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Panpa Bulletin : March 2011
12 | MARCH 2011 | The PANPA Bulletin The PANPA Bulletin | MARCH 2011 | 13 PUBLISHING platforms cannot be endlessly added to a newsroom without changing its work structure to operate efficiently. It’s like sticking wings on a car and expecting it to fly. One newsroom is about to embrace its fifth platform – digit- ally-delivered paid content. With journalists now working on a newspaper, website, iPad edition and an e-mail newsletter, the traditional structure of the newsroom has been exposed as tired, inefficient and blocking the essential element of collaboration. No one knows this better than Mel Mansell, editor of the The Advertiser in Adelaide who has created a unique approach to newsroom management that has won recognition from his chairman and lured editors to his paper to find out he is doing. Mr Mansell and his colleagues have created what Daily Telegraph editor Garry Linnell calls a “seamless operation”. And they are attempting to meet a challenge issued by his chairman, John Hartigan of News Ltd, at last year’s PANPA confer- ence: “My contention is this - we have the opportunity to move from setting the agenda each morning . . . to actually owning the agenda. All day. Every day.” Mr Mansell and his network managing editor, Rod Savage, have created a new newsroom – and it is much more than the so-called ‘newsroom of the future’ that was spruiked three years ago. This is not about moving desks and flat-screen TVs. Mr Mansell and Mr Savage are doing the hard stuff: revitalising culture, job roles, decision-making, collaboration, responsibilities and much more. Mr Savage illustrates the transformation by running through hand-written points on a whiteboard that outlines the set-up. “The overarching themes are the three big things all news- rooms need to work hard at – communication, planning and execution. “Traditionally, newspapers are not great at communicating. We’re not particularly great at forward planning, so execution is pretty rushed, as you’d expect on a daily newspaper with a con- stant deadline.” Mr Mansell says the structure of most newsrooms has been the same for 150 years. “I knew that something had to change,” he said. “I wasn’t sure what it was, but we had a long hard look at the newsroom and we realised it was a pyramid based (with deci- sions) flowing from the top to the bottom. That may have been fine a century ago but it just wasn’t working now. “It was inhibiting communication. The amount of information flowing onto the floor was doubling every year, and it was inhib- iting our capacity to do the job properly.” The objective of the change have been to improve publishing efficiency, “radically and drastically” enhance communication between staff and increase their involvement and responsibility, and to introduce a flatter management structure. In contrast to the hub-and-spoke “newsrooms of the future” championed three or four years ago, this did not mean moving any furniture, with the exception of bringing the conference desk into the centre of the newsroom and buying a whiteboard. And not just any old whiteboard. It looks like something out of sci-fi flick Minority Report; a combination of computer, projector and a whiteboard with a multi-touch interface allowing staff to move photos around with a gesture, present page designs, and show off the latest online multimedia. The whiteboard will eventually provide a continuous update on the status of the day’s big stories for anyone on the news- floor, says Mr Mansell. “We had a look at big broadcasting newsrooms around the world,” he continues. “These are already operating on a continu- ous news-cycle, which requires them to broadcast every minute of every day. They were also developing a lot of magazine-style content or different programs.” Each of these newsrooms have elements in common. “They all had a flat management structure,” says Mr Mansell, “and a great deal of responsibility is given to people across the floor. They had a lot of control over their content.” Aflatter structure meant the first role to be cut was‘chief of staff’. It wasn’t suited to a 24-hour, multi-platform environment, he says. But Rod Savage puts it more bluntly: “The decision-making process, when it reaches a funnel, just shuts down. “When we’re talking aboutall these different platforms, and the ability to react immediately to how we cover a story and on which platform, it could no longer go through a single newsdesk.” The CoS (‘Coz’ as Australians like to call it) has been replaced by three senior producers. Mr Savage continues:“Wetried to get titles that were platform agnostic and not directly related to the paper or online. They are producing content for all platforms, so there is responsibility for all platforms within the titles,”he says. Beneath the senior producers are series of ‘desk produc- ers’, one each for the Advertiser’s re-structured editorial teams – sport, general news, business, health and education, cops and courts, and entertainment. “The desk producer is responsible for the forward