Should New Media Be Part of Newsroom Operation?

By: Steve Outing

As newspaper new media operations grow in scope, there has been a trend at papers toward splitting them off into separate divisions -- located physically away from the core newsroom operation:

* The Washington Post's Digital Ink division is a separate entity from the newspaper.
*, the new media arm of the News & Observer Co. in North Carolina, is now a separate division from the Raleigh News & Observer. ( has evolved into a national service not tied only to the N&O.)
* The Atlanta Journal-Constitution's new media division, called the Interactive Studio, is a separate division, responsible for the Access Atlanta service on Prodigy and its World Wide Web services.

While separation from newsroom management can be important to the well-being of a newspaper company's new media ventures, most of these operations are modestly staffed (compared to the newsroom) and thus areunable to generate the megabytes of content required to satisfy consumers in the online world. Most new media divisions leverage the resources of the print newsroom to augment the online product.

In a recent discussion of online-print cooperation on the online-news Internet list, two different approaches were reviewed:

Mike Gordon, director, Interactive Studio, Atlanta Journal-Constitution (Cox Newspapers)

"For two years, our online staff (now called The Interactive Studio) has been developing products and content independently of the Journal-Constitution's print newsroom. Now, with the active support of editor Ron Martin, we've opened discussions with the print folks on how best to start getting them involved in online content creation, with The Studio acting as a gatekeeper and information resource.

"We're going to start by identifying content areas where we think the newspaper has unique assets or capabilities and asking department heads to give relevant beat reporters or editors time -- actual, precious print payroll hours -- to surf the Net, find out what's out there on a particular topic and report back on what opportunities, if any, exist for us to offer niche products or services in this area. Then we'll select the most promising ideas and give print staffers time to develop some original content for one of our online products, working with an online producer to take advantage of what we've learned about the new medium.

"We see this as an educational as well as as content-creating process. Print staffers will get an in-depth introduction to the Net (we've installed 6 dedicated PCs in the newsroom for this purpose, and News Research specialists will walk them through the basics of hypertext, searching Web indexes, etc.) and will learn how much competition already exists for our core products, which should be eye-opening in itself. Then they'll go through the exercise of identifying niche product opportunities -- a good way to foster entrepreneurial thinking -- and, in selected cases, will help build actual content.

"We expect that what they learn will not only benefit our online operation in the long run, but will also affect how they cover their print beats. For example, film critics might decide that their reviews need to cover studio Web sites as well as the movies themselves. Or arts editors eventually might choose to quit publishing pages and pages of static gallery listings, move them online (in searchable format) and publish a critic's choice of the 10 best local shows in print, with a refer to the full listings online. (Hypothetical cases.)

"This exercise should also help make cross-promotion between our print and online products a more natural part of life than it is now."

Gordon says Interactive Studio's 33-person staff is not nearly big enough to accomplish all that the company wishes to do online. When the Olympics come to Atlanta next summer, Gordon expects to leverage the resources of all the Cox newspapers who will be sending reporters to cover the Games to enhance Cox's online ventures.

Here's a different approach:

Rich Jaroslovsky, managing editor, Wall Street Journal Interactive Edition

"At the Wall Street Journal, we've tried to make the link between newsroom and interactive publication integral to the entire project. One of the simplest but most effective links has been (don't laugh) physical. Our operation is located in the Journal's national newsroom, cheek by jowl with the newspaper's national news desk. (Several editors on the print-paper's desk could quite literally join our staff by turning their desks a little bit sideways.)

"This physical proximity accomplishes several things. One, it more readily clues us in on major news events and other issues we might miss. (A case in point: Daiwa Bank's announcement of its $1 billion trading loss came too late for inclusion in the print paper, but the paper's night editor alerted us, and we published news of the debacle throughout the night.)

"Two, it raises the curiosity level of everyone else in the room. We have all these cool toys -- big color monitors, fast PCs -- that are a rarity in the WSJ newsroom, and we usually seem to be having fun over here. The result: People from the print paper are encouraged to wander over, filch some candy from our continually refilled candy dish and look over our shoulders -- asking questions, making comments and generally getting familiar with what we're trying to do. We've even inaugurated an 'exchange-student' program with the paper, bringing people over for two-week stints on our desk.

"What we're starting to see is a trickle of ideas and suggestions from print-WSJ folks who can see what we're doing and how we're doing it, and can begin to envision how what they're working on could be expanded and enhanced for this format. The paper's Washington telecommunications reporter, for example, put together a terrific package for us of additional new material and archival information when the telecom bill cleared the House a few months ago; we've published some material on recent World Bank and IMF studies on international wealth that have gone well beyond what the print paper could do; we're working with some folks on the paper now to take one of its fixture stock-picking stories and turn it interactive. I expect that the pace of cross-pollenization will only increase in the future."

(The Journal's interactive publication staff numbers 25.)

Don't be left out of the action

The Journal's approach is a good one, if your physical office environment can accommodate proximity to the newsroom. Since that's often not practical and your online division may be in another office or other building, it's important to keep lines of communication open with the newsroom. Online managers should be attending newsroom daily managers' meetings; it's vital that the online operation be treated on a par with the newsroom departments. And if you can't be located physically close to the newsroom power center, then consider having a newsroom-online liaison with a desk in the city room.

Murdoch papers all heading to the Internet

At the News Corp. annual meeting in Adelaide, Australia, this week, media baron Rupert Murdoch revealed a bit more about the online strategy for his global newspaper empire, according to a Reuters report. Although cautioning that "no one has yet worked out how to make any profits" from delivering news through online computer services, Murdoch said all of News Corp. newspapers would be available to Internet users next year. "I expect that by this time next year all our newspapers, and certainly all their classified advertising, will be online to anybody with a computer and available through the Internet," he said.

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This column is written by Steve Outing and underwritten by Editor & Publisher magazine. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at


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