Home > Uncategorized > The First One Hundred Days

The First One Hundred Days

-first posted at RTDNA.org on July 28, 2009

It’s been my experience that a lot of good ideas start out as jokes.  That was the case with this blog—at least that it started out as a joke.  You can decide if it was a good idea or not.

Right after I moved into the spot of RTNDA chairman, I started talking about how much we had to get done in a short amount of time.  And I joked that we needed to do that “first 100 day thing” like we in the media do to measure a new president.  Well, the joke kind of stuck as a real idea, and that arbitrary measurement period is just about up.  This Friday marks my 100th day as chairman of RTNDA, and though I promised myself these blogs would be more about the state of journalism than the state of RTNDA, I guess I can use one to let all of you know where things stand right now.

Going into the job, I knew it was going to be a busy year.  Our long-time president Barbara Cochran had just two months left before she retired.  And with that retirement would come a lot of administrative and procedural changes.  The board knew I needed the right people to make that happen.  And thanks to the work of Past Chairman Ed Esposito and a lot of other board members, we were able to hire two Executive Directors to put the administrative structure we would need in place.  Jane Nassiri moved from her role as VP of finance into the job of Executive Director of RTNDA, while Kathleen Graham moved from her role as VP of foundation programs into the Executive Director’s spot at RTNDF.  Having both of them in place, along with Stacey Staniak as our new project manager, made my shift into CEO of the association and foundation that much easier.  Since Barbara’s retirement in June, Jane, Kathleen, and I have worked into a regular rhythm by which we run the daily affairs of both groups.  We e-mail a LOT, meet by phone every Wednesday, and have had two in-person meetings in Washington so far.  Barbara herself has pitched in with her new title of President Emeritus.  Just last week she took a day to show me around her network friends in New York, passing the mantle of RTNDA responsibility to me in dealing with these important constituents.

The new management of RTNDA and RTNDF is working well.  And while Barbara’s big shoes will take a while to fill, we’re learning a new way to operate.  We’ve also acquired a new place to operate as well.  With the Tribune Company’s closing of its  Washington TV bureau, RTNDA lost its very nice accommodations there.  Thankfully, we had enough notice on the closing that we were able to make a move into a suite in the National Press Building, sharing space with our friends at the Missouri School of Journalism and the Committee of Concerned Journalists.  Surrounded by working journalists and within earshot of the White House, the new quarters put RTNDA in a perfect physical spot.

Our virtual spot isn’t looking so bad either.  A new RTNDA.org web page is under construction, with the chief foreman on the job being our new Digital Media Editor Ryan Murphy.  Ryan came on board in late spring and got to work making RTNDA.org a place to visit every day for new and relevant content.  Ryan’s up early to work on adding material to the page you’ll want to read. His contributors include Kathy Kirby and her team at Wiley Rein LLP, keeping an eye on the legal aspects of journalism, delivering advice to news managers on FCC matters and more.  You’ll also find pieces from journalists like you around the country, sharing what they know about new, best practices running their newsrooms or tracking down the best stories.  And, of course, you’ll have a weekly blog on the state of things from yours truly.  The page concentrates forward, not back, bringing in the best new media tools to deliver content the way we want it now. RTNDA Communicator moved from the printed page to the web page this spring, and RTNDA also stepped up its use if Twitter and Facebook to reach you on your social media time as well as you portable devices.

Perhaps it was on your blackberry or iPhone that you found out you won a national Edward R. Murrow or RTNDA/Unity award.  We announced those winners as summer arrived, using the electronic means first to get the word out.  “Electronic” has been the key word with the awards over the past year and continues to move forward as the way we’ll operate our two main awards competitions.  Our all-online submission and judging process that started before my term seems to please entrants and judges enough that we’re now looking to share it with others.  I made a trip to the RTNDA Canada regional conference in Toronto back in June and discussed the system with the board there.  We’re working now to share what we do with our Canadian cousins, allowing them to run their RTNDA Awards contest online as well.  The trip also allowed me to hear more about RTNDA Canada’s latest efforts and to meet many of our members who work north of the border.

Back on this side of the border, our own board is getting back up to full strength and moving ahead on restructuring and planning for the future.  We’ve been joined by two experienced and capable news directors representing the east coast and the deep south.  Chris Carl, news director at WDEL-AM in Wilmington came on board to replace Mark Kraham (our new Chairman-elect) as regional director of region 12 and Steve Schwaid, news director at WGCL-TV in Atlanta joined us to represent region 13.  Alliterative names weren’t what made them what we needed on the board.  Instead, we needed people who could help us continue to make the RTNDA board the leadership group that could steer the organization through the tough times we’re facing.  Right now, I’m realigning our committee structure to get more work out of a smaller board.  Former chair Angie Kucharski is working to help strategically plan the future, calling on heavyweights around the industry to help us chart that course.  We know we can’t do things the same way we always have, so we’re trying new things that can engage our members while keeping RTNDA strong.

Some of the strength we’re seeking is financial, both on the part of the association and the foundation.  In her new role as executive director, Jane is working even more closely with controller Marny Klump, keeping an eye on expenses and looking to get the most out of every dollar RTNDA has.  Association treasurer Loren Tobia and Foundation treasurer Mike Cavender have worked hard as well, looking to minimize the impact of the plummeting stock market at the end of last year, while taking advantage of the rising market this summer.  Money is still tight, but you can be sure RTNDA and RTNDF aren’t wasting a penny these days.

