Organisational change for the digital news age
“Rip the band-aid off” was the advice Caleb Solomon, Managing Editor of the Boston Globe, gave on the approach to successfully transitioning news organisations from print to digital. Antony Horn reports.
Speaking at the Pacific Area Newspaper Publishers’ Association [PANPA] in Sydney, Mr Solomon emphasised the need for newspapers to act quickly in moving into the digital space. A process the Boston Globe achieved in only nine months.
In a case study of the Globe, Mr Solomon identified how to invest in the right technology, and how committing to quality journalism is vital for success.
“You need a [technology] partner who understands your goals … it has to be good stuff otherwise no one is going to pay for it,” he said.
Key to changes at the Globe included cutting operating systems from nine to one, improving efficiency, and enabling the paper to use content across a variety of platforms.
Journalists and editors were also tasked with presenting stories for print and online publications, rather than passing things between different departments.
Mr Solomon acknowledged that the Globe’s transition was challenging, and that there had been issues with staff morale. Asked if the change in morale had resulted in job losses, he said: “It wasn’t about that.”
Instead, Mr Solomon said particular staff roles had simply changed, rather than being scrapped.
The changes, though difficult, have proved successful for the paper.
In less than a year since it allowed digital-only subscriptions for its online website, the Globe’s circulation has increased by 10 per cent. Half of its existing print subscribers are also taking up free online access as part of their subscription.
Circulation for major Australian metro newspapers has declined by an average of 14 per cent in the last decade, according to the Australian Bureau of Circulation, as The Australian reported in July this year.
The need to offset declining print revenue with digital dollars, while changing internal operations, are problems Australian publishers, such as News Limited and Fairfax, are grappling with.
News introduced a pay wall for The Australian in 2011 and the Herald Sun in March of this year. Fairfax is also poised to do similar things for its main mastheads, such as The Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
News is pushing ahead with technology investment, committing $60 million to implement the Eidos Media’s Methode editorial system, the same technology used by the Globe. It also announced its first editorial “Superdesk” in August, aimed at streamlining operations and enabling content to be used more effectively on multiple media platforms.
News is looking at developments overseas, a point made by CEO Kim Williams in his keynote address at the PANPA Future Forum.
“The world has much to teach us … and we are always eager to learn,” said Mr Williams.
Speaking after his presentation, Mr Solomon said he did not feel qualified to offer advice to Australian publishers on the course they should take, except to say, “get on with it”. He also addressed that the way audiences were consuming news content was constantly evolving.
The Boston Globe was founded in 1872 and has won 22 Pulitzer Prize, most recently in 2012 for criticism.