Posts about telegraph

In the Telegraph newsroom

One morning last week, I went to the Telegraph‘s offices hard by Victoria station to see the brand new newsroom they love to brag about. More than a year ago, as they were planning the move and the future of the paper in the digital age, Edward Roussel, who was about to join the paper to edit Telegraph.co.uk, and a colleague visited me in New York. Now I got to visit him and see the end result.

It’s a beautiful facility, still shiny, neat, and clean. It won’t stay like that. Newsrooms never do.

They set the conference table — every newsroom has a big one for its big meetings — in the middle of the room. So now the news meetings are open and anyone can come and hover and listen. The same is true at the Guardian; I sat in on one of their meetings last year as people came by to talk about the news and the paper. This is not something I’ve ever experienced in the papers I’ve worked at in America; openness there was defined as enclosing that big conference table in soundproof glass.

Radiating out from the table are rows of desks: editors of various stripes in the first circle, reporters in the next. And the desks stretch out far in either direction. They were rearranging some desks already. Roussel said the Sunday paper was moving closer to the center and the action. In the UK, Sunday papers are more separate operations. At the Guardian, the Sunday paper, the Observer, has its own staff in its own offices across the street. When I became Sunday editor of the New York Daily News, the last pretense of having a separate staff disappeared. Peter Wilby in the British Journalism Review speculates that the fate of the Telegraph’s Sunday paper may be similar:

The future direction of the paper is unclear and, if daily journalists are to work round the clock in the Telegraph’s digital universe, without distinction between print, podcast or pdf, it is hard to see why Sunday print should be deemed a separate category.

With the Guardian also moving to a web-first, web-preeminent, 7/24, omnimedia world, one has to wonder about the fate of all Britain’s Sunday papers. I’m especially struck by the double-whammy of thick and juicy Saturday papers (ours in the US are so thin and dry) followed by separate but equally ripe Sunday papers. As long as the ad revenue and circulation are there, they’ll continue to be plump and published. But one has to wonder whether the best way to produce them is with separate staffs. I’m a foreigner, though, and don’t understand the subtleties of this newspaper biorhythm in the UK.

Back to the newsroom: On a wall overseeing the action, they project their web site, other web sites and shows, and a round-robin of statistics like those they put in the paper: most-emailed, most-read, their stats versus those of competitors…. They are very stats conscious at the Telegraph, also handing out lists of these lists before meetings. They will insist that they don’t edit the paper this way; no journalist in an organization is quite ready to hand over the pencil to the Digg mob. But they clearly are very conscious of what is clicking and they do adjust accordingly. It is one way they listen.

Upstairs, on the opposite wall, the CEO looks down on his domain. The sales staff also looks down on the cost center. And it’s up there that they hide the conference rooms to try to make them inconvenient, to discourage too many meetings (the curse of any paper).

As they prepared to operate in new space in new ways, the Telegraph ran 14 weeks of training for staff, a week at a time, getting them to make new media but, more importantly, getting them to think about the different ways stories could be presented. The staffers were given stories and had to work out how they’d cover them across any and all media, then they went out to make the stories. It sounds as if the goal was less to teach the tools and more to open up judgment over news and presentation. I’ll be talking with the editor who ran the training to hear more soon.

After breakfast, I sat with Shane Richmond, the paper’s premier blogger (at least in our world) and communities editor. He has been with the paper for some years, always on the digital side. I asked him how much of a difference the new newsroom is making in the culture of the place. Digital, he explained, started early at the Telegraph but was initially a marketing product. It became editorial but was still on separate floors, different classes. Now they are together and he sees a big difference in how the staff is working together across media.

