Regional publisher adopts 'news now' philosophy
WHILE the spotlight has focused on major structural overhauls at News Limited and Fairfax Media, APN News & Media is quietly implementing a new way of operating in its regional newsrooms.
The new structure recognises that a different type of newsroom is necessary to deliver content across all platforms, APN Australian Regional Media editorial director Shane Rodgers told The Bulletin.
“We are moving rapidly into the digital age and the old structure was very much set up along the old print boundaries,” Mr Rodgers said.
“Most news organisations are moving towards a similar model which is covering news as it happens and working around digital specialisation.”
The model is similar to that introduced by Fairfax earlier this year, Mr Rodgers said.
The key changes include:
· Creating five editorial regions across Queensland and northern NSW.
· Appointing news directors to drive content generation.
· Greater specialisation overseeing platforms and greater generalisation producing content for all platforms.
· Relaunched websites.
“In the past the whole newsroom was working around everything … we had people stretched across digital, print, video and it gets increasingly difficult to have so many people stretched across so many things, particularly at the management level,” Mr Rodgers said.
Under the new structure, a dedicated print editor and digital editor have been appointed at each site, with specialised experts working on the design and production of websites and newspapers. Reporters and photographers have become more generalist and now produce content that can be published across any platform required.
“We have adopted a ‘news now’ philosophy – we will produce content at the most appropriate time, in the most appropriate way, for the more appropriate platform,” Mr Rodgers said.
There is, however, greater editorial specialisation around key “pillar” areas such as business, motoring, employment, real estate, mining, rural and business.
'What do we need to do with print products in 2012 to make sure they meet the needs of contemporary readers?'
The biggest challenge has been changing the print mentality of “hoarding stories until the end of the day”, according to Mr Rodgers.
This has meant recognising that websites cannot exist as replicas of print products.
“They’re a very different real-time medium and newsrooms need to be operating in real-time to properly service that platform,” Mr Rodgers said.
“It’s now about making a decision on a story in real-time – does it need to be filed online now, and most of the time, the answer is yes. Content is filed continuously rather than being left for the end of the day.”
While the frequency of daily news conferences has changed in some sites, in many APN newsrooms, staff are already sitting within talking distance of each another.
“News becomes a continuous conversation all day – making continuous decisions around content and the appropriate way to use it rather than necessarily being geared around particular conferences,” Mr Rodgers said.
The new structure was introduced in the first week of October and was in full swing by October 8. Mr Rodgers said he expects the changes will take another few weeks before reaching their optimum point, but that he has been happy with the results so far.
Some alteration of staff rosters has taken place to ensure the newsroom is covering more hours, but it hasn’t been too dramatic, according to Mr Rodgers.
“We’re not really doing anything foreign. We have papers that come out six-days a week and we still have to cover things on the seventh day – we’ve always been a seven-day a week operation.”
A key element of the transition was preparatory training and up-skilling of staff before the changes went live – particularly for those in newly created positions.
Digital producers were put through a three to four day training course on state-of-the-art digital news site production. News directors were trained on how to showcase content to the best of its ability on different platforms.
Mr Rodgers said print editors were trained on: “What do we need to do with print products in 2012 to make sure they meet the needs of contemporary readers?”
With the Media Entertainment and Arts Alliance claiming as many as one in seven journalism jobs have been cut from newspaper publishers in recent months, the APN newsroom transformation has distinctively been conducted as a “headcount neutral exercise”.
The purpose of the restructure was to make better use of peoples’ existing skills in the newsroom, according to Mr Rodgers, who said he is not aware of any plans to implement redundancies although he is “not in the business of predicting the future”.
Mr Rodgers believes the majority of APN journalists have approached the changes with the same passion and energy they approach everything.
“Everyone is welcoming the fact we now have new and better websites and we’re moving quickly towards the type of news operation we need to become,” he said.