Digital needs to be at centre of business, says top publisher

Newspaper publishers need to ensure that they are placing the growth of digital revenues at the centre of their business, says Pit Gottschalk, director of content at German publisher Axel Springer.

Mr Gottschalk says that “there is no denying the fact” that online content will become the primary news product for all newspapers eventually, and that “the earlier you do this, the better prepared you will be for the future”.

“The big problem is not that they [newspapers] don’t want to do this, they don’t know how to do it,” he said. “They think it’s a lack of knowledge, they think they are already ready for the future, that they are online centric, but it’s not true.”

To help publishers measure the level to which they have integrated online production into their newsroom, Mr Gottschalk developed a benchmark system – which accounts for structure, culture and people in an organisation – that allows publishers to compare their own business with the average in the industry.

While in Australia for the Future Forum this August, Mr Gottschalk presented editors from Australia and New Zealand with a 40 question survey that he developed to measure online integration at contemporary newsrooms. The survey is structured around a core question – “is your newsroom ready for the digital world?” – and informs many of the findings that Mr Gottschalk published in his 2011 book The Heart of a Morning Paper Beats Online.

Although he said that the sample size may have been too small to draw any representative conclusions, Mr Gottschalk said the survey showed that local journalists and editors are “prepared for the change, they are open minded, but the structure is not ready”.

Mr Gottschalk said that Axel Springer encouraged its employees to be mobile- and online-first, but to firmly establish those values in its newsrooms required “hard work over many years”.

“What you always need for this is a vision, and a vision means saying ‘online is relevant to our target groups’.

“It is a top-down decision what vision the people should follow, but the cultural is always changed bottom-up, which means when there are journalists that don’t want to embrace this online world it’s a tough game.

“But if you have role models…the culture will change, and what we can observe is that at every good newsroom with good staff the people change and then the culture changes, and then you will see the results.”

For more news from The Newspaper Works, click here.

Leave a comment