* * *

Of course, there have been bigger changes organizationally than architecturally at the Telegraph. This is about people and how they work more than where they work, I’ll argue; it’s about the product more than the property. And Peter Wilby in the British Journalism Review tells the story of the organizational upheaval at the paper. I have talked often about the need to explode newsrooms. Well, in more than one sense of the word, the Telegraph has dynamited its own. One can see this as turmoil; that is the way it has been painted in the media press (including the Guardian where, remember, I write and consult). But one could also see this as the master plan, the fuse that leads to that dynamite. Wilby writes:

The incumbent editors of the Daily and Sunday Telegraph have gone. So have their successors (one of them never more than a mere “acting editor”). Every senior management figure has been replaced. The entire marketing department left, along with the top 16 people in advertising. On the daily, the deputy editor, an assistant editor, the comment editor, the foreign editor, the managing editor, the City editor (and his deputy), the picture editor, the features editor and even the editor’s long-serving secretary have all departed, after resignations or sackings. The staff leader-writing team has been disbanded. The Washington bureau chief, the Washington correspondent, the New York correspondent and the Paris correspondent have been axed. . . .

Almost nobody who works or has worked for the company would deny the need for change. The Telegraph group, after all, is famed not just for the Conservatism of its politics, but for the conservatism of its working habits. When Max Hastings took over as editor of The Daily Telegraph in 1986, he found the average age of the arts critics was 72. Book-keeping was still done on paper, in longhand. . . .

The effect, extraordinary as it may seem, is perhaps intended. Erratic and capricious management can work if each apparently whimsical decision is announced with complete confidence, with no apology for or even acknowledgement of any previous decision. It is important, in particular, to put nothing on paper, to ignore requests for information or elucidation, and to ensure that no individual manager admits personal responsibility for any particular course of action. Opponents are left in confusion, their morale undermined. If MacLennan and his cohorts are trying to organise a revolution, their tactics, including provoking a journalists’ strike over the complete lack of negotiation or consultation, begin to make sense. There was, moreover, a distinct whiff of a Kulturkampf. The old oak tables and panels were removed from the boardroom in favour of glass and chrome, and the wine stocks sold. Plans to celebrate The Daily Telegraph’s 150th anniversary were cancelled. Journalists began to hear talk, wafting down from management floors, of how they were like a “country club” – effete, over-privileged, backward-looking. Does one detect here a hint of class war, as the suburban, lower middle-class Mail types took on the country house toffs of the Telegraph? . . .

With the cuts safely completed, and the papers ready for the move to Victoria, the management finally showed its hand. The new editor of The Daily Telegraph would be Will Lewis, aged 37. . . .

So is Lewis, in effect, just another management man? Will he even edit the Telegraph in the normal sense of the term, given that an able and powerful deputy, Ian MacGregor (also from the Associated stable), has just joined? Management would probably reply (I have to speculate, because repeated requests for an interview with MacLennan were ignored) that, in the multimedia world, an editor in the traditional sense has no meaning.

Yes, it’s about more than desks. See also my next post about other newsrooms, below.

The new news(room)

The debate about how to organize newsrooms continues throughout the industry. The Telegraph is bringing together the digital and print staffs (see my post and video above). The Washington Post has them apart. The New York Times and the Guardian are both getting ready to move into new newsrooms and we’ll see how they operate. I know other editors who are debating now how to rebuild their newsrooms — organizationally, operationally, and physically — to bridge the future. And a smart editor I know said all this doesn’t matter so much because the demands of the news and its products will drive the rest.

I’m not sure what the answer is. But I do think that the challenge is primarily cultural: How do you stop journalists from being limited by their medium, from that getting in the way of serving, interacting with, and enabling the public to find out and share what it needs to know. How do you empower the journalists to get and tell and improve stories using any and all appropriate media, tools, and connections, anytime? That’s why I think the Telegraph’s training is more important than its room (again, see the post below).

As I plan the continuing education program at CUNY, I have been questioning lots of editors and trying to figure out myself how to help break down those barriers of medium, skills, and culture. I think this comes in two phases. The first, as the Telegraph did, is to open up the staff to new possibilities, to show them that they can now chose any medium and make new kinds of news immediately; it’s a new kind of news judgment. The second phase is to improve specific skills (better audio, better video, sharper slideshows).

