NEWSROOM 2009 – FAQs
The plan is only a couple of pages long. Where is all the detail?
Two things became clear as we worked on the plan: one was that the major changes
we needed to make were around the workflow in the news process, rather than a big
physical restructuring. We need to build on the changes we made in 2006, not tear
them up and start again. The priority now is to tilt the workflow more towards
enriching our online offering and to streamlining the newspaper production
process. The second thing that became clear was that this is not something that
can simply be prescribed in a detailed document, dropped down on peoples’ desks
and they are then expected to get on with it. These changes are going to require
working steadily and systematically with the different teams and sections over
some time to make sure we really embed the reforms. We have a pretty good idea of
how we should do that, but there are a lot of complexities involved and we need to
work with people to get there. There is a significant amount of training required
which also needs to be rolled out. That’s why the project group will continue to
work over the coming months to roll out the plan.
Why is all this necessary? We made big changes less than three years ago and the
FT has been doing well. Why more upheaval now?
The changes we made in 2006 were very important in establishing an integrated
newsroom at the FT. But the world has not stood still and there are areas where we
clearly need to take the next step, particularly to ensure that we keep step with
developments in the digital world. It is especially important as we continue the
development of FT.com that the news operation is fully geared to deliver the
richest possible offering to our online users. While the FT is doing well we
should be under no illusions about the broader state of our industry and the
enormous challenges we face. Some big names in the US newspaper world have gone
under or are seriously threatened by the digital revolution and the same is
happening in the UK, not least in the provincial press. Add in the brutal cyclical
slump this year, with advertising revenues tumbling across the board, and it is
clear we cannot afford to stand still. We are confident that the FT can have a
prosperous future as a “digital anchor” – a premium source of quality original
news and analysis for global business online - and in print. But to achieve that
we have to work very hard to ensure we are at the leading edge of developments in
the creation and delivery of content across all channels and we have to make sure
we are equipping the editorial operation to do that. That is why this plan –
including the commitment to training - is so important.
Are you saying there will be no compulsory or other redundancies? How many jobs
will go? Does this mean there is, after all, a hiring freeze?
There are no new redundancies in this plan. Headcount savings will be made by
attrition – meaning in most cases we will not be replacing vacancies that arise.
Some of these have already occurred as a result of people moving to new jobs, some
are pending as a result of the round of voluntary redundancies following the
reorganisation announced in January; some will occur as we roll out the plan. We
anticipate the total will be around 10-12 by mid year, a significant number of
which are already in progress. None of them will be through compulsory redundancy.
We will monitor the roll-out of the plan and judge as we go if we can continue to
make savings by non-replacement. This does not mean there will be a hiring freeze:
as we have said before, it is vital for the FT for us to always keep open the
possibility of bringing in new talent and we will continue to do that when and
The production teams are already stretched after the cuts in 2006. With a further
headcount reduction, how are they expected to cope?
There are a number of changes taking place that will affect the workload on the
production teams. Some of these are significant, some are more incremental – but
together they support the attrition in numbers which will occur. We are cutting
out the UK 3rd edition, we will be reducing the number of 2nd edition pages and we
will be running a common international 2nd front, which will cut the number of
bouncers on ICN. We will be requiring the features teams – boosted by an
additional staffer – to produce their newspaper pages ready for revise and to take
on more online publishing. In addition, it is a core part of the plan that we
build up to significant levels the amount of copy that is coming through to the
completion stage ready for revise. We are moving some resource to the news editing
teams to help achieve that. As that develops it will take some pressure off the
production teams and allow them to concentrate harder for the first editions on
the vital quality control role of revise and proofreading, plus making a fuller
contribution to managing our online output.
Is the FT getting rid of subbing?
