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Panpa Bulletin : March 2007
Newspaper publishers have now realised the basic fact that news consumers have changed. News consumers today expect easy and com- fortable access to any kind of content at any time, at any place and via any device or platform. News consumers are now so indulged by the vast variety of media offer- ings and access opportunities (including broadband internet at home and in hotels; wireless access in cafes, restaurants and public places; and mobile internet and 3G videophones) available to them whenever or wherever they want. Experience also shows that news con- sumers are apparently not very loyal to a certain brand. They choose the best online service, the best newspaper, the best radio station, the best TV station and the best mobile service. "Best" in this context stands for "best in meeting their specific needs and expectations" as they want benefits and added value in terms of speed, price, flex- ibility or convenience. The brand behind the service is not necessarily the primary driver in deciding which service to use or even pay for. And finally, news consumers don't just want to consume content, they want to contribute, discuss and share their own opinions, views and experiences with oth- ers. Weblogs, discussion forums, video blogs and other virtual social networks offer many opportunities to reveal personal views to the rest of the world in an easy way. Meeting these needs from the newsrooms is the challenge facing the newspaper industry. Media convergence Convergent journalism is one way to meet this challenge as it allows the newsroom to adapt to these changes in behaviour, demands and expectations. Convergent journalism is, above all, about the news consumer or "audience" orientation. Knowing what content is relevant for what audience (ie target groups or audience seg- ment and what media is the most appro- priate to deliver the content at what time of the day) is the starting point of a media convergent strategy. Convergence is also about deliver- ing richer content, which provides added value and a real benefit to the audience. Just copying content from one channel to another has little or no value to the audi- ence as certain stories might be a better fit for online media, while some are better for print media. However, by cross referencing between the different channels, different audience groups can be directed to use the other channels. Convergence also concerns new media formats. Using audio and video formats, pic- ture slide shows with voiceovers or blogs and discussion forums can help to tell a story in an attractive way that enables the audience to contribute to the journalistic process. Integrated newsrooms The constant process of planning and delivering content and communicating on different channels, referring the audience from one channel to the other and includ- ing user-generated content is a challenging task for an editorial department. The news flow across the different media, starting from the planning, commissioning and content generation to production and publishing, needs to be integrated and the organisational structure needs to support this integration. Consequently, this new way of work- ing implicates an enhancement of the skills set that is needed for journalistic work. Expanding the existing capabilities and talents of print journalists to include digital media is an important part of a convergence strategy. It is important that a journalist working across media knows the differences in how people read text in print and on digital media such as computer screens or little mobile devices. If the jour- nalist also understands the power of audio and video, he or she can use these formats to tell the story in a richer way, looking at the subject from different angles. Cross-media publishing Audience orientation and communication (as opposed to just delivering content), the use of new formats, managing the news flow in an integrated way, and supporting journalists who need to apply their exper- tise in using multiple media are therefore the main areas Ifra Newsplex focuses on. Ifra developed a vision of a publish- ing philosophy, which puts the audience and the story in the focus of all activities in a newsroom. The Newsplex philoso- phy stands for using the possibilities and strengths of different channels to reach the audience and communicate with the audi- ence at any given place, and at any given time via the most appropriate media. In order to explain and demonstrate this fundamental change of mindset and working methods to newspapers, Ifra built two research and training facilities for newsroom strategies and media convergent journalism. One is located near Frankfurt in Germany, the other in the US at the University of South Carolina. Since the European facility's opening in September, 25 Newsplex workshops and training sessions with about 300 partici- pants from 80 publishing houses from 12 nations, including the UK, Germany, Austria and Switzerland, Sweden, Romania and Netherlands, have taken place. The second major component of Newsplex activities is research, advisory and consulting services in order to support the change process in the newsroom from a mono-media to a multimedia organisa- tion. Ifra members in the UK, Germany, Australia, Sweden and India are currently working with the Newsplex team in news- room strategy projects. Newsplex is not just about changing the way editors and journalists are organised and work together. It's also not just about a change in the structure and technology in a newsroom or just a change in roles and responsibilities. It hits the core issue of the fundamental change of mindset about how newsrooms approach the audience today and tomorrow. For more information see: www.ifra.com Newsplex and media convergent journalism --- new strategies for a changing audience Ifra Newsplex director Dr Dietmar Schantin explains why media convergence, cross-media publishing and integrated newsrooms are much more than y-by- night trends. 34 PANPA Bulletin March 2007 pressing matters