Why integrated newsrooms are a necessity for digital journalism

“Internet people are frontiers people. Behind them are the barbarians like me — the shopkeeper. We’re their worst nightmare, but we’re coming,” said Arthur Sulzberger, former publisher of the New York Times, at a Nieman Foundation conference in 1995.

When the culture of legacy media collides with the new era and ethos of digital journalism in the newsroom, there is usually one result: the latter wins. The majority of newspapers in the UK remain deeply print-centric, reflected in how The Sun has struggled to gain readership despite dropping its paywall. The BBC used to upload its broadcasts directly to its platforms, not at all catering for the differences between them.

But times have changed, and Ryan Smith of CNN International Digital revealed last week that taking from one of their stories, they created eight videos: three for social, one desktop and four for TV. The result: it had 104 million views and a 74% completion rate on mobile. The benefits of thinking digitally from the beginning are clear.

When it was announced last month that The Independent would cease printing, after three decades of the newspaper, many journalists mourned the loss in fits of nostalgia. The likely number of redundancies is without doubt sad and lamentable, but it must surely be seen as a unique opportunity.

Following the announcement, The Independent’s digital editor, Christian Broughton, promised investment in data journalism, video, and international and investigative reporting. But he also told journalism.co.uk: “We’re moving a lot of the talent across from print to digital. It’s going to be an extraordinary moment of expansion for us from a digital point of view.”

This the publication’s chance to experiment aggressively. The Guardian’s recent hire of Martin Belam, one of the architects of Trinity Mirror’s social sharing site UsVsTh3m and data journalism project Ampp3d, shows that the message is clear under new editor Katherine Viner. Over at The Telegraph, the digital expansion under Malcolm Coles saw an operating profit of £51 million in 2015.

Of course, print and digital often serve different audiences. The Times’ forthcoming edition-based website is a pleasing nuance to the situation. But there are ways for both sides to mutually gain. The Financial Times, for example, recently begun to create all of its print visualisations with the digital coding program D3 — a step that makes total sense.

Newsroom culture should not be so tightly integrated that it impedes rather than facilitates. But as the importance of digital continues to grow, the past should not control the future.

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