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After 32 years in print, a newsroom veteran jumps to a digital-only job

29 Nov

As newspapers transition to “Digital First,” with the new skills and radically different job descriptions that can entail, what happens to a person whose entire career has been focused on the print edition?

No doubt, some will not make the transition. Catch up with the past year of layoffs, buyouts and early retirements across the industry for evidence of that.

But for other newsroom veterans, it represents an exciting (and/or nerve-wracking) new chapter in their careers. Their transition is significant for our company because we can’t afford to lose the knowledge and experience these journalists and editors have.

Roseann Iacomacci

Yesterday, the New Haven Register announced a significant newsroom reorganization that, among other things, established a five-person Breaking News team focused 100 percent on speeding news and information to our websites and via social media, blogging and SMS alerts.

The effort will be led by Cara Baruzzi, whose previous role as business editor revolved around preparation of a daily print section. Three other members of the team will be moving over from the copy desk that prepares the Register’s print edition.

Roseann Iacomacci is making the transition to a digital-only job after 32 years in the business.

She started her career at the Bridgeport Post and worked there for more than two decades before joining the New Haven Register in 2002. She started writing wedding and engagement notices and has spent most of her career selecting and editing wire copy from around the country and world to sandwich into print edition pages, writing editorials and plowing through a blizzard of local reporter copy filed for a late-night print edition deadline.

On Nov. 18, Rose left her last late shift on the copy desk at 12:30 a.m.

On Nov. 21, she arrived at 6 a.m. for her new shift – more aligned with the reading habits of the Register’s digital audience.

“My first thought about the shift to ‘Digital First’ was that it was inevitable, but, frankly, perhaps a bit premature. I also thought it was one of those mysteries of business that only accountants and tax lawyers understand, because the print product is still making the bulk of our profits, if what I hear is true,” Iacomacci said.

The New Haven Register’s parent company has been a pioneer in accelerating rapidly to a focus on digital on both the news and advertising sides of the business as print advertising revenue has plummeted across the industry and print circulation has declined.

“I decided to apply for one of the digital jobs because it’s the direction of the future and I want to stay employed,” she said. “Over the years, I’ve had to adapt to many changes: hot lead to cold type, galley proofs to full page setups, paper layouts to computerized pagination and more.”

As she learns dozens of unfamiliar technologies and processes – from embedding a live chat on a web page to maximizing the effectiveness of her Twitter posts, Rose worries that she’s spending more time on the medium, the technology, than the content.

New Haven Register City Editor Helen Bennett Harvey worries what the content would be like if Rose and employees like her weren’t making the transition to digital.

“To me, Rose has always embodied the part of journalism that demands that we get things right,” she said. “She has been relentless in making sure we get our facts straight – as well as making sure we say it in a way that is clear to our readers.”

“By nature, I don’t like change. I’m always a little nervous about it, and sometimes I worry that the actual skills of writing and editing are taking a back seat to the technology,” Rose said. “I guess the exciting part is that we’re sort of pioneers of paperless newspapers. The routines and practices we work out now, and the mistakes we make, might inform the next generation of journalists.”

Bennett Harvey is more confident that we’re establishing the right ground rules with Rose on board.

“Rose, for instance, is the one we can turn to to make sure a headline – while SEO friendly – does not make us sound like grammar morons,” she said. “This talent also plays well into our goal of improving our journalism as we climb toward the digital first goal: There is no good journalism without good writing.”

“Rose has come a long way in terms of her skills and the evolution from the legacy print operation to our digital world,” Bennett Harvey said. “We all need to keep honing our digital skills, and to me, Rose has embraced this goal.”

UPDATE: Of course, in reading this blog post, Rose pointed out an antecedent problem. I inserted a quote from Helen Bennett Harvey before the “By nature, I don’t like change …” quote, which referred only to “she said,” making it seem as though Bennett Harvey said it, when it was actually Rose’s quote. More evidence of why we need her!