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Sunday, February 1, 2009

South Bend Tribune hates its employees

Think you work for a micromanager? Check out what the South Bend (Indiana) Tribune has decided to do to its staff. Here's an excerpt from the memo the paper's management distributed last week, explaining their new "communication" system:
This is targeted foremost to all reporters, who would send a daily e-mail the last thing before they leave for the day (or at the latest, the very first thing - 8 a.m. - the next day). These e-mails would go not only to your most immediate editor but to at least five editors, including me. This daily e-mail would lay out specifically what you accomplished that day, what you need to finish or follow up on the next day, and what you plan to do that next day. We mean everything, from the most mundane county council advance to the beginning interview in the most ambitious investigation that may or may not see the light of day (or publication). It also would allow you to bring up any other communication you need to share. From there, yes, your editor will be able to tell how busy you were, but more importantly, he or she will know your accomplishments and your struggles. From that, our morning planning meetings can be even more efficient.
They then provide a helpful and horrifying example of what such daily updates should look like:
Checked e-mail; Checked logs at Mishawaka, county and South Bend; Responded to accident at Ironwood and bypass; Called Mishawaka Detective Bureau about child neglect case (records would not provide narrative since it is under investigation by CPS); Called Mishawaka woman struck Monday by hit-and-run driver while she was getting into her car; Wrote story on woman struck by hit-and-run driver; Placed call to Trent about two rape cases that were on log (he was not in this morning); left message. Called Humane Society of St. Joseph County to see if any animals were taken out of home in Mishawaka where elderly lady was livign in filth surrounded by several full litter boxes; was told someone would be in contact. Updated productivity report; Spoke briefly with Trent about rape cases on log - appears to be teenage girl covering up for sexual escapades; Spoke with John Pavlekovich about concerns regard retirement story - presumably ironed everything out; Pow-wowed with Dave about year-end crime stories - I get homicides! -- start working on lead smelter reporting, call health dept. again, talk to lead director, no idea what I'm talking about; -- call IDEM local office, am transferred to regional office, leave message for public relations people; -- am asked to work on Goshen beating story; -- call Goshen PIO, discuss YouTube video beating; -- try to find number for YouTube mom, search phone books, internet; -- do web update; -- call Goshen schools superindendent, leave message; -- go to video bootcamp lunch; -- research YouTube beating posted by teens, leave message for national anti-Internet abuse lady; -- reach other woman affilated with anti-Internet abuse, talk to about story; -- call super Intendant again, leave second message; -- go to 2 p.m. interview with judge Scopelitis, wait forever in rotunda because he's in hearing, finally leave and reschedule; -- call back superindendant, finally reach for story; -- find address for YouTube mom; -- write YouTube video story, file story; -- give graph to john stump for lead smelter story; -- Drive out to Goshen to try and find YouTube mom, get lost, turn around, find trailer park, can't find address, finally find address, family no longer lives there, drive back. Planning to come in around 9 tomorrow.
Who thought this was a good idea? It would be faster to just tell their employees directly that they believe every single one of them to be lazy, incompetent, and untrustworthy. (Also, am I the only one particularly taken with the fact that these updates are to be sent to five editors each day? I would love to hear the reasoning on that.)

(Hat tip: Gawker)

22 comments:

Sadistic Manager said...

And yet people put up with it. I've worked for companies that expected daily summaries like that to be sent to the entire management staff, including peers and superiors. This meant I got them from everyone else, too.

And every single one of us had a filter set up to delete them as soon as they hit our inboxes, too.

Evil HR Lady said...

I'm sorry. Is this a joke? Seriously. This can't be for real.

I am aghast.

nuqotw said...

Do I correctly understand this to mean that they have a morning planning meeting every day? With rare exception, that's a waste of everyone's time.

If they didn't already have a disenchanted workforce, they'll have one soon.

Andy Lester said...

Horrifying, yes, but all should look at the full post at http://poynter.org/forum/view_post.asp?id=13790 and not just the excerpts. I don't think it's quite as bad as both you and Gawker made it sound.

You both excluded the line "Here are some examples of what such notes should look like:" It sounds to me that that raft of examples are not meant to entail one day, but are a collection of sample ingredients.

Nonetheless, the worst part of this is that it is about optimization for management, not the people doing the work: "We're also simplifying the record-keeping part of the productivity system; rather than managers assessing an employee on a 40-point scale every week, they will instead be checking a box on a slip of paper that indicates whether each employee met productivity goals that week."

So this entire memo business is so that management doesn't have to do its actual work, which is clearing obstacles from the people who do the real work of the company.

abileneblues said...

My friend worked at a place that had fairly complex system for doing this that included codes for common tasks. They were even required to log the time they spent filling out the time log. Every 15 minutes of the workday had to be logged. And no, this was not a company that billed out the time of employees.

