'Digital integration can't be forced'

Editors from Europe and the US spoke of the difficulties of integrating newsrooms into single online and print operations and warned of the dangers of forcing change upon newsroom staff.

Jim Roberts, editor of digital news at The New York Times, speaking at a World Editors Forum panel on newsroom integration, said that the ‘veterans’of the print edition had taken ‘a great deal of seduction’to encourage them to take part in new media

Roberts said that Times executives had appointed editorial staff on each desk to lead the move to digital content in 2005 – but, initially at least, nothing happened.

Stubborn

He said: ‘For many of the 1,000 journalists of the Times it was considered an afterthought. Web journalists were seen as clerks and not as journalists.

‘The New York Times said in 2005 that this could not continue… we went web-first [but] that did not work. Maybe we were just too old and stubborn.”

Roberts said the Times won over its print staff by convincing them ‘how much richer their stuff could be with multimedia components”.

‘We found it much more effective to let people go steadily than push them into areas that were uncomfortable,’he said.

Another problem was that the Times’s seduction was sometimes too successful. ‘Generating excitement is one thing but delivering it is another,’he said. ‘Now every desk wants to do multimedia, every reporter wants a blog.”

Roberts said the paper has had problems integrating its print and online staff because they are on different contracts and pay scales, a problem worsened by the merging of teams into a single Manhattan office last year.

Almar Latour, managing editor of The Wall Street Journal’s website WSJ.com, spoke of how his organisation had radically transformed its newsroom culture into a ‘news factory’of collaboration between print and online in the past few years.

Latour said the site, which he said has around 2.5 million unique users every month, and one million subscribers to its paid-for content, has gone from being dominated by content from the news edition to having its own news, blogs and video offerings. Online staff now sit alongside print journalists in a single office – though WSJ.com retains a specialist team to develop online ideas.

‘The whole newsroom acts as a news factory with different clients – the newspaper is a client, the Asian [edition of the] Journal is a client, the European Journal is a client,’he said.

Like the Times, the Journal has had problems getting print staff involved in things like blogs, video and audio, though the culture has now changed. ‘It’s still important to convince reporters of why they should spend time on these things. It’s adding to their workload, which is already high,’said Latour.

‘As much as possible, we try to show the advantage their stories are having.”

A list of the Top 10 stories on WSJ.com is shown in the newsroom to motivate staff, much like in the Telegraph’s London newsroom. ‘We are getting people to realise how in a multimedia world the audience is building. They are not just readers but users and viewers,’he said.

Lisbeth Knudsen, CEO of the Danish newspaper group Det Berlingske Officin, and editor-in-chief of its newspaper Berlingske Tidende, said it was imperative for newspapers to understand the differences between print and online content.

In response to the meeting’s title ‘Are Integrated Newsrooms Really Working?’she said: ‘The answer is that they have no other choice but to make it work. This is the imperative in our business today.”

She criticised the ‘total disaster’of newspapers simply repurposing all their newspaper content for their websites and called for a ‘re-thinking’of journalism to create a ‘new, integrated content model”.

The new generation of readers ‘does not automatically [acknowledge] that special authority that newspapers are used to having and the official position that we are used to having,’she said.

‘If we want to keep the position of being the DNA of our society, we have to find a way to offer what the content users want 24 hours a day.”

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