Home' Local Media Today : July 2011 Contents Earlier this year, The SNA Foundation and
the Associated Press Managing Editors
were awarded a McCormick Foundation
grant to conduct a two-day symposium
designed to teach community journalists
how to uncover local stories on the impact
of the economic crisis on the American
family. The symposium featured speak-
ers from the academic world, as well as
journalists who cover highly specialized
aspects of the topic. Twenty scholarships
were awarded and the recipients got the
benefit of not only the training but exposure
to the broader thinking about community
One of the instructors who had a major
impact on the journalists was Linda Grist
Cunningham, then executive editor of
the Rockford Register Star. Cunningham
is now the proprietor of Key West Watch,
a multimedia information company that
launches in June 2012. She retired in May
2011 after 20 years at the Register Star and
remains active in the news industry.
We caught up with Linda post-retirement
to ask three key follow up questions to
learn more about her McCormick sym-
posium experience and her productive
management style that can be adapted for
newsrooms of any size or shape.
What are your impressions of the
twenty journalists selected for this
training? How did you think the program
went? I know you were there as an instructor
but did you gain any valuable takeaways?
The single best takeaway was my
relieved sigh as I finished my presenta-
tion and headed home. A sigh in which I said:
“Self, we are in good hands. There is a future
for what we do.” A sigh wholly grounded in
the sheer joy of knowing that despite the
frustrations, uncertainties and just plain
awfulness of the business today, there remain
dedicated, risk-taking journalists commit-
ted to defending the First Amendment and
doing right by their audiences – whether in
print, online, mobile, social media or, heck,
holograms. These are folks who get it, who
understand and even welcome the complexi-
ties of the transformational industry we are
and will be for a couple decades to come.
Can you please describe your ‘cyber-
fiber integration’ and ‘what if’ strategy
that was pushing thinking in your newsroom
under your leadership?
Cyber-Fiber Integration – Back in
the 1990s the newspaper industry
was arguing over whether the better model
was two newsgathering staffs – one for print
and one for online – or whether online
newsgathering should be integrated into
the traditional newsroom. Seemed like a
no-brainer to me.
We weren’t going
to get the resources to
add staff to “do” online.
We were either going
to figure out how to
do both or we’d not be
doing either very well.
I challenged my
staff in 1996 to con-
sider this question:
What if we integrated
print and online into a
single newsroom rather
than thinking of them
as separate things?
From that was cre-
ated what we called “cyber-fiber integration,”
a simple concept that said: If you’re the Sports
(photo, metro, graphics, editorial) Editor,
you’re responsible for your content in print
and online – and eventually in holograms.
Over the years since, cyber-fiber integra-
tion has taken us from figuring out how to
“add” an online component to the “real”
story in the newspaper to a fully-integrated
approach that simply says: How can we best
tell this story?
We teach staffers multiple skills that allow
them to tell stories through traditional print
narratives, alternative story forms, video,
social media, blogs, photographs, links and
databases. Reporters specialize in content
beats – and are fully capable to covering
those beats from the first. Tweet to the final
print version for tomorrow’s newspaper.
Cyber-fiber integration is about
approaches and conceptual thinking, and
that means achieving that integration doesn’t
depend on newsroom numbers. One jour-
nalist can do it just as well as 100.
“What if we ...” This is the catch-phrase
we use for researching, developing and
launching new products, systems or con-
cepts. Those three words, usually followed
by some outlandish, totally non-traditional
idea, have served us well, because they
encourage us to think about things from
very different perspectives.
“What if we” is an approach that works
for three simple reasons:
• First, the question alone forces us to think
about the reasons something might work
rather than why it wouldn’t.
• Second, it gets the people who do the
work and the people who traditionally
think up the work at the same time from
the very beginning.
• And, third, because the final plan is built
by a broad, cross-departmental base,
buy-in is assumed, implementation is
assured, and on-going success a given.
In short, the plan isn’t the boss’ plan. This
isn’t a corporate thing. This is “my” plan
and, darn it, it’s going to work.
“What if we” works best when the out-
landish possibility is researched, developed,
implemented and continuously vetted by
inter- and intra-departmental stakeholders,
and with community experts and potential
Our most successful projects brought
together – at the very beginning and in
significant ways – staffers from all newsroom
departments and from
around the building , as
well as people from the
Are these types of
latable in smaller mar-
kets and newsrooms?
Certainly. It’s not
about how many
people you have, or
how much newshole
or cyberspace. It’s not
about good bosses or
bad ones. Or about young turks versus
It’s about possibilities never considered.
About bringing everyone into the sand-
box – whether that sandbox holds three or
303 – and capitalizing on skills sets, not on
job titles. It’s about saying what the heck,
July 2011 | SUBURBAN PUBLISHER | 13
Linda Grist Cunningham listens to an economic discussion Thursday, May 26, 2011 during her last editorial board meeting as
executive editor of the Register Star.
BRAD BURT | ROCKFORD REGISTER STAR
are powerful tools
“I once again was
reminded that journalists,
given a Gordian knot
to untangle, will do it
successfully. Our future is
in good hands – especially
if we nurture our best
and brightest for our next
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