The integrated newsroom

The Press Gazette yesterday published an interesting although somewhat vague article on The Guardian’s moves to the ‘integrated newsroom’, a term that is sure to become the buzz-word of the mainstream media in the coming months and years.

The Guardian’s mission, headed up by editor-in-chief Alan Rusbridger, is to merge the editorial operations of The Guardian newspaper, its Sunday sister-title The Observer newspaper and its news website guardian.co.uk. Such a merger comes on the back of similar moves in the US and has many logical advantages – it also creates many serious hurdles.

In Ireland the leader of this particular pack appears to be The Irish Times, which has recently been moving to bring together its print and online operations. Unlike The Guardian, The Irish Times Ltd. does not have a Sunday newspaper to complicate matters further, however it is safe to assume that the majority of its print staff are far less “net-friendly” than their counterparts at The Guardian have been in recent years.

The most obvious step in merging operations like this is the physical aspect. While the editorial staff may all share a building regardless of the medium they work for, in most (if not all) cases in Ireland their offices would be totally separate from one another.

The next step is to create a parity across the newly merged workplace and this has been one of the issues raised in The Irish Times’ plans. At present the Ireland.com journalists get paid less than The Irish Times journalists but if they are expected to be working together and across formats this distinction will have to go.

However, physical and financial aspects of a merger are arguably the least important factors in such a move – it is the editorial changes that make a merger beneficial and logical.

This, of course, is where the real hurdles arise. In a fully-merged newsroom the meaning of the word deadline will change, for example, from being the final point at which copy can be submitted to being the final point at which copy can be changed. In other words journalists may well be expected to write copy early in the day and then adapt and develop it online over the following hours – the final version of this may then make it into print.

This would be a major culture shift for traditional print journalists and could increase their workload significantly – alternatively it could lead to further specialisation for individual journalists with staff being expected to focus on one or two stories throughout the day, chasing it and evolving it as new information arises rather than writing it once and sending it off for print.

One cannot see the veteran or high-profile journalists making this change willingly, though, so if this is how integration develops it may be something that has to be introduced in a more long-term, ground-up style.

One of the interesting things mentioned in the Press Gazette article is the idea that a journalist might now write a story and self-publish it on the newspaper’s website, rather than having to run it by an editor for approval. This could be a huge step towards allowing smaller stories to make it online at least, even if they do not make it to print, however it does raise the question of quality control specifically from a legal and grammatical point of view. Some may see a newspaper’s editorial system as bureaucratic however there’s no question that there would be far more journalists with red faces (and hefty lawsuits) if it did not exist.

The idea of the integrated newsroom is not something that’s going to be easy to develop – but likewise it’s not something that’s going to go away; there’s no doubt that newspapers in the UK and Ireland are certain to be monitoring The Guardian’s experiment to see how it pans out.

In essence integration is about responding to the demands of an increasingly internet-based news media but it is something that has been coming anyway, given the challenges posed by rolling-news on TV and radio. Newspapers and media outlets can no longer think in terms of shifts and deadlines and must now give serious consideration to catering for a constant flow of news rather than the stop/start attitude that the old world of newspapers and fixed news bulletins featured.

There’s a lot to gain, from the editor’s, proprietor’s and readers’ points of view, and most media companies in Ireland could certainly benefit from making the change, if it’s proven to be practical, and it’s not just print media.

RTÉ, with enough work, could eventually merge its TV, radio and online newsrooms into one central operation (which is what the BBC is doing), which would allow for far more cross-pollination of media than currently exists there. At the very least such a change might put an end to the illogical tendency for the broadcaster to have two or even three separate crews covering one story at the same time. Even if it didn’t become the norm for one reporter and crew to file for TV, radio and online, you could even have a situation where three reporters from each aspect of the newsroom share facilities where possible, rather than each having their own fully-fledged team with overlapping tasks and equipment.

The only news outlet that might have trouble merging its newsrooms is Thomas Crosbie Holdings. Unlike most other news organisations its problems would be largely physical rather than anything else. After all, The Examiner‘s main offices are in Cork while The Sunday Business Post is based in Dublin – therefore a proper merger of the two would require a geographical shift East or West for one or the other.

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