Former Guardian editor Peter Preston believes that the answer to the troubles of the print media is to integrate their mainstream operations with their online activity:
In short, a moment of profound decision-making approaches. Some papers, like the Daily Express, make no great effort to move with the times. Some, like the Sun, cut back in anguish. Some, like the Guardian, have begun, at great cost, to build a future on the net.
But integration? One newsroom serves all? So far, these are problems awaiting solution. The Guardian, like the huge BBC online effort, has two substantial staffs doing one thing or the other, not both. Problems of integration initially solved by extra resources.
And that is much the same story around the world. Papers that are supposedly integrated – like the New York Times now – still have segregation on the editorial floor. Other, smaller operations mix digital, print, TV and broadcast in a bran tub that gives time for everything but finding original stories. Sometimes, perversely, as in areas of Canada, the law insists on keeping print and digital newsgathering for the same organisation miles apart.
None of this, though, can be the true future. None of it operates with maximum efficiency when news – instant, gripping news – grabs readers by their throats. Here’s Jon Donley, who runs the New Orleans Times-Picayune’s entertainment website, talking to the Online Journalism Review about what’s happening in a desolate city where newspapers can’t be printed or distributed.
‘Reporters are seeing they can get their story in and have news [on the web] at the same time as the TV news. But this has thrown out all the rules. I don’t think there’s anybody at the paper who doesn’t see us as a close ally. And I don’t think we’ll go back to the way things were because we’ve depended on each other too much. Now it’s pretty clear, the advantages of doing it this way. I don’t know what it will look like when we get back to normal, but I don’t think normal life will be normal for a couple years’.
Correction, I think, in turn: there is no such thing as normal life (for journalists) left.