The integrated newsroom – an industry perspective

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A scarcity of industry-wide perspectives prompted Auckland written communications agency Intelligent Ink to contribute to the emerging debate around merged newsrooms. This piece was written primarily by Intelligent Ink director Christina Wedgwood – with input from her team.

“Updates tend to be rather random or sporadic and they’re always a bit of a shock (shit, New Idea has actually closed! Or NZME’s major announcement). Surely there’s going to be some sort of implications on PR and what we do for clients,” Wedgwood says.

“We had chats around the office when the NZME announcement was made and we all agreed to keep an eye on it. In general, it’s interesting for us. And if we’re acting as the experts for our clients, we need to be up with the play.”

Intelligent Ink works mainly with not-for-profits, SMEs and consumer groups and produces content for branded publications.

They have no big media company clients.

There’s been reports of late around this idea of the ‘merging newsroom’. While changes to the general media landscape are both normal and expected – with editors and journalists coming and going, and publications folding, rebranding, or merging – the recent talks seem to be on a much larger scale.

Coincidentally, it was this time last year that NZME announced its initial rebrand, and APN and TRN merged their print, radio and digital titles together under the overarching NZME brand; something ceo Jane Hastings described as “the next major step in NZME fully realising the power of its combined content, audience and eCommerce capabilities”.

It was a bold business move at the time, and one which definitely strengthened the assets of the enterprise, helping them to stand out. Even the functionality of the website and the joint hosting of information, in one place online, helped us to easily know exactly which network owned which brand.

Following the rebrand and the networks coming more closely together, both online and physically, the latest is NZME’s move to be a fully integrated, multi-platform, 24/7 newsroom. Along with which come talks of a shuffle and new appointments, with journalists set to become ‘multi-skilled’, as they work across all platforms.

Too much news?
We can’t help but wonder if, as PR people, we have helped this move? Does the industry serve up news so easily that they can re-establish the layout and efficiency of their newsrooms? Is there too much news coming at them that they need to create an integrated funnel in order to find consistency in what they are covering, as a collective network of news sources?

And will the move be a positive or negative one for journalists, PR, our clients – their brands and stories – and the public’s news?

So many questions, most of which we imagine will remain largely unanswered until the full plan is unveiled. However, there are a few key things that strike us as important in light of the recent developments …

  • Knowing what is real news and storytelling. Though unlikely to make a difference to what good PR people already do, something to consider is that the quality of news and knowing what actually makes news, will be more vital now than ever. Going back to the heart of the story and pinpointing why it is important to the people of interest, then telling that story incredibly well, is going to be crucial. With one newsroom taking in all stories across a variety of media sources, and with potentially less resource for journalists to investigate stories fully themselves, PR people will have one shot to get the hook right. There will be one chance to convince journalists that the story is right for one, or more, of the numerous publications, and that it is adaptable for a variety of platforms.
  • Relationships. One of the things we fear is having less opportunities to build relationships with journalists. With (what sounds like) combined editors across a multitude of publications, there will be less contacts to pitch to and make friends with. Where we once pitched to 12 journalists, there may now be just three or four. If correct, editors and journalists will be sharing and collaborating on stories more than ever, and once we have pitched, who exactly do we hold accountable for getting back to us about running a story? Increased syndication and widespread coverage. Something clients will love is the possibility that news that is picked up is more likely to feature across a variety of places and platforms – in print, on radio and online. The latest update from NZME mentions that fast-breaking radio reports will be embedded into a digital news stream, thus offering two very separate audiences and platforms for a single piece of content – fantastic!
  • The value and diversity of news. Whilst a positive of the move seems that news has the opportunity to reach further, it also has us considering where the value of news is headed. Does too much of the same news in multiple places annoy readers? How does multiple-placed news ensure a focus on the target audience? NZME has said that the integrated newsroom “will not impact on individual brands, which will retain their unique perspective and tone”. With editors overseeing the content of a variety of publications at once, we’re interested to see how this rolls out, and whether or not these publications remain true in essence or whether there will be a reduced diversity of news. Will there be less regional relevance and more focus on national news, stemming from sharing across combined media stations and platforms that tend towards larger-scale audiences?
  • The role of local and independent media. It’s yet to be seen whether these big network changes will have an impact on smaller, more independent publications. But it’s possible that local and community content will become more valuable to readers. These outlets may become PR’s first port of call when the big newsrooms seem out of reach, or if content isn’t viable for multi-platform. Similarly, PR people are likely to more often investigate niche industry titles or approach trade publications, as opposed to always prioritising the big guns.

Perhaps there will be an increase in independent publications? Maybe some of them will throw in the towel and maybe some will take measures to make more noise. You would’ve heard Scoop’s recent announcement of its move to a crowdfunding initiative – transferring to an NFP model with the aim to further independent journalism in NZ.

In order to continue doing what they do, they’re asking commercial organisations that submit press releases to apply for a license with a fee, which will help them continue to operate. The idea works on an ‘honesty box’ type of system but it does go to show the pressures bigger networks can have on independent media.

Going to the CAANZ Champion Speaker Series?
There’s definitely a few things to think about. At this stage, it’s all largely curiosity and speculation, but we are certainly interested to see how things unfold. In fact, we’re heading along to the October CAANZ PREScom Champion Speaker Series, to gain some more insight about what’s going on in the media sphere – hopefully we will see you there!

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