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DOING MORE WITH LESS: The Guardian's smooth move to platform-neutral integration

DOING MORE WITH LESS: The Guardian's smooth move to platform-neutral integration

To mark the relaunch of the Editors Weblog, the World Editors Forum is running a special series entitled "Doing More with Less." The series highlights major trends that editors-in-chief are using to steer their newsrooms through the difficult economic climate. The first in the series studies newsroom integration at the UK daily, The Guardian, which has recently moved into a new building with intentions to combine its print and online staff.

Guardian News & Media recently integrated its print and online operations, The Guardian, The Observer and the website Guardian.co.uk, having moved to new premises last month. The Editors Weblog spoke to Paul Johnson, Guardian Deputy Editor and overall head of news, business and sport, and Nick Watt, Chief Political Correspondent, to find out details.

Changing offices was essential to the integration process. Paul Johnson emphasized how "we couldn't make the big leap until we moved to the new building." Previously, five different buildings housed the Guardian's 1400 staff, including around 850 journalists. Guardian News & Media has now taken three and a half floors of the new King's Place development: a brand new building also housing a concert hall, with notable green credentials and which is, as Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger described it, "a thing of beauty." Nearly all journalistic staff are now sitting together on one floor.

The Guardian's new building is a "thing of beauty", according to Editor-in-Chief Alan Rusbridger.

However despite the integration, staff will work hard to maintain the different voices of the two papers and the website. According to Johnson, "we recognise that a distinctiveness is necessary. We are not attempting to bulldoze this into a flat surface." The Observer will retain eight dedicated journalists who will write for the Web but who will focus on the Sunday paper, and under the platform-neutral "heads of" there will be separate section editors for each platform which each subject area.

A group of 111 journalists, plus management staff, were involved in developing ideas for integration as part of what Johnson described as "a bottom-up, consensual process," very different to that of The Daily Telegraph, for example. One of the methods used to spark ideas was inventing different story scenarios and making journalists tackle them; from this it emerged that "we didn't necessarily have the right resources in the right place at the right time and we built around that," Johnson explained.

Centralised but devolved

'Platform-neutral' is one of the key terms of the new newsroom: heads of national news, international news, business and sport are all described as 'platform-neutral.' Key to integration is the new newsdesk, which deals with both print and online and centralises operations. "It's a real hub," Johnson commented, seating 19 people, including both web and paper heads for national news, international news, and business news. Nick Watt explained how the very fact that these people are sitting together makes a huge difference, as when he is working on a story with the home news editor and the business editor, he now only has to call one number and the decision making process happens much faster. "You get rid of the 'us and them' element.

"Being in one building means greatly improved communication, said Johnson, "compared to being on four or five different sites, you feel a lot closer." A major communication point for the day is an open door morning meeting. Following a small meeting for senior staff in Rusbridger's office, anybody who wishes to can come to a larger meeting, which is broadcast on screens around the office. Incidentally, a management consultancy firm hired to help with integration recommended against the word 'meeting', so these gatherings are now known as 'checkpoints'.

The devolved aspect of the newsroom, equally crucial to the integration process, is the "pods" system. Print and online journalists have been grouped together by area of specialization such as health, education, politics or media and technology, into so-called pods, which can then publish autonomously straight onto the Web site. The pods range in size from five people to 28, and usually include reporters, sub editors for the paper, site editors for online, and a head who is platform neutral. Nick Watt explained that the political journalists now all work in one pod and report to Will Woodward, head of politics, who works for all three platforms and decides which stories to follow and where they will go.

In the "pods" system, print and online journalists of the same specialization are grouped together and are able to publish straight to the web.

This is a significant change from the traditional "funnel" structure of the newsroom where all stories would go through a single editor. Nearly all of the pods are in the main newsroom, a couple are on the floor above and some members of the politics pod are still based at the House of Commons. All of the arts journalists sit together in an area known as the culture hub.

Multimedia focus

A multimedia training day was offered to all staff in advance of integration, and according to Johnson, the take up has been "extremely good in terms of numbers." Possibly surprisingly, it has not been just the younger staff who were enthusiastic; "some of the people who have been the best exponents of different styles of journalism have been some of the more experienced journalists and correspondents."

The new building houses what Johnson described as "a fantastic multimedia suite", with seven recording studios and 24 editing desks. And he says that so far staff have been showing a considerable "appetite for video, picture galleries and interactive graphics which are vitally important for us." The pictures desk is now fully integrated, and most of the photographers and a lot of the reporters are now trained in video. Video production is being taken seriously: in 2008 the Guardian was the first newspaper to win a Royal Television Society award.

No cost-cutting

An extremely positive side to the Guardian's integration process is that unlike, unfortunately, many other integrating newsrooms, the merger of print and Web teams has not resulted in layoffs. There have been some voluntary redundancies, but total staff numbers have not been reduced. "It's not a cost-cutting exercise," Johnson stressed. He explained that "we wanted to make this change within budget, without cutting our headcount." The essential detail to grasp is that it is about reallocation rather than reduction: "what we have done is repositioned resources towards the web." Rather, the measures taking have been to maintain "journalistic excellence, and to free up some of the resources we have got to focus on getting our work out there."

Success?

Johnson was very confident that integration is going well so far. The necessary changes in mindset were largely made over the year of preparation prior to the move, particularly during two integration "dry runs" which were implemented for the Olympics and the US elections. He claimed that "people seem to be embracing the changes and people have been very positive about it across the board." One of the main reasons for this, he explained, is that journalists love to see their work published "in different forms and in different ways." After all, it is exciting to file a story and see it appear on the website almost immediately. Nick Watt was also enthusiastic about the changes: "it's much more collaborative and much more efficient."

It will be interesting to see whether the publications succeed in maintaining their distinct voices, and what sort of increase in multimedia content there is. As the Guardian is in the fortunate situation of being highly successful and run by a trust which reduces financial pressure, integration is a choice rather than a obligation, and the necessary time and effort has been spent to ensure a smooth transition.



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Author

Emma Goodman's picture

Emma Goodman

Date

2009-01-05 15:05

The World Editors Forum is the organization within the World Association of Newspapers devoted to newspaper editors worldwide. The Editors Weblog (www.editorsweblog.org), launched in January 2004, is a WEF initiative designed to facilitate the diffusion of information relevant to newspapers and their editors.


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