Decision by the editor may be a step toward becoming a digital-only publication.
The Financial Times is to institute path-breaking changes to the production of its printed newspaper that appear to be the penultimate step towards becoming a digital-only publication.
A lengthy memo sent yesterday afternoon to staff by the editor, Lionel Barber, stated that the pink paper plans “to launch a single edition, global print product in the first half of 2014.”
In effect, it means that the FT’s paper will no longer be a “news”paper. There will be only “minimal late evening changes”. Late-night working will virtually cease. Barber explains:
“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.”
Instead, the “pre-planned” paper’s content will be focused on explaining “the most important issues of the day” with “show pages” of data and graphics.
Barber says “journalists will publish stories to meet peak viewing times on the web rather than old print deadlines,” adding:
“The process will be akin to a broadcasting schedule. Where once we planned around page lay-outs, we will now adopt a news bulletin-style approach.”
In pointing out that “news editors and reporters will shift further away from reactive news gathering to value-added ‘news in context'”, he then stresses that staff will be expected to remain “faithful to the pursuit of original, investigative journalism.”
Barber and his executives believe the changes will strengthen and preserve the newspaper in its print format. It will have many of the qualities of a magazine and is aimed at enhancing what is available on the website.
They view it as a reshaping of the paper for the digital age by reflecting modern tastes and reading habits. They emphasise that the printed paper remains an important part of their multi-platform offering.
Barber, who has been the FT’s editor for more than seven years, has overseen several changes to the production of the paper since it adopted a “digital first” strategy.
During that time, the paper’s business model has changed. It pioneered a metered form of paywall and has enjoyed considerable success since doing so.
By last year its online subscriptions overtook its print circulation. Now it is said to have 100,000 more digital subscriptions than print sales, as Barber reminds his journalists in the memo.
According to the latest ABC figures (August 2013), the print editions of the FT sold a daily average of 236,281 world-wide, 15% fewer than in the same month the year before.
Of those, 73,000 were sold in the UK but only 41,000 were bought at the full cover price of £2.50. More than 81,000 were sold in Europe, over 46,000 were sold in the United States and there were a further 33,000 sales in Asia.
In common with other nationals, its Saturday issue is far more popular than its weekday issues.
It is clear from the decision to take this new step that Barber is preparing for the day when it becomes uneconomic to continue producing the newsprint paper. It will, in effect, become obsolete.
Here is his memo in full:
We are now ready to take the next steps in our successful “digital first” strategy. This is an exciting but also challenging opportunity for all journalists at the Financial Times. It means changes in work practices, a further shift of resources to ft.com and a significant reshaping of the newspaper.
Our plan is to launch a single edition, global print product in the first half of 2014. 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.
The new FT will be a better paper to suit the times. It will remain a vital part of our business, contributing significant advertising and circulation revenues. But, crucially, it will be produced differently and more easily. The changes will impact the structure of the newsroom – and the way we practise our journalism.
Tony Major and Kevin Wilson have been working closely on the design and production of the new-look FT. One key area is what needs to be done in London after 8pm in the evening. Tony and Kevin will give me a full report before Christmas – but we will start implementing changes well before, in order to prepare for a re-launch of the newspaper next spring.
Here are some pointers:
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.
Overall, these changes will mean that much of the newspaper will be pre-planned and produced. Production journalists will publish stories to meet peak viewing times on the web rather than old print deadlines.
The process will be akin to a broadcasting schedule. Where once we planned around page lay-outs, we will now adopt a news bulletin-style approach.
Finally, the changes in newspaper production will require further changes in working practices. I understand that this will challenge those [who have] 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.
FT journalism must adapt further to a world where reporters and commentators converse with readers. Our goal must be to deepen engagement and ensure we meet readers’ demands whenever and however they turn to us for breaking news and quality analysis.
FastFT, one of our most successful innovations this year, has shown our determination to do just that. More is to come.
Our approach to the newspaper and ft.com is a logical extension to the changes we have made in the newsroom over the past decade and more. Thanks to these changes, the FT has established itself as a pioneer in modern media.
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.
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.
The pace of change, driven by technology, is relentless as I was reminded once again during my recent conversations in Aspen and Sun Valley.
I want to thank all FT journalists for their dedication to the cause. These are challenging times. But as long as we embrace change and continue to innovate, we will continue to produce the world-class journalism of which we are all proud.
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