The Editors Weblog has been following the Integrated Newsroom trend for several years. Major papers around the world from the Guardian to the New York Times to Kuwait's Awan, and the Hindustan Times of India have merged print and online operations. But there are plenty of papers that haven't taken the integrated route. In the following article, Espen Egil Hansen, Editor-in-Chief of Verdens Gang (VG) Multimedia, Norway, shows that keeping print and digital teams separate at his paper have led to steady profits for both newsrooms.
I am generally sceptical of the idea of one media house, one newsroom. When was the last time anyone won both the 100 meter dash and marathon during an Olympic game?
There are two fundamental issues that call for a greater degree of separation and specialization - what I like to call the model of focus.
First and foremost; newspaper and internet are by nature so diverse that they demand completely different working methods and organizations in order to succeed. This applies at all levels: in the editorial department, sales, distribution and management. To argue that "newspaper" and "online news" are the same because both are news, makes as much sense as saying that a roaring river and a glass of water are the same because both are water.
"The newspaper and the internet are by nature so diverse that they demand completely different working methods and organizations in order to succeed."
The strength of the online journalism is the possibility to develop the product minute by minute, interacting with the readers. Their experience and presence (the readers are where we aren't, they know what we don't) becomes an integrated part of the continuous journalistic working process. An article does not have a deadline, the readers submits comments, we ad links and so on.
The strengths of the newspaper are opposite. Towards deadline one search for the most exclusive story and the best possible angle on another story. These stories are then being thoroughly edited and presented on a limited space.
While internet by nature has its strength in that the users themselves can choose from a stream of information (the roaring river), the strength of the newspaper is its well edited presentations (the glass of water with a twist of lemon).
"The idea of integration is a threat both to the printed product and for the online news site."
Furthermore, the basic differences in business models, rate of development, distribution and so on are also so substantial that they in my opinion demands specialized organizations in order to succeed.
The second fundamental issue that calls for a greater degree of separation is that we are living in the middle of a media climate change! The glaciers (the traditional publishing houses) are melting, the storms (the competitors) are getting violent and coming from unexpected places, and the changing circumstances for life are such that ancient species must succumb to new ones (goodbye Tribune - hello Facebook)
Where we earlier had to cope with a certain number of newspaper and channels on TV and radio, we are now exposed to an infinite offer of information wherever we are. As I am writing this, on one of the first days of 2009, I am simultaneously following one of many Twitter-feeds reporting a new round of bombing in Gaza. The news agencies will report the same stories during the next hour, but without the nerve and credibility of someone who are in the midst of the falling bombs...
"As I am writing this I am simultaneously following one of many Twitter-feeds reporting a new round of bombing in Gaza."
In this entirely new media landscape, I believe the specialists will win. The ones that are best adapted and that are able to change fast enough. What until now has been regarded as the power of publishing houses - tradition, position, stability and financial security - is now turning to become a weakness.
The idea of integration is in my opinion a threat both to the printed product and for the online news site. To the printed product because the integration in a way conceals a level of costs and way of working that is not sustainable in the long run. And the threat to the online site is that it will inherit the way of working, organizing and a level of cost that is not competitive in this market.
In the publishing house of VG we have, with success, chosen the model of focus. We have two companies, two boards, to editorial departments, to chief editors, two managing directors and so on. We cooperate where appropriate for both organizations (which means a lot), but at the same time we are free to choose whatever necessary in order to succeed on our own platform. We've made some tough choices. While down-sizing by 100 people in the print organization we hired 40 more online. No one was moved from print to online. With this model of focus we've achieved the number one position online and in the print market. Both editions have for the last couple of years been very profitable.
Our success is obviously not a guarantee for this model of focus being the best one in the years to come. Neither is our success with the model a guarantee that it will work in all other media houses, and markets. It makes greater sense to integrate if you're at a number two position (or lower), than if you are leading in the market. The current financial turmoil is accelerating the media climate change, and we must constantly evaluate whether our organization is optimal.