always understood this. But the notion that printed newspapers’ design should never deviate from the template is being challenged, and it’s because of digital and mobile publishing and the rising cost to paper. Still, that hasn’t stopped publishers from experimenting with their print product.

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News & Publishing

The Increasingly Dangerous Job of Journalism

I could write this morning about the anti-Press rhetorical climate, with the drumbeat percussed by the President of the United States every day.

I could write about the reporters I speak with weekly, who all share a common scourge of relentless online harassment and credible threats. I could write about their frustrations of not having recourse with social media platforms, let alone the police or criminal justice system.

I could write about how anonymous cowards celebrated the murders of four journalists and a sales assistant yesterday. (

Some of the serial abusers aren’t anonymous. Some have national or international megaphones.

I could write about the endless anecdotes journalists and editors share with me about being stalked.

I could write about how I’ve been harassed and stalked.

And maybe I’ll write about these things in Editor & Publisher one day. I don’t typically write in the first person there, but maybe one day I will.

But today … today … I will fight through angry tears to honor the five people from my tribe – publishing people, news people – with a reminder of who they were, who we all are.

I knew none of them personally, but I know their kind.

Journalism is not just a job. It’s a compulsion. It’s an addiction.

I wouldn’t know how to fact-check this, but clergy often talk about having “a calling.”

As near as I can tell, journalists feel that way about journalism.

I’ve often found a running theme with reporters in newspapers, in particular. Nearly all of them grew up having witnessed, passively observed or have been a party to some harm or injustice. These experiences didn’t “sit right” with them. At young ages, they could make the connection between harmful people or institutions or nations, and how they flourish under the cover of darkness. They instinctually want to protect others from them; they want to be the light switch.

In a direct and measurable way, reporters see themselves as in service to this nation – though by picking up a pen instead of a semi-automatic weapon.

They are subjected to a strict set of ethics, which are published for the public – by news organizations and governance associations. These ethics are continually challenged.

No journalist embarks on the job with delusions of grandeur. There are no riches to be had.

Especially for print journos, there is no promise of fame.

Mostly, the job looks like a slog through information, research, phone calls, source vetting, endless fucking phone calls. They endure meetings and argue with editors and try to keep up with the AP Style Guide changes.

They’re asked to multitask in a ways that represent new ground. They must report, interview, fact-check, layout, produce video, capture still photos, adjudicate sources, learn how to fly a drone, explore narrative and visual storytelling, devote time to professional development, and damn it, you’d better blast out 15 or more tweets a day or else.

They work odd hours and eat shit food, because “Time! I need more time!”

Their desks are the stuff of hoarders; their keyboards are caked with crumbs. Their eyes have gone bad at an early age because of all the screen time.

They are in perpetual motion. They rarely take time off. Vacations are seen as lofty goals. Working vacations are the norm.

They are never satisfied with what they write. They never see a story as being complete, nor finished.

They struggle to chase a truth that is eternally elusive, purposely obscured, hidden, difficult to digest, and ever changing. They beat themselves up – worse than any online commenter ever could – when they get a story wrong, when a source proves unreliable, when an inaccuracy goes to print under the byline that bears their name.

They fear that even the most innocent fuck-up in editorial judgment will not just cost them their job, their immediate livelihood, but their entire career. And that happens.

The weight of the job – every aspect of it – is heavy with profound responsibility and perpetual uncertainty.

Journalists know that they’re not islands, too. They are fully cognizant that they could not do their jobs without the entire support of the news organization, many of which have been gutted through austerity, corporate ownership, and the quest to enrich shareholders. Everyone left has a vital role in getting the newspaper to your doorstep or to your screen – journalists, editors, production people, graphic designers, IT and data analysts, ad teams, circulation and audience staffs, finance and accounting, prepress and pressroom folks, support staff.

And not one single minute of it is glamorous, nor elite, nor comfortable, nor well paid, nor secure, nor safe.

And yet, despite that, they find the work fulfilling, challenging, dynamic. They can’t imagine ever doing anything else. They live in fear that one day they will be forced to.

A Pulitzer is coveted and revered, but for the vast majority of journalists, it’s as plausible as a unicorn. It is a rare acknowledgement, an “Atta-boy, atta-girl, job well done.”