At the Guardian, I spoke with Dan Chung, a brilliant photographer who is now making video. We talked about how good — how slick, how professional, how orthodox — a newspaper’s video should be. The way he posed the question was: better or more? I say more. Indeed, in some ways, rougher is better: more authentic, closer to the source, more inventive. Online video should not ape broadcast TV, nor podcasts radio, anymore than the text web should have aped print (though, of course, it did).

But, of course, this is about more than just tools. It’s about new connections. Two-way news. Possibilities. Experimentation. Culture. How do you organize a new newsroom around that?

I say if you want to be really radical, the walls to break down are not between digital and print but between the newsroom and the world. Is it more important for journalists to be talking with each other or with the public who knows and wants to know?

I know that sounds like just a cheap, gimmicky line, hardly practical (because it is). But there’s still something there. I have heard a few people say that reporters’ desks should be their cars. I wouldn’t take that literally, either. But I would make it a cultural quest: the more you are out there, physically or virtually, the better you will do your job.

When I was a columnist on the San Francisco Examiner — writing six days a week, 1,500 words a day, forever in search of the few item-crumbs legendary Chronicle columnist Herb Caen dropped between dots — I remember the managing editor giving me the evil eye one day because, from my perch at the head of the newsroom, I was able to see everything that happened and gossip about it. “Damn it, Jarvis,” he scolded, “I pay you to be the town crier, not the office crier.” He was right.

So what does this mean for newsroom design? I’m not sure. An ad agency got lots of press for giving people no desk but only a locker; they were to spend time out of the office with clients or grouped together in teams inside and so they never put out roots at desks. That’s another cheap, gimmicky idea. Again, I don’t think it’s about where the desks are.

Maybe the thing to do is to add lots of empty desks and make those the places where people from the community can come in and work, share, learn and teach. Yes, but who?

Maybe it’s about buying every journalist at T-Mobile account (with a bonus coffee card) and sending them out to work in Starbucks, where they can talk with people they don’t know, most days of the week. And put a little sign on the table: ‘Starbucks Bureau. Please come in.’

You could hold those all-important meetings online and live (some are experimenting with that).

Here’s an idea I tried to push when I was advising Advance on the start of a local all-news network (that got stymied and drastically dulled down by Cablevision): How about setting up the newsroom in a mall, our new town square, and mingling with the people formerly known as the masses?

Gimmicks, all. But the point is that when you’re redesigning newsrooms, you need to redesign habits and brains and job descriptions and skills while moving the furniture — or else you’ll be moving the furniture on the Titanic.

I’ll be talking with another editor at the Telegraph soon about their training program because I think that’s the change that’s going to make the real difference. We’ll see.

: LATER: Thanks to Mark Potts, and relevant to the two posts above and countless below, I just caught up with the full http://“>announcement of impressive updates at the LA Times. Note the trends above and below: web first and training. This is the kind of talk I hope to hear from American papers:

Los Angeles Times Editor James E. O’Shea unveiled a major initiative Wednesday to combine operations of the newspaper and its Internet site — a change he said was crucial to ensuring that The Times remains a premier news outlet.

O’Shea employed dire statistics on declining print advertising revenue to urge The Times’ 940 journalists to throw off a “bunker mentality” and view latimes.com as the paper’s primary vehicle for delivering news.

In his first significant action since becoming editor in mid-November, O’Shea said he would create the position of editor for innovation and launch a crash course for journalists to push ahead the melding of the newspaper and its website.

O’Shea named Business Editor Russ Stanton to the innovation post and said the “Internet 101″ course would teach reporters, editors and photographers to become “savvy multimedia journalists,” able to enhance their writing with audio and video reports. He emphasized the need for speed in reforming an operation that he called “woefully behind” the competition. . . .

The Spring Street committee, named for The Times’ downtown address, produced a scathing report that has been seen by only a few of the newspaper’s top editors and executives.

