South Africa: The Times gets ready for web reporting presence

Technology & Convergence

The Sunday Times’s new daily newspaper, The Times, is on track to be distributed to over 120,000 subscribers in early June. Just more than 40 new faces — ranging from experienced hands to interns — have joined online reporters and staff from the Sunday Times in the new venture. They have spent the last week training on editorial systems and have begun planning their diaries for the launch month. Desks, telephones, computers and equipment have been issued.

The biggest headache has been working out production schedules that will ensure that we have the right skills working at the right time to meet our deadlines, without compromising the freshness of the paper the following morning.

At the same time, we are working out how to produce regular online video and audio podcasts to make the website a really attractive source of exciting visual news throughout the day.

The newsroom consists of reporters, photographers and multimedia journalists who will produce video for the web. They will sit side-by-side, working out news diaries together and, hopefully, passing on skills to one another.

Reporters will start hitting the streets this week as we prepare for a series of practice runs to fine- tune our scheduling.

I have been fielding questions on my online blog, and been writing about the “mind-numbing, bone- crunching” meetings I have had around budgets for equipment. For all the hype out there, The Times is a new product and it has to operate on a tight budget.

I am yet to encounter anyone who is not excited about it . Below is a list of frequently asked questions that I posted online.

Q: Why is the Sunday Times doing this?

A: This is about growing and building the Sunday Times brand by extending its reach into the week and on the web. The Times is a Sunday Times project. It will be delivered to 120 000 Sunday Times subscribers in the metropolitan areas. This will build the Sunday Times subscriber base. At the same time, this new multimedia daily newsroom will power up our Internet offering with multimedia and more frequent original content throughout the day. We aim to bring younger readers who do not necessarily see newspapers as their first choice for news into our readership fold via the website.

Q: Multimedia and print? How is this going to work?

A: We are throwing out the traditional newsroom model and going for a totally integrated print and web operation. This means that multimedia producers will sit side-by-side with reporters and photographers, plan together and teach each other skills. There is an acknowledgement of specialisation — we are not going to make the mistake of thrusting a camera into the hands of print journalists and asking them to “also shoot a little video” while they are about it. This approach can lead to bad video and bad print unless you are one of a handful of highly skilled and motivated individuals who can operate across mediums.

Q: But the Internet is so small in this country and the ad spend is so limited. Isn’t this all a little premature?

A: We believe in print which is why we are launching a new newspaper. Print is not dead or dying in this country, it is thriving. But the roll-out of cheaper broadband offerings and greater competition is on the horizon. When this happens, we want to have moved into a good position to offer the sorts of sophisticated multimedia products that broadband enables.

Q: Interactive. What does that mean?

A: The way people read and respond to the news is changing. There is a growing demand for interactivity — a desire to comment on, vote on or criticise the news. This is already reflected in greater letter writing to the Sunday Times and the opening of new avenues for comment such as SMS. The Times and our website will meet this demand for interactivity.

Q: Are there any plans to sell this newspaper to people other than subscribers?

A: No. The idea is to sell Sunday Times subscriptions and build the mother brand.

Business Times, 13 May 2007