Convergence is a buzzword that is used liberally to describe a host of operations and projects, but in Manchester the term is being redefined in a unique way.

"This is convergence with a purpose rather than doing it just because everyone else is doing it . . . my purpose is to make sure that the first people to benefit [from a story] are the others in our group. If that is going to be Channel M, MEN or online or weeklies that's something we decide on a case-by-case basis," said Ian Wood, assistant editor of Manchester Evening News (MEN).

Operating under the umbrella of MEN Media, the MEN (both print and online), the web portal Manchesteronline, a city radio station, 23 weekly newspaper titles and their websites and the Channel M TV station are putting Greater Manchester on the brink of becoming the first fully converged UK city.

"A great many of the examples I have seen on convergence focus on breaking news, the 9/11-style story, where everyone is thinking we have a great new way of telling stories quickly.

"But it's not just about that. What our part of the industry is about is generating stories that we break, rather than stories that are breaking. In that case you really have to start asking 'how do we tell this well across the whole group'. Not 'how do you tell it the fastest possible way' but 'how do you tell it in the smartest possible way'. That involves thinking about how you maintain the success of print as well as digital media.

"We should be excited by the new tools that are available but it's important that we don't forget all aspects of media. I don't subscribe to the view that print is dead. Print is a vital component of the convergence strategy."

In adopting a more strategic approach to breaking stories that benefit of all its publications and its varied audiences across the city, the MEN moved into new headquarters in September, adopting the familiar hub approach for its news desk.

But the publication went a step further and brought the editorial head of its weekly papers onto the desk, along with a representative from Channel M news, MEN itself and website editorial staff.

"It's not about looking at the individual ways of interacting with people, it's about looking at an entire audience. Once you consider it like this then the responsibility of the newsroom is to think 'how do we serve, but also how do we manage, that audience'. What we want is for people to find everything they want within our group.

"The idea is [for the different news products] to have a shared character, a shared brand and shared qualities. Then it starts to make sense for commercial reasons because we can provide an incredibly flexible and powerful tool for our advertisers."

It means that days are gone of individual publications keeping their best stories under wraps until deadline.

"Victories are not necessarily about a single title in the group its about success for the entire group. We have reassessed our criteria for success and we now look at benefit for the group rather than individual titles."

According to Mr Wood the MEN distributes 170, 000 paid-for and free papers per day.

More than 300,000 watch Channel M every week on Sky, NTL, on terrestrial TV in the city and online. The publication also gets close to 1.5 million unique users a month on its websites.

"It's not just happened by accident, there has been a long-term strategy to ensure that we develop a whole diversity of media and different ways of telling stories.

"Channel M, it's not that we have just bought it in after waking up to the power of television, it has been developed. It was set up in 2000 and has now moved up to having 316, 000 viewers a week. It's a powerful, home-grown tool."

But publishing is not a simplistic choice between print or TV.

"Now we have a great range of tools at our disposal. But it's not just about having it, it's about using it in the right way, and we're still learning about the right mix.

"We are still trying to do that fundamental process of journalism, which is telling the best stories. But I'd add a caveat. We're now trying to tell the best stories in the best way.

"It's quite liberating for most journalists, not only do they have the option of getting hold of a story but also thinking 'right, how can I tell this story in a way that is really going to have the best impact'."

As part of the strategic desire to maximise impact, Mr Wood said one of the group's goals was, during the next year, to move the Channel M news operation from its present home and into the MEN newsroom.

He also said he wanted to improve the group's online offering with more interactive features and a more web-friendly approach to video.

However, cultural changes of this magnitude are not entirely seemless.

"What proves to be a constant difficulty is the willingness on all sides to be proactive about gathering content within the group.

"Rather than sitting there and being served, it's about being a proactive member of this news community.

"But when the news desk is operating at full stretch, experience shows that the shorter time you have and the more pressure you are under the less convergent you get.

"You tend to revert to type the closer you get to deadline. So if someone is under a lot of pressure and they have a print background they will become a completely unconvergent print journalist.

"We're in the process of trying to make sure that we can over come that reflex . . . what we are concerned with is generating a compelling news list rather than sitting back and saying it's a slow news day."

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