Seven West Media will merge the newsrooms of The West Australian and Seven Perth in a major restructure later this year, creating the first fully-integrated television and print newsroom in Australia.
The move will see all Seven employees currently based at its Dianella site move to The West Australian’s office at Osborne Park, with Seven’s sales team moving in next week and editorial and production staff moving around mid-December, when broadcasting is planned to commence at the new site.
Senior editorial staff believe that the integration of editorial personnel will create new cross-platform publishing opportunities and encourage further collaboration between news and reporting teams at Seven and The West Australian.
Editor of The West Australian Brett McCarthy told The Newspaper Works that initial discussions began around two years ago and originally involved bringing Seven to Osborne Park, but maintaining separate newsrooms. However after a trip to Europe with Seven news director Howard Gretton to visit newsrooms that had adopted a similar integrated approach, it was decided that putting editorial minds in the same space would make more sense than segregating them.
“The power of putting some of the best news brains in this state and this country into one room – where they will be co-operating, planning news coverage, planning investigations and reporting on the big events of the day – is something that we’re excited about,” he said.
“We will have people from both TV and newspapers at daily news conferences…we’ll be able to tell the stories that are important for our audience across all our platforms, every minute, every hour, every day – we think there’s a lot of advantages in that.”
As part of the redesigned and expanded newsroom, a 24-person superdesk has been constructed to sit senior production and editorial staff from newspaper, online and television properties. According to Mr McCarthy, the bulk of the newsroom refurbishments and construction needed to house Seven staff are complete, with the remaining work primarily consisting of getting the new studios and edit suites broadcast ready. The planned switchover date from broadcasting out of Dianella to broadcasting from Osborne Park is December 15, however Mr Gretton said that date is flexible.
“Right at this moment we are constructing the new studio for Seven News and Today Tonight, and we are also building the edit suites, the ingest area, the operations area, all of those areas that are important for television news production,” he said.
It is unlikely that there will be a single broadcast switchover minute, simply due to the operational difficulties. Mr Gretton said it is more likely that once the new studio is set up and the transition begins to takes place, Dianella will remain operationally ready to produce and broadcast news programs so that in the case of any issues, Seven will be able to revert back to its current site.
The new studios, which are being built at the front of the Osborne Park site over part of the car park, will be upgraded from the studios at the Dianella site, and Mr Gretton said that although there would be no radical alterations to the format of Seven’s news programs, there were some small changes and improvements that the new studios will allow.
One of the major incentives in the decision to integrate journalists from both media organisations in the same newsroom is the increased capability for reporters, producers, editors and others from both print and television to collaborate on investigative projects and plan story distribution on multiple platforms.
“It will depend upon the story and it would depend upon the personalities involved and a whole lot of different factors, but in general the answer is yes, they will work together – and they already have,” said Mr Gretton.
“Our state political reporter Geof Parry worked on a story with Gareth Parker from The West that they broke together – the story on Troy Buswell, the former state treasurer, who was involved in a fairly celebrated driving incident over here a few months ago. I think we’re going to see more of that.”
Mr McCarthy said: “When they get here it’s not ‘feet up, the job’s done, they’re all here let’s just move on’ – we’ll then begin the real work of making it a newsroom that’s dynamically integrated and that is producing great journalism whether it’s the printed product, online, on other digital products, or on the TV station.”
“That’s probably when the real work starts – when we go from doing what we do now to really working on the integration and working on how we can help and advantage each other.”
In total, around 100 staff from Seven will be moving to The West’s building. About half of those will be based with The West Australian’s editorial staff in the refurbished newsroom – editors, producers, cameramen, auxiliary staff and journalists. Mr McCarthy said that there will be no redundancies or changes to staffing as a result of the move, and that renovations to the current building will comfortably fit Seven employees.
“Our newsroom was a massive newsroom as it was and we had a fair bit of spare space to play with,” he said. “I think all up we will end up at about 180-190 people sitting in this newsroom once Seven gets here.”
During their trip to Europe last year, which was the idea of West Australian Newspapers’ CEO Chris Wharton, Mr McCarthy and Mr Gretton visited several integrated newsrooms – Helsingin Sanomat in Helsinki, Finland, Ekstra Bladet and Politiken in Copenhagen, and Nord Jyske in Aalborg, Denmark, as well as ITN and the BBC in London. Mr McCarthy said that the newsrooms in Helsinki and Aalborg were the most relevant to the Seven West Media integration project, and the newsrooms it is most likely to resemble. He said that despite the influx of new people in the newsroom, staff will retain their own desks and the company will not look at implementing a hot desking arrangement.
After 30 years in the media industry, Mr McCarthy said this is one of the most exciting projects he has been involved with. “There’s not a lot of examples of this around the world and there’s certainly nowhere in Australia where it’s happening – it will be a first for this country.”
“We’re working every day on fine-tuning this.” said Mr Gretton. “I would be really chuffed if we in some ways forged the way and trailblazed and were able to look back in a few years time and say, ‘wow, that was amazing, look what we’ve created’. That would be my ultimate goal.”
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In other news, Fairfax and Nine have announced a joint venture video-on-demand service, while Seven CEO Tim Worner confirmed yesterday that the company was in talks with partners for a streaming product. To read more on this, click here.