In search of killer meetings

Boston Globe press
Credit: Bob Brown, Network World

I’ve been thinking a lot about in-person/virtual meetings lately: Whether they should largely be killed off along with other outmoded things like musicals and namifying, or whether they should be allowed to live and thrive in a new and better format.

Having spent two productive days this week in Boston at my parent company’s annual meeting learning from and sharing with my colleagues as well as outsiders from around the world, I have no doubt that in-person gatherings still very much have their place. Exposure to the media, marketing and mobile experts there all gave me a broader perspective on what’s shaping the IT and publishing industries. 

+ Also on NetworkWorld: Google Chromebox for enterprise meetings +

But what about the more typical daily or weekly office meeting? Bain & Company Partner Jeff Denneen’s LinkedIn post on “Let’s Fix It: Kill the Weekly Meeting” really caught my eye this week.

Coincidentally, Network World’s editorial staff has been discussing internally whether we should change the format of our weekly managers’ meeting, at which we discuss internal affairs, story ideas and so forth in a conference room, with remote colleagues plugged in via teleconference. And yes, changes are in the works, with talk of more focused, SWAT team meetings.

We’ve also been rethinking how we collaborate on big stories, like this week’s Apple iPad and Mac announcements. Do we meet in person and teleconference or videoconference to plot and scheme, or mainly rely on email, or give one of those newfangled collaboration tools such as Yammer that we write about yet another go (we went with Yammer, to some good effect, though we also found loopholes).

With all this in mind, I paid a visit to the Boston Globe’s headquarters in Boston today to sit in on one of their twice-daily news meetings. As a Globe subscriber I’m deemed an Insider – not to be confused with Network World’s Insider program – and was invited to be a fly on the wall at the meeting as part of a tour of the facility.

Boston Globe Lobby Bob Brown, Network World

Boston Globe entrance

I did feel like I was stepping back in time at the Globe, which features a giant copy of its first ever newspaper from 1872 in its glass-encased lobby. The tour starts with a visit to the media company’s four mammoth $15 million printing presses, which crank out copies of the Globe, its rival Boston Herald and other publications. Ah yes, I remember being the the print business until last year, when Network World went all digital all the time.

Boston Globe Linotype machine Bob Brown, Network World

Linotype machine

Though this isn’t to say the Globe hasn’t modernized. The old lead-infused linotype printing machines are reduced to show-and-tell displays while new systems take advantage of flexible aluminum plates and rechargeable paper-moving robots. Our tour guide said new Globe owner John Henry, of Boston Red Sox ownership fame, has set up space for MIT students to incubate new media ideas. Lots of twenty-somethings fill the Boston.com section of the building, where they produce what they hope will be shareable content.

Boston Globe robotic paper movers Bob Brown, Network World

Robotic paper mover

The morning news meeting, however, was more of a throwback event. More than a dozen editorial types -- and at least one virtual attendee on the phone -- filed into the Tom Winship room, sitting around a classic horseshoe-shaped news desk and surrounded by four old tube TVs. The two Boston.com editors responsible for the digital version of the Globe sat inside the horseshoe, equipped with the only two laptops among participants. I'd show you a picture, but ironically, no photography was allowed in the newsroom... unless you're filming a movie about the Globe Spotlight team's Pulitzer Prize-winning investigation into the Catholic Church sex abuse scandal.

The news editor orchestrated the meeting, getting brief reports from the various section editors -- metro, sports, business, arts, etc., along with graphics and video. The digital editors shared their latest news, flashing online traffic numbers and discussing what’s hot online, including on social media. The overall energy level in the room was low, though the 30-or-so-minute meeting ran efficiently, with no long speeches and people talking really only when they needed to. Jokes were cracked, but attendees never really went off on tangents. Discussions on topics ranged from the New England Patriots’ victory the night before to the latest on the Ebola virus to a hot government scoop that the Globe was trying to determine how to proceed with without tipping off the competition.

It was clear many of the participants weren’t real interested in what most of the others had to say – it just wasn’t going to affect their jobs that day.  From my view, the “print” editorial people seemed a bit too walled of from the digital side, though at the end of the meeting one editor assured me that was not really the case.

Should the weekly meeting be killed? Maybe not. But two meetings a day? Now that's overkill.

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