October 9, 2013 Last Updated 7:21 am

Lionel Barber, Financial Times editor, outlines changes to strategy in staff memo

“Our plan is to launch a single edition, global print product in the first half of 2014,” Barber tells staff in memo posted on website.

I have never heard any newspaper executive use the term digital first without actually meaning staff reductions. Put the two word into Google Translate, and instead of picking a language choose “detect language” – then type in “digital first” and let it translate into English, you’ll get “staff reductions.”

So when Lionel Barber, the editor of the Financial Times used the term in the first paragraph of his memo to staff today one had to get a chill down the spine. But Barber’s memo is less about reducing the staff than reassigning staff from late night work to morning and afternoon work – placing the staff in a position to report and produce the news when readers are awake and consuming the news, not when it is convenient to produce a print product.

LionelBarber-FT-sm3“Our plan is to launch a single edition, global print product in the first half of 2014,” Barber tells his staff. “The new FT will be redesigned and updated to reflect modern tastes and reading habits. It will continue to exude authority and quality, delivering a powerful combination of words, pictures and data to explain the most important issues of the day.”

Barber then outlines the major changes coming to the FT:

“First, the 1970s-style newspaper publishing process – making incremental changes to multiple editions through the night – is dead. In future, our print product will derive from the web offering – not vice versa. The new FT will be produced by a small print-focused team working alongside a larger integrated web/day production team. The new slimmed down newspaper commissioning and editing team will report to me and Alec Russell, news editor.”

“Second, the structure of our planned single edition, possibly single section newspaper means minimal late evening changes and more templating of standard pages. We will however retain flexibility for a tailored UK edition with UK news pages. Our main design effort will focus on “show pages” with accompanying rich data and graphics.”

“Third, our news editors and reporters will shift further away from reactive news gathering to value-added “news in context”, while remaining faithful to the pursuit of original, investigative journalism. News editors will need to do more pre-planning and intelligent commissioning for print and online. This will require a change in mindset for editors and reporters but it is absolutely the right way forward in the digital age…”

FT-front-10-9“…Finally, the changes in newspaper production will require further changes in working practices. I understand that this will challenge those long been used to late evening work. But as we move into the next phase of digital first, colleagues need to make informed choices about their careers at the FT and where opportunities lie.”

“We will need to move more resources from late evening to day and from afternoon to morning, notably in London. Production journalists will be digitally focused. Online, we will concentrate on smart aggregation of content from our own journalists and third parties. However, the emphasis online will be on articles rather than section pages.”

It was interesting that this memo would have been posted online, it is certainly an example of transparency.

The FT, like other financial newspapers, has had an easier time getting readers to pay for digital. This should not be surprising, though far too many media observers continue to lump all newspapers into the same bin when it comes to paywalls. But the shift from print to digital will have a profound impact on the composition of the staff, and the way it is deployed, as reflected in the memo from Barber today.

“:We have transformed our business model, successfully charging for content and building a global subscription business. Last year, our online subscriptions surpassed our print circulation for the first time. Today, we have more than 100,000 more digital subscriptions than print sales,” Barber wrote to staff.

“This is no time to stand still. The competitive pressures on our business to adapt to an environment where we are increasingly being read on the desktop, smart phone and tablet – remain as strong as ever…”

Comments are closed.