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Media The word on Grubstreet South Africa

Converged newsrooms can be done - even in our lifetimes

The converged newsroom - by which media people mean that the online and print operations are integrated - is considered by many to be the holy grail. But it's so much harder in practice to get the two different kinds of people - new and old media - understanding each other's needs and servicing each other.

The new-media people tend to be mostly young and tech-savvy but with little reporting experience. while the old-media people tend to be... well... older, a tad crusty and cynical about new-fangled technologies.

Unforgiving deadlines

It's particularly hard, say many online gurus, to get print people into new technologies and to file faster and snappier stories for online. Daily print journalists may work to pretty tight deadlines but, with online, the deadline is right now... all the time... forever. It's really unforgiving.

I've had the privilege and pleasure of working in a converged newsroom (on the print side) and I'd like to assure naysayers that it can be done providing that a few key things are in place:

  1. The online news editor sits close to the news editor and attends all news and editors' conferences;
  2. The online news editor has newsdesk experience so she or he has the respect of fellow middle managers - especially the news editor - and reporters;
  3. The newspaper's editor is interested in online and actively encourages and directs that online and print work together (otherwise online will always be the poor stepsister); and
  4. The print staff is encouraged to get with the new technology by blogging on the paper's website or blogging remotely for the website while out in the field especially for fun projects, for instance, travel features.

Productive collaboration

There were many instances of productive collaboration between the print and online guys - from the small such as newspaper competitions (these are so much easier and less labour intensive to manage on a website) to the big stories, for instance, that would never have come about without online.

I recall one where the website asked users to take a poll and own up to how much they dish out to car guards. It turned out that the average was much lower than expected and this information was turned into a very funny print story, where - based on the poll's findings - car guards were canvassed for their views of what car drivers forked out to them. (They were unimpressed.) A storm of letters to the paper and comments on the website followed from vehicle owners defending their position and then there was another follow-up, a feature in which a reporter did car-guard duty for a day to see what it was like and how he was treated.

That one poll of online users led to a week's worth of highly entertaining journalism. It also provided an insight into one of the cornerstones of contemporary urban South African life and, in one stroke, proved to the stressed and overworked news editor that online could originate stories for the paper. That it was a contributor to - not a drain on - resources.
Such a poll would have been extremely time-consuming - if not impossible in today's lean newsrooms - to do physically on the street.

Converged newsrooms can be done - even in our lifetimes

Moving closer

So it was interesting to note that the country's biggest news portal, News24, is moving closer to the company's newspapers with a corporate re-ordering that will see the new boss Geoff Cohen report to Media24's newspaper division (previously fell under MIH, a division of parent company Naspers).

What Cohen describes as "shifting deck chairs; not changing the direction of the ship" is still a significant move.

Consumers won't see a change to News24's content, says Cohen. He now heads up the core publishing business without commercial units such as careers and games but then News24 has typically been responsible for about 85% of's revenue. The change follows a year of frank and earnest discussion and it's been decided that News24 - with its approximately 200 staff across editorial, tech and support services - is a better fit with newspapers than any other division.

The fact that Cohen has been promoted to the new GM tells us there a sharpening of focus. He's a rare breed in journalism: a journalist (he was once a Business Day sub-editor) who really gets tech. He's a self-confessed geek but he also knows news, so it will be interesting to watch News24 under his guidance.

Converged newsrooms can be done - even in our lifetimes

Ultimate goal

While Cohen says News24 has had online people embedded in Media24's newspapers for some time, the new editor of Independent Online, Adrian Ephraim, says that the ultimate goal of recent changes at Independent Newspapers' news portal is converged newsrooms.

Ephraim, who has been a sports reporter and senior manager at The Star, took over IOL recently from Rhys Johnstone, who is now at DStv's online division. (DStv, of course, falls under Naspers, the ultimate owners of Cohen's

Ephraim, who is new to online, has come in at a challenging time for IOL, which has a new design and new content-management system. There have been a couple of crashes (the IOL archive is vast, after all) but Ephraim says it's an exciting time for the portal. The new design is fresher and more dynamic, allows for more pictures and for more prominent use of multimedia. The next step, says Ephraim, is to get the Business Report and Tonight (entertainment) sections into the new content-management system and relaunch with a new look.

Mindset shift

Next year, the division will start relooking at the title sites and ultimately completely integrate the newspaper and online publishing systems so that newspaper content can be published directly to online. Converged newsrooms is the key aim, Ephraim says, but it takes time to manage the mindset shift for the print people to see the value and necessity of online.

Converged newsrooms can be done - even in our lifetimes

Meanwhile at Avusa Media LIVE, online people are on the editorial floors across the group, says GM Elan Lohmann. If it looks like online has devolved away from the titles, it is only because the consolidated digital division has been busy establishing its identity. The portal will be revamping early next year with real changes to content, he says, and the planned paywall for the websites of the company's Eastern Cape papers, The Herald and the Daily Dispatch will go up on 1 December 2010.

Ephraim is right that a shift of mindset is required. I recall feeling stressed and put-upon that we, in our own newly converged newsroom, had to start learning an entirely new way of doing things - and all the new technology and jargon that came with it. But I did, along with some staff members who were close to retirement, and there began my journey into the interesting world of new media.

You don't have to be an expert

The most important thing I learned was that you don't have to be an expert on new media to function and enjoy this new world. You really just need a handle on the basic ideas and technologies - and some of the platforms such as WordPress, are easy peasy to learn.

To all those weary hacks and old-media people out there, take heart in the fact that it's easier for an old dog to learn new tricks than impart the years of your experience to the puppies. You know your how to your jobs - to communicate, to write, to package content and make it interesting. New media is simply another vehicle for you to do so.

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About Gill Moodie: @grubstreetSA

Gill Moodie (@grubstreetSA) is a freelance journalist, media commentator and the publisher of Grubstreet ( She worked in the print industry in South Africa for titles such as the Sunday Times and Business Day, and in the UK for Guinness Publishing, before striking out on her own. Email Gill at az.oc.teertsburg@llig and follow her on Twitter at @grubstreetSA.
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