I've always been skeptical of State of the Union-type speeches, many of which are larded with glittering generalities and political popcorn a combination that isn't particularly nourishing.
But when the hyperbole is set aside, these reports provide an essential service because they force leaders to go on the record about accomplishments and future plans.
Last week, I met with The Bee's newsroom staff to offer my own State of the Newsroom assessment. It was a positive discussion, with a nod to our challenges. And I did my best to keep it popcorn-free.
I spoke about what we've achieved and offered an outlook on the future of local news. As readers of The Bee, you have just as large a stake in this as we do and it's only fair for me to clue you in on what we've done and what we plan to do to make your newspaper even more vital and relevant.
We've made big changes, some readily noticeable and others that are bearing fruit behind the scenes:
A staff reorganization took place in late 2012; it repositioned reporters and editors to improve response to breaking news. This means modbee.com, our digital home, is more frequently updated with news as it happens, whatever time of day.
Our breaking news response is especially heightened in the morning, which is the time period with the highest demand. Bee veteran Patty Guerra was named breaking news editor, and she rises before dawn to captain this coverage.
We've increased our emphasis on local news. Front page stories are almost exclusively local or regional. We realize that readers are bombarded with national and international news from many sources. We want to offer content that can't be found elsewhere.
Several reporters were assigned to different coverage areas. Ken Carlson now covers Stanislaus County government, John Holland added coverage of Riverbank and Oakdale, Marijke Rowland covers Turlock and Kevin Valine covers Modesto city government. Garth Stapley covers water and continues with land use issues.
The reporters have immersed themselves in these beats with daily blog entries at modbee.com and weekly print columns, in addition to news stories.
The Sunday Opinions section you are reading recently expanded to encompass a section cover, which we named Issues & Ideas. This additional open page expands the display of our excellent Opinions content.
Dave Lyghtle, a Bee veteran, was named senior editor-enterprise. He captains local beat coverage and works with reporters across the newsroom on investigative reporting projects.
Today's front page package on public- sector salaries is one example of the kind of journalism Dave nurtures, and his team is doggedly following other high- impact projects.
The Bee now has nearly 10,000 followers on Twitter and nearly 8,000 on Facebook a solid increase over last year's figures. We realize many readers spend time on social media sites, and we need to be there alongside them.
We have many goals and challenges ahead:
The printed newspaper needs to be more of a daily news magazine than a breaking news service, as big breaking news now resides online.
"Explain" will be an operative word for all journalists at The Bee. You expect us to provide details that add context and clarity to important stories.
Cosmetically, we need to optimize the printed newspaper's design and typography.
There's a sense in the newsroom that the front page "rail" the digest of items down the left side that promotes stories inside has gone stale and should evolve into something different.
And there's also a feeling that the typefaces are outdated. Many haven't been changed in more than a decade. Would you wear the same clothes you wore 15 years ago? I doubt it. Expect a redesign sometime this year.
The Sacramento Bee, our sister McClatchy paper, is the bible of state government. We need to more fully tap into that content and localize it for our readers.
We need to continue to grow our digital audience. Many of you spend considerable time on smart phones and tablets. By the end of 2013, expect to see a modbee app for iPads and other tablet computers. We have to harness this powerful format.
At the beginning of my speech, I posted a photo of a bridge. It was significant because what we accomplish at The Bee in the next nine months really is a bridge to our future, both digital and in print.
I promise to keep readers updated as we continue to improve your newspaper.
Kieta, The Bee's editor and senior vice president, can be reached at email@example.com or (209) 578-2356 or on Twitter @JosephKieta.