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Types of newsrooms in a digital/print environment

The last few years have seen publishing houses all over the world begin to adapt their editorial products, services, infrastructure and IT. The catalyst for this transformation is the rapidly changing needs of a once traditional print audience who are now moving towards the new opportunities of the digital world.

More and more, editorial departments consider digital channels as important as the print medium. Newspaper brands now offer audio and video stories on their websites or via mobile services and push interactive services such as blogs and discussion forums. These changes and diversification of products and services inevitably have an impact on workflows, roles and structures in an editorial department.

In order to achieve the goal to offer new products and services, a wide range of organisational concepts and strategies were conceived by editorial management. Some of these concepts were the incremental next step of a process of evolutionary development. Others followed a more radical approach to changing every inch of how their newsroom operates.

Looking at the organisational concepts that have been realised in editorial departments, we can see three main structural types:

Newroom 1.0

The first type, let’s call it ‘Newsroom 1.0’ or the ‘multiple media newsroom’, provides dedicated editorial resources for each platform that is serviced by the publishing houses. This results in separate editorial units for the print edition and for the online site. The “low-cost version” would be one or a few editors who take the copy of the print edition, possibly rewrite the copy and put it on the website. This can happen either before the story was published in the print edition or after the newspaper has hit the stands.

On the other side of the spectrum there is a fully equipped editorial department with online reporters and online editors who do their own research and content generation and run the web site as more or less as a separate channel from the printed edition. These kinds of online editorial operation can be either part of the print editorial or sometimes even a separate company with its own P&L.

No matter what shape this type has, the responsibility for the print and the online channel are divided between different people with often an editor for the printed edition and an online editor. The content generation, editing and production is by and large divided between the print and the online world.

There are still a lot of newsroom in the world that operate on these principles.

Newsroom 2.0

The second type, that can be distinguished, ‘Newsroom 2.0’ or the ‘cross media newsroom’, works on the principle that the content gatherers generate the content for all channels served by the editorial department. There are different responsibilities for each channel, but the different sections (news, sport, features etc.) generate the content for print and online and also provide other formats such as video for the web or audio and also provide input for Web-TV or Radio.

This matrix organisation very often needs an “moderator” or “conductor”. This roles is responsible for the total output of the editorial department on e.g. print, online, radio and TV. He primarily handles the discussions between the different channel responsible editors in terms of priorisation of channels and the decision, what content goes when and where. Finally he is some kind of referee who balances the different and potentially conflicting request that are issued by each channel to the different content groups.

Newsroom 3.0

The third type, Newsroom 3.0 or the ‘integrated newsroom’, aims to provide content on multiple channels by integrating the complete news flow across print and digital media from the planning to the production. In this type, there is no single responsible person for each channel. The responsibility for the coverage of stories across print and digital channels is with the section head. Therefore, there is no online department as in type 1 or an online editor as in type 2.

This concept follows the premise that the topic owner knows best how a story should be built up well timed across the different channels by using the appropriate format. There is no “us” and “them” between the different channels and no conflict between different people or teams regarding where to break a story for instance. The story owner decides what aspect of a story is told on which channel with a certain format.

Newsoom layout and mindset change

All media houses who have adopted one of these newsrooms types have, to varying degrees, found out that it is imperative to see that the physical layout is just one piece of the jigsaw and that only building a central news desk is by far not sufficient to become a newsroom that works in a platform agnostic way that provides content for print and digital channels.

The leverage to utilise the potentials of all the print and digital tools lies in the new ways of working with the workflows, the roles and responsibilities, the skills and, above all, in the mindset and attitude of the entire staff. This is what makes the real difference.

The changes which need be accomplished by the newspaper publishing houses in order to keep reaching their existing audience and to reach new target groups, are not primarily a question of infrastructure, newsroom layout or working environment.

The main area of change needs to happen in the head of the people. Digital media and new formats are an endless repertoire of tools for print journalists to tell stories in a compelling way. As soon as the attitude of an editorial department follows a “story teller with new tools” mentality, the other changes in workflows, structures and environment are a logical consequence of that.

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