Seventy-one journalists died in 2017 alone for doing their jobs. They were gunned down at a child’s Christmas pageant, had their cars wired to explode, were kidnapped and subsequently murdered, they were thrown out of windows, stabbed, and killed by suicide bombers while embedded with the military.

But they do it because it must be done – not for themselves, but for the readers they serve, for the communities they inform, and for the nations that need their watchful eyes, perspective, and increasingly dangerous labors.

As the five people at The Capital Gazette were murdered in their offices yesterday, that’s all they were trying to do.



News & Publishing

Newspapers 2020: How are newsrooms preparing for the next decade of publishing?

By Gretchen A. Peck

More than a year has passed since the New York Times’ newsroom published “Journalism That Stands Apart: The Report of the 2020 Group.” The report was intended to define “the newsroom’s strategies and aspirations” and laid out arguments for initiatives like nurturing more reader participation; creating more visually stimulating, multimedia journalism; and committing to greater collaboration between the newsroom and the publisher’s product teams.

Overall, the report provided interesting insight on what the Times was planning for its future, so we couldn’t help but wonder what other newspapers had on their agenda for 2020. E&P reached out to several newspapers across the country and asked them to share.

What variables do you think will have the most influence on how well your newspaper performs—in both revenue and audience—in the coming two years?

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News & Publishing

HR Directors Talk Challenges and Opportunities in Staffing Newspaper Organizations

By Gretchen A. Peck

It goes without saying that newsrooms are profoundly differently from even five to 10 years ago. Beyond the newsroom and across the news organization, no job title, no position and no role has benefitted from the comfort of status quo. Sales, graphics and production, circulation and audience, marketing, and more have been tested and changed. This has undoubtedly made recruiting and staffing more complicated.

Plus, consolidation, layoffs, and an image problem have been working against newspapers’ efforts to attract and keep skilled, experienced, talented people. These are all challenges we face, but they can also be fixed.

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News & Publishing

Eyes in the Skies: Drones Deliver News

By Gretchen A. Peck

The manufacturers of flying eyes in the sky prefer that you not call them drones. It seems the term has acquired a bad rep, thanks to the legacy of weaponized systems and the fear that they’ll become the next method for spying on U.S. citizens. The makers, as well as the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA), prefer to use less colloquial terms, such as unmanned aircraft system (UAS) or unmanned aircraft vehicles (UAVs).

“The association that lobbies for unmanned vehicles had a conference last year, and if you were part of the media and you wanted to access WiFi there, the password was ‘dontsaydrones.’ They absolutely hate that word,” said Matt Waite, professor and founder of the Drone Journalism Lab at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln.

“They know that the well has been poisoned, and the argument against the word is that it undersells the complexity of the technology,” Waite continued. “Drone makes it sound stupid, makes it sound less than it really is. I’m of the mind that the word ‘drone’ is here to stay, because it’s a single syllable, and no one is going to change a single-syllable word for ‘unmanned aerial systems,’ ‘unmanned vehicles,’ or ‘remotely powered aircraft,’ which is my current favorite. But we’ve conflated the word drone to mean everything from the $30 toy that’s the size of the palm of my hand or sits on my desk, to the $130 million Global Hawk, which is as big as a fighter plane and one of the most complicated aircraft systems on the planet. … What that does is open up the opportunity for anybody to apply whatever phobia, bias, and insecurity they want to the word.”

No matter what you call them, this seems certain: The United States has a love-hate relationship with drones, and the culture is influencing how quickly journalists will be able to legally leverage them.

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Published in Editor & Publisher magazine, August 2014

P.S. I’m sharing this article again in 2018. Much has changed in the time since it was written.


News & Publishing

Beyond the Paywall: Future Valuation of News

By Gretchen A. Peck

News pay models seem to be caught in a publishing purgatory. Newspaper publishers have the need to make content accessible, shareable, viral even. And yet, much of it is nestled behind paywalls, some of which have been erected with greater success than others. This quagmire — coupled with the decline of mass-appeal advertising in favor of highly targeted campaigns — presents a bleak future for newspapers if these unsustainable models aren’t overhauled. But determining how to valuate content is only half the challenge. First, news enterprises have to figure out how best to prove that value to potential new subscribers.

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Published by Editor & Publisher magazine, July 2014