Matt Deighton and Sam Weir believe that News Limited’s integrated newsroom fosters cooperation, not competition, and that’s improving journalism.
One city, one newsroom is, at its most basic level, about improving the art of storytelling.
At News Limited, we've long talked about having some of the best reporters, the best resources and the best reach in the country. But we've never truly combined the strength of our local, city and state expertise.
A fully integrated, seven-day newsroom seeks to redress that imbalance. It aims to put our readers at the forefront of everything we do – to give them news that is more immediate, dynamic and relevant.
It aims to ensure we work as a unit, forgoing much of the internal competition that, in an increasingly fragmented world, will only hold us back and leave us vulnerable to competitors.
So if it's really about the art of improving storytelling, perhaps the best way to explain how it works is to tell one.
And it's true.
In early September – a month after the launch of the integrated newsroom incorporating The Advertiser, Sunday Mail, Messenger Community News and adelaidenow – a community reporter from our southern suburbs gets a tip-off that a major high school in her area is planning a significant, symbolic statement. Every one of its 800-plus students will sign a pledge banning the derogatory use of the word "gay".
This will coincide with "Wear It Purple Day" – a US initiative to stop bullying, suicide and harassment surrounding gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex youth at risk – and is spurred on by one of the students reading the story of a 14-year-old US teen who took his own life.
The reporter senses it's an important story and immediately kicks it up the chain to her community editor (in our new world, community reporters are still attached to a local masthead and report to a community editor).
The community editor subsequently pitches the story at the daily morning conference – a quick, 15-minute WIP (work in progress) standing around a table – with the senior community team in head office.
It’s a process copied from The Advertiser's newsroom transformation from several years back, led by then editor Melvin Mansell (now SA, NT and WA state director), to encourage a speedy exchange of ideas and quick decision making.
The community editor's task is simple: just bring your best content to the meeting and don't hold anything back. The issue of who owns the story isn't mentioned. At this stage it's all about the content.
The meeting decides in an instant that it warrants wider coverage and it's immediately placed on the electronic metro news list. In this brave new world, there are no secrets.
The meeting ends and the community online editor moves into another meeting, this time The Advertiser's morning WIP (similar to the traditional conference, but not as formal). The enthusiasm for the story is shared. It will be the next day’s "splash".
The meeting finishes and the newly formed engine room of the newsroom, the "superdesk" – consisting of the two metro editors, the community editor-in-chief and the heads of news, sport, online, production and lifestyle all sitting together – kicks in.
Historically the daily, Sunday and community editors would rarely meet during a week, and their days revolved around trying to keep their best ideas a secret from each other. Now they are in constant communication.
Arguably, the most significant cultural shift has been the relationship between the daily and Sunday editors. Every major story that comes across the superdesk sees the two editors working as a single unit. The issue of "protecting" mastheads is not discussed.
They collaborate on everything from headlines to lead paragraphs and work on developing stories across the "marquee" days of Saturday and Sunday, and then into the next week.
Back to the gay pledge story, and the superdesk shifts into gear by allocating resources and ensuring all bases are covered. The education reporter is assigned to assist the local community team in working it up.
"Let's try to 'Facebook' Ellen."
"How about we contact Oprah?"
"Do we know any high-profile people who went to the school... didn't Fitzy (FM radio host Ryan Fitzgerald) go there?"
There are no stupid ideas (it turns out Fitzy did go there).
It's early days but that's the aim of the overall desk: harness creativity, generate ideas, get the best out of every yarn, get people actually talking. Reporters come and go from these discussions and it soon emerges another Adelaide school is doing the same.
The story builds.
Meanwhile, the community editor is starting to think about what this all means for her paper, which is still six days away from publication. But it's not as challenging or confronting as it might at first appear.
For starters, she knows her community well and has a good feel for the stories that make it tick. She also has solid research and data to back up her gut feel (something we have embraced over the past two years). It tells her she doesn't have to try to compete with the dailies. Instead, her readers want context and solutions; they want to know who the people and heroes are behind the stories; they want to know what other readers think; they want to have a voice.
So the editor charges her reporter to focus on the students and their personal motivations for taking the stance. "Just try to get inside their heads," she tells the reporter.
She also knows that once the story breaks online, community response will be strong, providing plentiful reader reaction. Later that day, the story goes on adelaidenow, attracting a shade under 10,000 hits and hundreds of comments.
The new newsroom also sees the community and online teams working as one.
The community sites have been shut down and all content is fed into adelaidenow under the direction of the digital editor. This has increased local news hits four-fold, seen a sharp rise in comments and engagement and allowed the metro team to focus on breaking news of statewide significance.
The story is sent right around the News Limited network, and is featured heavily on interstate sites.
It appears on The Advertiser’s front page the next day under the headline "Gay Abandon", becoming Messenger's first-ever metropolitan splash. And a new version of the story appears on the front page of the Southern Times Messenger the following week.
This is an integrated newsroom in action. And it's happening every day.
Matt Deighton is editor-in-chief of Messenger Community News
Sam Weir is editor of The Advertiser