One of the ways to increase revenue and provide more services would be to bring more of our former members back to the fold.  If you’re a lapsed member, you’re already received a special offer to rejoin RTNDA.  Educators received full membership and voting rights at the end of our April convention.  Now we’re working to give their students better value for their membership dollars as well.  And we’re reexamining the entire membership structure to see if we can make RTNDA a better deal for everyone.

Part of what might make that deal better is if we come to you more often.  Local outreach and events in your area can bring RTNDA’s value close to home.  We’ve spent the spring and summer planning a busy fall of educational and career development events from the Foundation, all coming to a city near many of you.  In the weeks ahead we’ll be in Chicago for student training, in Kansas City talking ethics, in Baltimore for another news and terrorism workshop, and in Atlanta piggybacking on one of Broadcasting and Cable’s News Technology Summits.  The idea is to work toward smaller and more affordable ways to train you and your staff on what you need to know now.

That outreach starts early and stretches far and wide.  Under the watchful eye of the director of our educational projects at the foundation, Carol Knopes, we’re reaching out to students at the high school level and even younger, working on news literacy for all and training young journalists who will some day work in your newsroom.  At the other end of the spectrum, more than a dozen experienced journalists like yourselves just finished another successful trip to Europe through our RIAS exchange.  Thanks to the work of Jon Ebinger on our end and Rainer Hasters on the German end, more than a dozen U.S. journalists made the trip in June, another group goes again in September.

Multicultural exchanges overseas are a continued emphasis, as is our own multicultural experience at home.  Just this week, we released the latest research done by Bob Papper at Hofstra University examining the progress of making our newsrooms more diverse places to work.  The news there is a mixed bag.  Women made more gains as managers in newsrooms, but minorities fell back a bit.  In the unusual year we’re having on the financial side of the business, it’s hard to tell if this negative change is the result of layoffs or a conscious move on the part of hiring managers.  Either way, the study gives us some information to take forward to inform owners and managers of the state of things in the industry and where our weaknesses still remain.  We’ll work to help fix those weaknesses—starting with our future—through our work at the minority journalism conventions to critique tapes and reach out to future new managers, as well as our scholarship program to help minority journalism students achieve their best in school and beyond. We extended that scholarship deadline to my 101st day (this Saturday) so that more qualified applicants could get their name in the pool.

Our partnerships with other journalism organizations remained important during the early days of this administration, including an outreach to maintain strong convention relationships with the NAB while beginning work on setting up new alliances for the future.  Meetings have been taking place all spring and summer to return to Las Vegas next April for another RTNDA@NAB convention.  This year’s gathering was hit hard by the recession—there’s no denying that.  But it fared better than a lot expected and put some valuable new information in the hands of those who did attend.  For next year, we’re working with the NAB for what we think will be a rebound year.  Chairman-elect Mark Kraham is leading the convention effort for us.  Along with Chris Brown and his staff at NAB, Mark is working to improve the convention layout and content, focusing on what’s most important to broadcast and new media journalists to learn.  And beyond 2010, we’re already in talks with NAB leadership to continue a presence in Las Vegas in a whole new way.  Just last week we met in Washington with Chris Brown, new NAB Chairman Steve Newberry and acting CEO Janet McGregor.  Our meeting was a chance to get to know Steve a bit better, and also to brainstorm what we might be able to deliver at future NAB conventions that would be of value to our members and NAB members alike.  The chance to make the annual Las Vegas appearance a part of a bigger, regional outreach is exciting, and Mark and I will update everyone as things develop.

We’re also looking forward to revealing the details as they develop of perhaps our biggest partnership announcement of this administration so far.  We’re working with SPJ to be the anchors of a whole new concept of journalism convention in 2011 and beyond.  Our plan is to bring together as many journalists of all types as possible to a one-stop shop for skills, ethics, training, and more—all in one place.  The planning is at the very early stages now, but our director of membership and marketing Tara Sheehan, as well as our coordinator of conventions and meetings Audrey Lamb are working to be sure we have as many details as we can as we begin this process. As we continue to develop the idea, find a location, and bring new partners on board, you can expect a lot more out of me on just what to expect.  I’m excited this will be the convention that redefines how journalists gather in a post-recession economy, and I’m proud RTNDA has the chance to be a founding member and architect of what is to come.

Finally, the last thing already in the works in these first 100 days is nothing less than a new identity for the association.  In fact, I can say at this moment I’ll be the last chairman of RTNDA.  That sounds like a dire prediction—until I say this: I’ll also be the first chairman of RTDNA, the Radio Television Digital News Association.  The logo’s in the oven and the rollout of the new name and look is just weeks away.  With that new identity will come a renewed mission to serve journalist beyond the boundaries of our 20th Century differences based on medium.  Instead, we’ll work to serve anyone broadcasting or publishing over the airwaves, through cable, or online.  That’s what the new name will mean.

So enough looking back at that arbitrary milestone of 100 days.  There’s work to do.  I have 265 more days as chairman and still a very lot to do.

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