The ideal integrated newsroom isn’t a newsroom…

…it’s a network.

All the buzz I hear from editors in India is how to “integrate” their newsrooms to be digital-forward and even digital-first. Here are the unfortunate facts that the Indian Readership Survey doesn’t always convey: print revenues are declining as a per cent of total revenues. There are many ways for these ratios to shift, but paper is no longer king.  The percentage of ad revenue that comes from print went from 51% to 46%  over the past five years.  In the US, it took ten years for that shift to take place.  Meanwhile, mobile is eating our lunch, and the Internet has taken a big chunk out of our highly profitable classified sections.  So suddenly everyone is a lot more serious about digital than they were last year or even the year before.

Here’s my take on how to do an integrated newsroom right:

-Borrow a page from the startup manual.  Lean, responsive teams.  How many people do you really need to churn out good, multi-platform content? Not the 100 who make up a national staff.  This is inefficient, and it’s newsroom bloat.  Fewer jobs for traditional “journalists” and more jobs for coders, designers, statisticians, etc.  Each team has a project manager, a senior editor/content head (spectacular writer and editor), an intrepid reporter or two (gets to the scene, files the content), a UX guy who can hack a great data viz using whatever code he finds off GitHub, a social media person

-“Re-envision” content streams as products.  That means that economics coverage, finance coverage, business coverage, auto coverage – each of these is its own product, and falls under a product manager.  (We can invent some other title if we really object to the crass commercialization of that precious entity we refer to as the news.)   That person is responsible for overseeing coverage, chasing down partnerships, and figuring out inventive and possibly revenue-generating new things for the team to do.

-A spectacular, cutting-edge content management system that files all your inputs into a secure cloud.

Souped-up mobile phones with Camera+, 3.5 mm lav mics, sound recorder apps installed that can file every conceivable type of content from the field.

-Photographers, statisticians, get their own bureaus and get pulled into projects ad-hoc.

Here’s how the workflow goes:

-Senior editor assigns a story, flags product manager.  If it’s a big story, he might request a photog.  If it’s a numbers story, he might ask for a special stat guy.  Reporter goes out into the field, covers the event, captures all the required footage, files directly into the cloud as the news happens.  Senior editor stands by, reviews inputs as they come in, assigns things to various platforms (this goes to mobile, this can become a slide show, etc – this is where the product manager can also kick in ideas).  Editor tweaks copy as needed for paper/long-form online text.  Meanwhile the social media guy Tweets/FB-s/Pins/whatever else also as the news happens.  The social media guy might also RT other people who are in his network who are commenting on the same news event.

That’s the basic format for breaking news/beat teams.  Special projects can be its own team.

I think the scariest thing for traditional journalists is there are very few actual journalists on these teams, at least in the conventional sense.

The other big snarl in newsrooms is that the digital guys usually report to a digital business head, while the edit guys report to a traditional editor-in-chief.  As the wall between digital and edit comes entirely down, we will have to somehow mesh these roles.  Perhaps senior management can be its own top team, with the digital business head and editor-in-chief serving in the two top roles.  Business head looks at partnerships/revenue max, while the editor-in-chief looks at storytelling and content production.  Of course, there has to be a top boss to take calls and break a tie. I think the challenge will be getting journalists to accept business people as their partners, when for so long all they’ve felt for them is a gentle disdain.

And there you have it.  The integrated newsroom: a network of tightly linked, highly responsive teams, hierarchy largely removed, roles very clearly defined.

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