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Changing journalism for the likely present

Quinn, Stephen 2008, Changing journalism for the likely present, in CPRF 2008 : Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum 2008, Network Insight Institute, Sydney, N.S.W., pp. 21-29.

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Title Changing journalism for the likely present
Author(s) Quinn, Stephen
Conference name Communications Policy & Research Forum (2008 : Sydney, N.S.W.)
Conference location University of Technology, Sydney, N.S.W.
Conference dates 29-30 September 2008
Title of proceedings CPRF 2008 : Record of the Communications Policy & Research Forum 2008
Editor(s) Papandrea, Franco
Armstrong, Mark
Publication date 2008
Conference series Communications Policy and Research Forum
Start page 21
End page 29
Total pages 409 p.
Publisher Network Insight Institute
Place of publication Sydney, N.S.W.
Summary Media convergence and newsroom integration have become industry buzzwords as the ideas spread through newsrooms around the world. In November 2007 Fairfax Media in Australia introduced the newsroom of the future model, as its flagship newspapers moved into a purpose-built newsroom in Sydney. News Ltd, the country’s next biggest media group, is also embracing multi-media forms of reporting. What are the implications of this development for journalism? This paper examines changes in the practice of journalism in Australia and around the world. It attempts to answer the question: How does the practice of journalism need to change to prepare not for the future, but for the likely present.

Early in November 2007 The Sydney Morning Herald, the Australian Financial Review and the Sun-Herald moved into a new building dubbed the ‘newsroom of the future’ at One Darling Island Road in Sydney’s Darling Harbour precinct. Phil McLean, at the time Fairfax Media’s group executive editor and the man in charge of the move, said three quarters of the entire process involved getting people to ‘think differently’ – that is, to modify their mindset so they could work with multi-media.

The new newsroom symbolised the culmination of a series of major changes at Fairfax. In August 2006 the traditional newspaper company, John Fairfax Ltd, changed its name to Fairfax Media to reflect its multi-platform future. In March 2007 Fairfax launched Australia’s first online-only daily publication in Queensland, In May 2007 Fairfax completed its merger with Rural Press to become the biggest media company in Australasia, with annual revenues of about $2.5 billion and market capitalisation of about $7 billion. Two months later Fairfax got even bigger when it acquired at least one radio station in all Australian capital cities plus television studios when it bought Southern Cross Broadcasting. Fairfax is expected to bid for one of the two digital television licences made available by the changes to media ownership laws promulgated in May 2007.

The aim in moving Fairfax from a print to a multi-platform company was to reach as large an audience as possible. ‘We have a total readership in print of over 4 million per day and online of over 5 million per month’, CEO David Kirk said at the time of the Rural Press merger. ‘Our brand of quality, independent, balanced journalism will serve and support more communities than ever’ (Kirk 2007). A few months earlier chairman Ron Walker had written in the company’s annual report: ‘Fairfax is evolving into a truly digital media company’ (2006: 2). Within five years Fairfax would be a significantly bigger Internet company that distributed its content ‘over more media’, Kirk wrote in the same report (2006: 5).

Kirk developed a three-pronged strategy. The first part of the strategy involved the need to ‘defend and grow our newspaper publishing businesses’ – that is, to consolidate and develop the existing newspapers, whose circulations were holding steady during the week and improving on Saturdays. The second part involved plans to ‘accelerate the revenue and earnings of our digital business’. The third part was ‘to build a digital media company for the twenty-first century’ (Fairfax annual report 2006: 3). In June 2007 Kirk appointed Tim Mannes project leader for the Fairfax Media-Rural Press integration. ‘The purpose of the integration work is to bring the two companies together and build what is truly Australasia’s leading media company’, Mannes wrote in a memo to all staff on 7 June 2007. ‘It’s vital throughout this process that we maintain continuity and momentum and protect the interests and needs of our customers’ (2007: 1).

The business model appears attractive. Kirk said Fairfax’s increased scale and diversity would mean it relied less on classified lineage advertising in major metropolitan newspapers, so it could ‘rapidly develop the best online response to changing media advertising patterns’. In the two years to 2006, online’s contribution to Fairfax’s profits had grown from 1 per cent to 14 per cent with ‘much more to come’. Online’s share of the national advertising pie had grown from 2 per cent in 2002 to 10 per cent in 2006 (Beverley 2007: 6) and had jumped to 14 per cent in 2007. Analysts said they were happy with Fairfax’s move ‘from a newspaper company to a media company’ and banks such as Credit Suisse upgraded their profits forecast (AFR 19 September 2007: 37).

