How Press Association is repositioning itself to face the digital future

The Press Association is famed for its comprehensive news coverage, pumped into newsrooms of all shapes and sizes across the UK and Ireland via its century-old newswire.

But today the agency’s focus is as much about video as photographs and text as it repositions itself as a versatile producer of content of all forms, from court reports to online infographics.

PA managing director Tony Watson, the former Yorkshire Post editor who was promoted from his editor-in-chief role on Tuesday as part of a shake-up of its senior staff, said that while text, pictures and listings would remain as core parts of the business, he expected that customers would start to demand different kinds of content in the near future.

He told Press Gazette: ‘Text and photos are still very much part of our proposition. But with the advent of broadband and the huge public uptake means the possibilities of online are so much greater than they were only a few years ago.

‘You used to watch a video online, go away and make a cup of tea whilst it loaded. But it is so high-quality now that it’s opened the possibility of integrating text, photos and video in a way that tells a story in the best possible way. It’s not either/or, it’s all of those things.”

Watson said that former multimedia editor John Angeli has been appointed PA’s head of content to ‘bring all the strands together”.

‘Some of our customers still want the text story or a picture but increasingly even our traditional customers, as they migrate their brands online, are looking for different ways for stories to be displayed,’he said.

‘That’s what’s behind all this: we will end up with command desks where all those specific gathering skills are concentrated with John making sure we have got the links between all the content areas to make sure they are working together.”

PA has 30 video journalists and a further 35 reporters and photographers trained in video in London and around the country in its regional bureaux. The six news and two sports trainees that completed the company’s annual training scheme this year completed video training at PA’s own training centre in Howden, east Yorkshire.

While Watson is confident that PA is ‘certainly moving towards’having all its reporters trained in video, but he stresses that his cannot be achieved overnight.

He said: ‘You need people with the rights skills, the right equipment and the infrastructure to make sure that they can produce things quickly without slowing down the rest of the operation

‘You can’t expect every journalist to be doing everything, clearly there are some skills that are going to remain specialist.”

Though it has long supplied the regional and national press with ready-made graphics and piles of raw information for showpiece news events like general elections, PA’s journalists are working on ways of making those figures come alive via interactive graphics.

PA has recently recruited three consultants as part of a government-sponsored knowledge transfer partnership with London College of Communications; a two-year project to find new commercial opportunities in new ways of telling stories for the agency.

‘Graphics is a big area for growth. We’ve got a long history of supplying graphics page-ready for print, but more and more of our customers are beginning to see the possibilities provided by things like Flash that add a lot of depth and provide you with a vehicle to use other content strands,’said Watson.

‘So you can have a timeline where you have photos and videos along the various points when you go through a story. I think we’ll see growing demand for that as a story-telling device in its own right.

‘Where the growth is going to come from in the future is from digital and that’s the case across the industry.”

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