planning of their team, the rostering and daily ideas coming from those teams. They are still journalists and expected to write and pro- duce content as well.” Old roles, such as Sports Editor, have gone. Instead, individual journalists now have much more responsi- bility for how their story progresses throughout its life cycle on each different platform. After reconfiguring the newsroom, does it actually make a difference to the newsroom? Mr Mansell certainly thinks so: “Colleagues are participating at a much earlier point. If they feel like they have a voice they’re not so reticent to come up with ideas. “When they come up with ideas in this way, we hear about them earlier and make decisions earlier.” Paul Starick, news director digital, has been with the Adver- tiser for most of his career and praises the new set-up. “Around the world, a lot of newspapers have created websites and bolted that operation to existing newsrooms,”he says. “We’ve created a different structure so the online and iPad teams are part of the structure. “It’s good on one level to feel like you’re pioneering some- thing that’s working, and then more importantly it’s good to be able to cover the news more effectively - because that’s why we’re journalists.” – Meeting with desk producers, video producer, and photographic editor. A 15-minute discussion of the day’s big stories, outline approach on the“big hits”. Rod Savage comments:“Because any news floor can get bogged down in endless news lists and nitty gritty detail, and then the conversation ends up going nowhere and you talk about something that ends up on page 33.” – News conference. Outline coverage of stories across all platforms: iPad, newspaper, online, and e-Edition. – Journalists and editors provide updates on stories via instant messenger. – Meeting. Discuss 4pm iPad edition and newspaper coverage. Less talk about online ideas unless it’s for the next day’s coverage. – News conference. Mr Savage calls it a“heads up display”. It covers what stories will be big in the next day’s newspaper, and that affects online coverage. Mr Savage says:“It’s forcing forward planning onto people, so they actually think beyond the immediate, which in a newsroom is difficult because you’re worried about the immediate all the time.” – Page 1 conference. IT’S not just the content of the conference that’s chang- ing – it’s also in a new location. Conferences and meetings are now held at a long table about the height of a bar in the centre of the newsroom. Without seats, staff lean on the table or stand. Mr Mansell says the concept for moving the news conference into the centre of the newsroom is used extensively in Scandinavia. “People can hear what’s going on – everybody is in- vited, often they are just walking past and they’ll stop and listen. Often the reporter of a story we are discuss- ing is very close and you can just call them over. “People realise this is part of the collaborative proc- ess. They can see, hear, and take part in what’s going on. It’s been hugely successful.” Scan the QR code with your phone to watch extended interviews, or go to www.mediaplanet.org.au A GANG of armed robbers was on the rampage. When Mr Starick arrived in the newsroom at 7:30am, the rob- bers were still on the loose. “There’d been three robberies, and one of them targeted the cafe of well-known pie-maker Vili Milisits, who sells his pies across Australia,” Mr Starick recalls. “Immediately, we decided to get a video of Vili, talking about what it was like to be held at gunpoint. We had the video journal- ist running around to all the different incidents, getting as much video as we could.” By 8:30am, Mr Mansell arrived. A plan had already been agreed on how the team were going to progress the story across our digital platforms for the day, plus they had ideas of the next day, too. “We rolled out picture galleries and video of the crime scenes,” Mr Starick says. “We led the e-edition with Vili. We had an interactive map showing where the crimes had occurred, we had reader com- ment and we had a poll, ‘Are our streets safe?’” They were then able to point to these online features in the next day’s edition of The Advertiser. “It’s closing the loop on the newscycle. We use the paper to drive online and online to help drive the paper, and that helps give readers a voice as well.” THE 10:30am news conference begins with news director digital Paul Starick presenting stats for stories on various digital platforms. “What I’m trying to do is show the broader newsroom managers and leaders how things are progressing, particularly online and a bit on the iPad. “I show them what’s driving traffic and explain some of the trends because that helps tailor our content to the reader. “I’m not saying we make our decisions around that. For example, I kept Egypt up at the top for a long time, even though it wasn’t do- ing a lot of traffic, because it was the most important news story.” Mr Starick says his briefing “helps to explain what add-ons we’re doing. It gets people thinking about how we drive traffic through a video, or an interactive map, or a gallery.”