Trinity Mirror announced plans to transform its regional titles into digitally-led news publications yesterday, beginning with Trinity Mirror North East, before rolling out the approach across the organisation throughout 2014.
"Newsroom 3.1", an evolution of last year's newsroom 3.0 model, will bring changes to the editorial structure and content-planning process at Newcastle's Evening Chronicle, Sunday Sun and The Journal on April 28th and Teesside's Evening Gazette from May.
"This is where we cross the Rubicon," Neil Benson, editorial director of Trinity Mirror Regionals told Journalism.co.uk, "and become not just an integrated multimedia newsroom, which we've been for some years now, but truly digitally-led."
Editorial refocusEveryone who creates content does so for digital and then a team of experienced people who really know print will turn it into the newspaperNeil Benson, Trinity Mirror Regionals
Initially this will mean 25 new roles created across the four publications – alongside eight redundancies – as the publisher has reached a "tipping point" in terms of online traffic growth, Benson said, whereby the newspaper can be produced from recent digital content.
In recent years, the news organisations have produced content for their websites from "6am to midnight", he said, but a lot of the focus would turn to the newspaper in the afternoon.
Now, journalists, editors and all other "content creators" will focus "100 per cent on digital", said Benson, rather than splitting attention between online and print as deadlines loom.
"Everyone who creates content does so for digital and then a team of experienced, high-quality people who really know print will then turn it into the newspaper," he said.
"Within the content creation team will be print content editors who are aware of everything that happened throughout the day and they are the link with the print unit."
While the print team work to draw up early plans for the newspaper, the digital team will work to "audience spikes" online throughout the day to make sure the website is fresh for visitors.
"You hear a lot about three spikes," Benson said, "first thing, when people get to work; around midday when they're breaking for lunch; and then when they knock off at the end of the day. That's when people use websites.
"What's interesting for us is that over the year or so, with the growth of mobile and tablet use, we think there are some extra ones, we think there are eight spikes in the day."
Although there will not always be brand new content for each "spike", he said, journalists will be aware of them and working towards them when possible.
The new role of social media editor in the local newsrooms will play a large role in pushing new content to social media networks around these spikes, Benson said, working with the newsroom planning analyst, another new role, to establish and implement a "content agenda".It's not just waiting to here an ambulance siren but creating our own content agendaNeil Benson, Trinity Mirror Regionals
"So it's a more planned agenda," he said, "not just waiting to hear an ambulance siren, but more about creating our own content agenda."
Each year will be planned around a calendar involving Freedom of Information (FOI) requests and investigations, as well as "grassroots community events" like village fetes and nativity plays or major sporting events and holidays.
"It's very plannable across the year and repeatable year-on-year," continued Benson, "and to the planning analyst the challenge is to keep that up-to-date and to focus on it from well out, so that we can maximise on Google when it comes."
He highlighted last year's coverage of the Great North Run as an example of the continued relevance of search engine optimisation for a news organisation.
A few months before the event, the outlets would think about what their audience may be searching for around the event and write articles that would fit with their assumptions.
Building "credibility" on Google in the months beforehand would ensure a high ranking on the day of the run, he said, when many more people would be looking for information about the day.
"It's a virtuous circle of keeping yourself high in Google by being smart about the coverage and not just reporting on it on the day."
Multimedia and UGC
Video output from local newsrooms has been growing steadily, said Benson, and will continue to be a key part of their digital output alongside the publisher's data journalism unit, led by David Ottewell, and explorations in UGC from head of audience engagement at Trinity Mirror Regionals Jo Kelly.
Benson said Ottewell hoped to build more multimedia into the data journalism collaborations with local newsrooms, while Kelly's work had already begun to pay off in terms of finding more topics to cover that local audiences are interested in.
"At the Liverpool Echo there's a page [on] eight different sports that it never used to cover," he said, "and it's got a list as long as your arm with other sports. Mixed martial arts, for example, which previously hadn't been on the agenda but is really starting to find an audience. "
The newsroom 3.1 plan from Trinity Mirror mirrors developments in the US from Digital First Media (DFM), a large local newspaper publisher, where chief executive John Paton announced 'Project Unbolt' at the end of January.
Benson said Trinity Mirror's digital publishing director David Higgerson is in regular contact with Steve Buttry, digital transformation editor at DFM, to the point where the two often "compare notes".
"We've been building up this plan over a few months to the point where it's fleshed out today," Benson said.
"We've restructured our newsrooms several times over the last few years, as many publishers have, and every one seems to be the most radical we've ever done and I guess they are. But we keep moving forward as the game keeps changing."