Planning for the move to One Darling Island Road in Sydney’s Darling Harbour started early in 2006. Fairfax CEO David Kirk took personal responsibility. He and chairman Ron Walker visited integrated sites around the world, along with a group of editorial bosses. The favoured site was The Daily Telegraph in London, which embraced convergence from June 2006. CEO Murdoch McLennan hired a consultant from Ifra, Dr Dietmar Schantin, director of the Newsplex, to facilitate the move from mono-media to multi-media at The Telegraph. Schantin said change was less about new technologies and more about altering the established mindset. The focus must be on the audience: ‘The whole idea of audience orientation seems to be quite new for some newspapers. In the past it was more “we know what is good for our readers and so we distribute the content”.’ Newspapers were a service industry whose service was information and news, he said. Newspapers had to learn to ‘serve’ its audience with the things the audience wanted to know, on any appropriate platform. ‘We start from the audience. What they want is a very important point. That does not mean that a newspaper should just do what the audience wants. The newspaper [also] needs to stick
to its core values’ (Luft 2006, Coleman 2007: 5).

Tom Curley, CEO of the world’s biggest newsgathering organisation, Associated Press, gave an important speech to the annual Knight-Bagehot dinner in New York in November 2007. The news industry had come to a fork in the road and needed to take bold steps to secure the audiences and funding to support journalism’s essential role for both the economy and democracy, he said. Otherwise the media industry would find itself ‘on an ugly path to obscurity’. He similarly emphasised the need to serve the audience: ‘Our focus must be on becoming the very best at filling people’s 24-hour news needs. That’s a huge shift from the we-know-best, gatekeeper thinking. Sourcing, fact gathering, researching, storytelling, editing [and] packaging aren’t going away’
(Curley 2007).

Kirk appointed a ‘newsroom of the future’ committee from editorial (reporters and photographers), IT and HR. The committee initiated a study tour by editorial executives of leading integrated and converged newsrooms in the UK and the US in April 2007. This became known as the ‘Tier 1’ course and involved the editor and deputy editor of The Age, and the news editor of The Sydney Morning Herald. The Herald’s editor went to the annual conference of the World Association of Newspapers in Cape Town, South Africa in June 2007 because that event featured convergence as one of its main themes (PANPA Bulletin June 2007: 6). The committee designed a two-day awareness course for senior editorial managers, known as ‘Tier 2’, that was run in Sydney in July 2007. The ‘Tier 3’ program for all editorial staff started in August 2007 and this ‘multi-media awareness program’ continued until the end of the year. A ‘Tier 4’ course for about 10 per cent of editorial staff (about 40 journalists), where they learned a range of multi-media skills, was scheduled to start after the Beijing Olympics in 2008. The author facilitated most of the Tier 2 and 3 courses.

The Tier 3 and 4 courses have profound implications for journalism education in Australia because they represent the start of major changes to how journalists work in Australia. The process reflects evolution in newsroom practices around the world. In November 2006 Ifra, the international media research company, asked newspaper executives worldwide about their priorities for 2007. The survey attracted 240 responses from 43 countries and results appeared in January 2007. Integration, editorial convergence and cross-media strategies attracted the most attention. Four in five executives rated it one of their top priorities, and half made it their main priority in terms of allocating ‘significant’ funds (Ifra 2007: 34). Ifra repeated the survey in November 2007 and published the results in January 2008. Expanding web strategies was first on the list for 2008, just ahead of editorial convergence strategies, which topped the list in 2007. Improving video and audio content jumped 14 places, and mobile phone strategies leapt 9 places between 2007 and 2008 to be near the top of the list (Ifra 2008: 8).
Notes This paper is located on the 45th page in the attached link.
ISBN 9780980434415
Language eng
Field of Research 200199 Communication and Media Studies not elsewhere classified
Socio Economic Objective 970120 Expanding Knowledge in Language, Communication and Culture
HERDC Research category E1 Full written paper - refereed
Copyright notice ©2008, The Author
Free to Read? Yes
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