“As a news organization, we are not Web-savvy,” the seven-page report says. “If anything, we are Web-stupid.” . . .

“We are rarely first” to post news on the Internet, the Spring Street committee found. The committee cited an instance recently when a truck carrying hay caught fire on the Hollywood Freeway, sending up a plume of smoke that alarmed commuters. “We told readers nothing of the incident until the following morning,” the committee said.

A philosophical clash between the website’s top two employees — General Manager Rob Barrett and Joel Sappell, an assistant managing editor at the paper and executive editor of the website — also “hampered the site’s ability to grow,” the report says. Barrett wanted the site to focus on “hyper-local” reports, to deliver Southern California readers information about their communities. Sappell argued for building “communities of affinity” rather than geography. . . .

Barrett said that about 77% of latimes.com viewers came from outside Southern California — an audience that is not attractive to advertisers who want to reach local customers. The site intends to expand local coverage substantially to grab a bigger local audience, Barrett said.

Previous editorial regimes emphasized international coverage and ego over local service. It took the company guy from Chicago to set a better path.

Media wars

I spent some time on the phone this morning with Ed Roussel, head of online for the Telegraph, as he was quite properly crowing about the paper-site’s scoop last night on the hiring of BBC Chairman Michael Grade by struggling ITV. It’s big and surprising news in the U.K. and Telegraph editor-at-large Jeff Randall, a former BBC business editor, got the story way ahead of the competition — which, as Roussel enumerated, includes the BBC, which lost its boss; Murdoch’s Sky, which just invested in ITV; and the Guardian, the Telegraph’s fiercest competitor, which emphasizes its media coverage. The Telegraph has been taking its lumps from that fierce competitor for its shakeups and layoffs but I’m sympathetic on that score; revolution is not painless.

But I was curious about how the Telegraph’s integration of online and print in its much-vaunted Star Wars was going. Roussel said the Grade story was a model for how it should work on a new platform that can cut across all media and tools: The story went online at 9:50 p.m. and in no time, they put up audio and video and more content, forcing those competitors listed above to attribute the news to the Telegraph. Roussel said there is no more debate about putting stories online first. He said they are gaining advantage by hiring people like Randall, who have TV experience, and also by sending all staff through a week’s multimedia training. And he argued that the Telegraph newsroom — which puts him next to his print counterparts and tries to break down the barriers among departments and media — “made a huge difference, and I’m not bullshitting you” in getting last night’s scoop out. I asked what the endpoint is and how far along they are toward it. Roussel said it is when journalists respond like Randall, telling the story in all appropriate media: “Here’s your tool kid; how are you going to use it?” He thinks they are two-thirds of the way there.

Interestingly, Roussel argues that not only the newsroom is changing but so is the public. He says that people are more likely now to join in collaborative. They are getting soldiers to video their experiences in Afghanistan and Iraq (some of it too gruesome to show, Roussel says). And when they asked their readers to show the impact of warming on their gardens (there will always be an England), more than 600 sent in photos. Networked journalism, that is.

Roussel emphasizes that that they are not getting it all right and that they have contractual issues with print and online staff, workflow issues primarily involving production, and technical issues (what newspaper doesn’t?). But he says that the full story of the Telegraph’s successes is not being told.

Because I’m a media wonk, I’m fond of the coverage of the industry in British papers — it may be a bit much for some but I wish we had more such coverage here. And I also wish we had more competition here, for that would improve this coverage. By this afternoon, the Guardian responded late, by necessity, but compensated with volume; I count 27 links to coverage, including even a special-edition podcast. The Independent had up just a few links, but the BBC had more than a dozen. Sadly, the Press Gazette folded this week, so it was silent. Overdose? Not for media porn junkies. And that is the real moral to this story: competition is good for it is spawning innovation.

(Disclosures: I write and have consulted for the Telegraph’s fierce competitor and I was also introducing Roussel to Daylife).