At the heart of the hub: the Telegraph on Budget Day

Five months after the Daily Telegraph’s move to Victoria, editor Will Lewis is confident enough in his new integrated digital newsroom to give Press Gazette open access to it on one of the busiest days of the year.

Lewis has been in the job since October and the integration of print and online journalism has been at the centre of his editorial vision.

Old work practices have gone out the window – sub-editors are now production journalists and reporters are expected to file for web, audio and video as well as the print edition. And at the heart of it all is a radical open-plan office where editorial departments span out like spokes from the wheel of the central news hub.

Press Gazette has a ringside seat at the news hub as Gordon Brown unveils his final Budget. The team is expected to produce multiple video, audio and text, breaking news reports online, the 11-page downloadable Telegraph PM edition available 90 minutes after the chancellor sits down, plus a 16-page broadsheet supplement and five pages of news in the main paper.

As the Chancellor starts his speech at 12.30pm the desk heads and key specialists gather around the news hub to watch, taking notes in long-hand on A4 pads.

The four big plasma TVs which surround the hub are tuned to Sky News, while the 100ft-wide video display projected on to the office wall shows Sky, Bloomberg, BBC, CNN, Sky Sports, and the Telegraph.co.uk home page. (It also displays a fascinating rotating league table showing the top web stories of the day, week, month and year so far. The biggest web story of the year so far is apparently The Oscars, with 68,194 hits.)

From early on in the speech it looks like the 2p cut in corporation tax, trailed a week before in the Telegraph, is likely to be the top line.

I’m shown a rough of the Budget Day edition of Telegraph PM, which already has layouts and pictures done ready for headlines and copy to be run in.

As well as the usual PDF version, a four-page special, Telegraph PM, is being distributed by hand with around 2,000 copies per station going to Bank, Victoria, Liverpool Street and Canary Wharf between 4.15pm and 7pm.

Content is generated by repackaging and renosing stories which have already been published on the web, with the online version including click-throughs to live audio and video content.

Towards the end of the Chancellor’s speech, one journalist tells me that the 2p cut in corporation tax looks set to be the splash “unless he’s got some fireworks saved up for the end”.

On cue, Brown reveals a 2p cut in the basic rate of income tax to 20p, the lowest rate for 75 years. He certainly succeeds in catching the attention of the Telegraph journalists – the announcement sends a frisson through the newsroom.

As the Chancellor commends his budget to the House, City editor Damian Reece convenes a news conference at the hub to work out the main themes from the speech. “It’s a much grander gesture than we expected, but we’ll find out whether it all adds up over the next couple hours as we look through the numbers,”

he says.

Editor Lewis joins the meeting about 10 minutes in and sums up his first impressions of the speech: “After 10 years he’s finally realised that he’s getting too much of our money… it says to me snap election.” He later comments: “People have all got used to ignoring the Budget, this a real story.”

Another editorial executive murmurs: “Brown has just guaranteed himself the next election.”

But shortly after 2pm the cracks start appearing in what at first had seemed to be a great Budget giveaway.

Economics editor Edmund Conway has been crunching the numbers and reveals to the hub: “He’s taking more back from business than he’s giving in this budget – the entire thing is tax neutral.”

OVER AT THE TELEGRAPH’S TV and audio studio, podcast editor Guy Ruddle has until 2.30pm to write a framework script for that day’s special edition website videocast The Business Show.

The broadcast department is on the edge of the main newsroom floor and consists of a TV studio, radio studio and editing suite, which together cost around £200,000 to install. The two video cameras are HDTV ready which means, for the present, that they far exceed the quality needed for webcasts.

The Business Show is presented by City editor Reece, who rattles through his intro and links in a few minutes before interviewing economics editor Conway, personal finance editor Ian Cowie and chief political correspondent Toby Helm. The show is recorded in half an hour. The video is fed live to ITN at Gray’s Inn Road where it is edited, condensed to internet quality and graphics are cut in. The finished product is then beamed back to Ruddle for final sign-off and it is broadcast at 5.30pm, running to around seven and half minutes.