Editing our content is a core competence for the FT, especially given our
specialist subject matter. But we do need to move away from treating copy editing
as a single, demarcated stage in the traditional newspaper publishing process. Our
aim is to change the process in a way that embeds content preparation for web and
print as a priority from the earliest part of the creation process. This approach
means important elements of content building and refinement are seeded upstream,
starting with reporters and on to news editors, to ensure the maximum enrichment
of that content at the earliest possible stage. Currently much of this –
everything from tagging and links to spell checking and headline writing – does
not occur until the downstream end of the workflow, undermining the depth of our
online offering, exacerbating bottlenecks in the newspaper editing process and
entrenching inefficiency. If we achieve this transformation of the workflow
process, it will greatly enhance the richness of our digital output, smooth the
newspaper production process and, importantly, make the overall operation more
efficient. This is not an ideological diktat about banishing subs or subbing. No
doubt, lots of copy will still need “subbing”, especially on busy, fast moving
news pages. But the reality is that our approach to content preparation in the
digital age has already changed in many parts of the operation. We acknowledged
this development and the wider deployment of skills when we created the role of
production journalist in 2006. What we are doing now is building on this.
It sounds like all this means extra work for reporters – and especially news
desks. How are we expected to cope when we are already so hard-pressed?
The new workflow represents a change that will require working closely with
reporters and news/production desks to establish the new practice. Staff will
inevitably be wary that they are being asked to take on extra work. But while the
changes are significant, and there are a number of practical obstacles we need to
sort out on the technology side, most of the extra tasks are not as onerous as may
first appear. And if reporters complete the tasks we ask of them, it will help the
news desks to adapt as well. It will require sustained training and support which
we are planning and which will provide the necessary back-up both for reporters
and news editors. There are a number of key issues which need to be worked out in
practice with the different teams as we build up the new web ready workflow and
how we synchronise that with more upstream work on copy for the newspaper. To help
them, the news desks will have the extra resource of the “news integrators” in
their clusters – who will be multi-skilled and able to perform a range of
newspaper and web editing tasks. There will also be the support of the layout
staffers working with the respective teams from the morning huddle onwards – and
who will be able to assist with a range of editing tasks as well as layout. As we
roll out the new workflow, desks will also be closely supported by the project
group to assist the process, assess progress and adapt as necessary to issues as
they arise. We intend to have a regular review process with each team to make sure
there is a proper feedback system.
All this assumes a lot about our technology – but we haven’t seen yet the new
features that are coming with Falcon and we know we still have some problems with
remote filing in Methode. What are we doing about that?
There are issues which complicate the process of rolling out the plan. It is the
case that a significant number of correspondents filing remotely are currently not
filing in Methode – and therefore are unable to carry out key “web ready”
functions – due to local technical limitations or lack of sufficient training; the
timetable of the Falcon rollout is also going to stretch over an extended period.
We are working on making sure we get as many remote reporters and correspondents
as possible fully Methode enabled – and that process will continue. As Falcon
rolls out, we will also move as quickly as we can to make sure we achieve the
benefits they offer. For example, the introduction of the new page assembler tool
and the changes in site design should greatly simplify the process of manual
online page building, with considerable benefits for news desks and production
Other elements which we are confident will ease the online publishing process
include a new metadata engine and changes to the automatic feed due to be
introduced later in the year.
What is the training plan?
We recognise that making the changes envisaged in the plan – and equipping the FT
newsroom fully for the digital future – requires a serious commitment to training.
It will include a systematic schedule for training individuals and teams,
including classroom sessions but, crucially, also including follow-up on the floor
to make sure people are able to carry over the skills they have learnt in the
classroom to everyday application on the job. We will be visiting key bureaux and
arranging online sessions with others to cover our correspondents and news editors
outside London. There will be provision for backfill to make sure people can take
the required time to attend training sessions. We will be using masterclasses and
other similar sessions, including outside speakers, to address issues of working
in a digital newsroom. A key part of the plan is also to work with teams on a
sustained basis to help them adapt to the new workflow processes.
When do we start – and where?
We need to get moving as quickly as we can. The aim is to spend some time over the
next week discussing the plan with staff and then to get started on implementation
from the beginning of next month. We can move quickly to make the changes on the
newspaper editions and other changes such as revamping morning conference. We want
to make the appointments to the new jobs as soon as practical and get them in
place to support the broader changes. We intend to start the process of the shift
to the web-ready workflow and more streamlined newspaper production process on a
desk-by-desk basis. We aim to start with UK companies and the UK company reporters
and other reporting teams based on the 1st floor and we’ll monitor carefully how
that goes. We’ll be working with the other teams as well to see what we can do to
get the process moving.