Ask a Manager said...

Andy, I think the sample report given in the memo is actually intended to be the sample for a given day, both from the way the memo framed it and also because the sample itself does indeed appear to be a full day, in chronological order, with some pieces referring back to other pieces.

TheLabRat said...

Why on earth would any manager need me to log that I checked my email. By emailing out such a report, wouldn't that be a given? I'm all for the daily "here's where I'm at email." but that's just... excessively detailed. /understatement

raven said...

Why email it to 5 editors?

Just to increase the probability that atleast one of them would read the humongous inflow of completely unstructured texts.

Wouldn't be surprised if within a month someone sneakes in a line about his taking half a day off to watch a football game and getting away with it :)

Kerry said...

If you have five managers who actually have time to read all that crap, from each employee, every day...then you have five jobs you can eliminate.

That's nuts.

HR Godess said...

I agree with some of these comments. What are the 5 editors that get these emails responsible for besides making sure the employees are working??!??

Here's an idea, hire trustworthy employees. I'd blow my head off if I had to read that every day. Geez!

Rick said...

As a former newspaper journalist, I can understand why news organizations want to get a better handle on the productivity of their editorial staff, or any staff for that matter.

But this is just counterproductive. First, the editors should have a clear idea of what the reporters are doing with their time. Second, this is just unnecessary "busy work" for the reporters, who, along with the many things they do during the course of their shifts, now need to recall just about everything they did before they punch out. When you do about 50 things over eight hours, there's a good chance something will slip your mind.

You want to examine productivity? Use these for metrics:

* Number of bylined stories over the course of a week. (quantity)
* Number of web site hits on a bylined story. (quality)
* Number of online comments generated by a byline story. (quality)
* Number of story ideas pitched to editors that result in byline stories. (quantity and quality)

Rachel - I Hate HR said...

While at a normal company this would seem excessive, I'm not surprised to see it at a newspaper. Print media is dying a very quick death. We've had many layoffs in newspaper in our area and I'm sure they're just using this to see where they can make cuts.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm... Looks like these 5 editors will spend EVERY MINUTE of their working hours reading these emails. Or ignoring them.

Amazingly stupid way of wasting everybody's time! Thanks for sharing :-).

Anonymous said...

If you wish you may e-mail Virginia Black at the South Bend Tribune at:

vblack@sbtinfo.com

newsfan said...

This is for real and it is one day's report from a cops reporter that was the example.
I used to work for this senior editor and they started company-wide productivity reports a couple of years ago, and the newsroom, esp. metro/state staffs are the ones still bearing the brunt. My reports (or my attitude in them) may have led to me getting caught in the only layoff the paper has ever had late last year. No editors were laid off, yet between buyouts and layoffs, newsroom is down 20-30 percent.
Guess the editors needed more to do than supervise one or two writers each.

Anonymous said...

Yes, as a former reporter I see that this is the account of one day's work. You wouldn't believe the gruntwork heaped on those of us at the bottom while management all go out for taco lunches or clip coupons at their desks. I wish I were kidding. *sigh*

Disclaimer: I didn't work for the South Bend Tribune.

Just another HR lady... said...

I don't get a micromanager vibe off of this, it honestly sounds to me like they are asking people to record the amount of work they are doing or the amount of work they have available to do...not a good sign during economic crisis. Perhaps they are trying to figure out how to shuffle duties around and/or where they can make cuts. I'd be cramming my daily list chock-full every day.

Brand Your Resume said...

Could the morning meeting be a budget for the day's stories? I still don't see the connection to having a litany of daily tasks for each employee.

This is micromanaging at its worst. I don't know for whom to feel sorry more--the reporters or the 5 editors receiving the barrage of email.

Anonymous said...

Coming in way late on this, but a friend is a former reporter for this very paper and says it's likely a joke, based on his knowledge of the editor and the paper.

Mike Guilmette said...

I worked at the Tribune and I know the editor in question. I think this was meant to be somewhat of a joke. She's the type, as I recall, to use absurdity to make a point.

Anonymous said...

documenting yourself so they'll have reason to fire you. the trib is smooth!

Anonymous said...

So, I'm a couple of months late, but I'm loving that AAM picked up this email. I was an intern at the company at the time this email was circulated and I was told that I was expected to complete these as well, so I'm pretty sure it wasn't a joke. However, I never completed them after the first week and I wasn't reprimanded, so maybe it was.

They did, in fact, get rid of their normal productivity reports in lieu of this system, but I'm unsure of what happened with it.

While productivity reports make sense at a newspaper, as do daily morning meetings since that dictates what will go in the newspaper each day, this was excessively overkill.

Thanks for giving me a laugh remembering my time at the Trib!