The story is king in news revolution
Last year, Archant began a newsroom revolution that changed the way content is gathered and accessed by its community-based audiences.
For decades the process of creating stories for readers has remained largely unchanged, with reporters and sub-editors assigned to particular newspapers.
The internet saw the process remain much the same, with stories published in print and then on the web.
With the ever-changing media landscape enabling people to consume news and information via many different channels, it's vital to find new processes so Archant can develop its position in the communities it serves.
Archant appointed IFRA – the global organisation of the world's newspapers and news publishers – to conduct a six-month review that looked at every aspect of the process, from news-gathering to final publication.
While each of Archant Regional's divisions have set up their new editorial structures in slightly different ways, the emphasis is firmly placed on effective planning that will deliver a better service and allow content to be created and delivered through multiple channels.
'For many years, our newspapers were dominated by print deadlines and print thinking.
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We're now asking our journalists to embrace the different disciplines of creating stories for distribution on-line, via mobile phones, social networking sites, videocasts, podcasts – even live football match commentary,' explains James Foster, editorial projects director, Archant Regional.
The Welwyn Hatfield Times was the first part of Archant to implement the cultural changes.
WHT chief reporter, Kelly-Ann Kiernan, explains:'The cultural changes didn't come easily – we had to rethink the way we worked.
But in essence, one thing has remained the same.
As my editor, Terry Mitchinson, would say 'the story is king'.
'The first thing we do is decide how good the story is and how many of our readers it will affect before we decide how to treat it.
There's no point throwing all the multi-media tools we have at a small story.
'As a paid-for title, it's also important for us to provide different content in print to what we publish on-line.
The team here has really risen to the challenge.'
At Archant Norfolk, the project saw a huge culture change for its journalists.
The 140 editorial staff of two daily newspapers and 13 weeklies were combined as a single multi-title team led by distinct brand editors and joint content editors.
Brand editors are responsible for every aspect of the title brand, including all digital elements as well as the printed newspaper.
The Norwich team moved to a different floor at Prospect House, enabling the clustering of groups around a central news hub.
The second phase was the integration of multi-media thinking into the newsroom.
Archant Suffolk has also changed its editorial process and adopted new ideas.
No longer do reporters write for one title only.
They tailor their copy for the East Anglian Daily Times, the Evening Star and their news websites.
'We expect our writers and reporters to understand that we have two distinct daily brands with different markets, even if they have overlapping geographical areas,' says East Anglian Daily Times deputy editor Dominic Castle.
'The internal divisions between newspapers were restricting development,' adds James.
'Eliminating those divisions ensures stories end up in the right medium at the right time so our content has maximum impact.
Journalists are being trained to think about planning content and making decisions at the start of the story creation process.
They will consider where the story should be used and what additional elements, such as video, sound and graphics, will be needed to give the reader the very best experience.' Part of this cultural change requires reporters to think about images, multi-media, cross-references, links and follow-ups as well.
All of Archant's newrooms are now 'real-time' operations where print deadlines have been replaced by a combination of rolling deadlines throughout the day and instant deadlines created when stories break.
'All our newspapers are being run as daily newsrooms, but with variable print deadlines and frequency.
None of our competitors will beat us in terms of timing – and as our record of being involved in our communities is second to none, we're not going to be beaten on content either,' adds James.
When it comes to publishing stories on the web, James explains that digital publishing is more than just pouring out the content of the newspaper on-line.
'Firstly, it makes for flat and lifeless websites, and we're keen to make sure our audience is interested in our products in print and on-line.' Archant's policy on website updates centres around repeat visits – four editions a day, plus breaking news, so audiences can be guaranteed fresh stories whenever they come back.
'But that doesn't mean breaking news is held,' assures James.
'We're still in the business of breaking news and winning exclusives.' Eastern Daily Press brand editor, Peter Waters, who was also head of convergence for the project in Norfolk, says:'The IFRA-led six-month review was a wake-up call for all of us.
It was good to get everybody, from grass-roots reporter to graphic journalist, thinking about aspects such as audience trends, brand development and web consumption.
But key to the process was reassuring everyone that, while we want to grow on-line audiences, newspapers will still play a huge part in this Company's future.
'Getting employees to understand where we are going as a business and where they fitted in was pivotal to the project's success and, despite early reservations, everybody quickly adapted to working as a united team.'