Next door in the podcast studio, editor-at-large Jeff Randall and economist and Telegraph columnist Roger Bootle have already been recording an audio interview with Robert Miller, which goes out shortly after 3pm. Also at 3pm a two-and-half-minute video segment provided exclusively for the Telegraph by ITN goes out covering the main points of the speech using the Commons footage.

Meanwhile, out on the streets of London reporter Amy Iggulden and a cameraman are interviewing taxi drivers for their reaction to the Budget for another video segment to go out that afternoon.

The Budget Day video offering concludes the following night with a videocast which isn’t journalism at all – but a satirical video segment featuring impressionist Rory Bremner as Gordon Brown doing the “real Budget”. Filmed on a House of Commons set, Bremner starts his skit by saying: “In this Budget I will continue my policy of raising taxes without people noticing, while paying them back with credit that they can’t work out how to claim.”

TELEGRAPH.CO.UK editor Edward Roussel has been leading the rest of the website coverage, which involves coordinating reporters and comment writers who are also providing the copy for the main print edition.

In addition to live news reports, and the Your Views comment section, Telegraph.co.uk includes three interactive budget calculators, available from 4pm, which inform individual readers exactly how much better or worse off they are.

Roussel takes a couple of minutes out to explain how the Budget Day web strategy works. “First all it’s something that we plan months ahead because it’s big, it’s complex and it involves a lot of people. On the day it’s all about logistics. We are telling our top experts and commentators to write short, punchy commentary pieces for the website and more extended versions for the newspaper the next day.

“On a day like this it’s a case of all hands on deck and the expectation is journalists are writing for the web and the newspaper. A lot of time is spent planning the logistics of this so everybody knows before the day starts what’s expected of them. Although it’s a bigger news story than was perhaps expected, it doesn’t change who does what.”

Speaking at 4.10pm, he reveals that a lot of the content from the next day’s newspaper is already going live, but that it will be “will be fine-tuned and extended”

for the print edition.

FOR ALL THE TRAUMA of the Telegraph’s office move last year – with the associated threats of industrial action over lack of consultation about new working practices – the paper’s editorial executives maintain that the sort of integrated multimedia offering produced on Budget Day would not have been possible on the multiple floors they used to occupy at Canary Wharf. And it certainly would have been more complicated with the business team in its own separate office in the City, as was previously the case.

Catching editor Lewis before he goes into a conference at 5pm, he says: “We will be talking about this Budget for years to come, it’s like Lawson’s 1988 Budget.” On the subject of the Telegraph’s coverage, he says: “What it shows is that in a very short period of time you can, with a multimedia newsroom, run through the gears of producing a very good online offering, some TV, the Telegraph PM product and community stuff as well.

“The reason we can do this is because we’ve practiced it, we’ve been doing variations of this for quite a long time.”

The multimedia coverage is undoubtedly impressive, but can it be done without taking away resources from what is still the core print product? Especially considering the fact that the move to Victoria last October coincided with the axing of 54 editorial jobs, a cull which itself followed 90 editorial redundancies at the end of 2005.

Lewis reponds by saying: “You deal with the hand you are dealt. I’m more than happy with the resources I’ve got. The sort of thing we are doing online now probably, a few years ago, would have been acceptable for the paper the next day. But the customers now want something new.

“It raises the bar for what you get in the paper the next day. We’ve got a better paper the next day because we are pushing the story on during the day.

You can’t just say that Gordon Brown has cut tax by 2p if we already did it at 2pm the day before.”

Budget Day – The Figures Total web traffic: 466,000 unique users, three million page views. Budget 2007 pages had 309,202 uniques, compared with 94,358 for Budget 2006 On the Go email news alert: 10,000 subscribers Combined audio/video package: more than 50,000 plays Telegraph PM budget handout: 5,500 Print edition sales: Up 45,000 for the Budget issue (average daily ABC in February was 896,476).

Source: Telegraph Media Group

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