Social media and new forms of content change how journalists work at The Telegraph

By Matthew Bethell

The creation of a multimedia content hub where journalists can collect photos, video and engage with their audience’s user generated content is giving rise to dynamic stories and increasing direct online sales.

Edward Roussel, online editorial director at The Telegraph in London, has cause for optimism.

The Telegraph was one of the earliest publications in the United Kingdom to clearly define the main challenge facing the industry; remaining economically viable in an environment where the market is “stagnating,” and keeping newspapers focused on their core editorial role while remaining “relevant to the digital era,” Roussel said.

Early diagnosis has enabled the Telegraph to embrace the organisational challenge of digital transition with a gusto that surprised many industry analysts, and countered the stereotype of the flat-footed, establishment broadsheet.

Appointed by the Telegraph Media Group in 2006, Roussel has overseen the transformation of the organisation from a traditional news gathering and publishing structure to a first truly integrated news operation, producing content for print and online from the same newsroom. At a time when “readers expect to take active part in the story, to respond to it and contribute it,” the capacity for social media to engage readers in the journalistic process is a significant area that the Telegraph wants to build on.

Similarly, the way content is packaged and published across multiple formats is seen as key to capitalising on the opportunities offered by digital, and in particular mobile, a major growth area in terms of audience.

After years of consistently saying for years that newspapers need to adapt to more lean times by investing in what they do best and “outsourcing the rest,” Roussel says he has become The Telegraph’s leading Web evangelist. But his enthusiasm for new technology and its potential to change the journalistic process is not glassy eyed. He consistently notes that the key to developing the traditional editorial process, which remains the primary “legacy” of the Telegraph’s output, is to integrate it more with the digital space; primarily multimedia, social media and mobile devices.

For Roussel, the period of rapid growth online for newspapers is not entirely over “but the very fast growth spurt we’ve had in recent years is beginning to tail off” and “the new growth will come from mobile,” he says.

A content hub to connect everyone

The Telegraph does not envisage print disappearing entirely because there is a “hardcore” group of people who will not migrate to digital platforms and must be catered to, Roussel explains. However, there is an appreciation at The Telegraph that any changes made to the way news is delivered, like through mobile, tablet apps, multimedia and more, also need to be matched by additional changes to the way new technology contributes to the journalistic process.

As such, The Telegraph has developed a “content hub,” which provides an interface that will access both content management systems for digital publication and for the newspaper and “allow journalists and editors to access a depth of content and put in relevant articles, stories, pictures and videos far more readily than they can now,” Roussel explains.

By “breaking down barriers” and enabling journalists to more readily retrieve, link and publish additional material, the journalistic process becomes increasingly integrated, efficient and user friendly, he says.

Social media, and in particular user-generated content and audience interaction with journalists as stories develop, compliment the integrated content hub.

The Telegraph is capitalising on social media in three main areas; encouraging readers to distribute their content, engaging users in the story via rating and comments, and through “crowd sourcing,” or encouraging readers to contribute and join in with the journalistic process. This can be anything from sending in photos of snow scenes to getting readers to analyse data sets posted by The Telegraph.

The newspaper is also turning to direct sales and more targeted forms of advertising as revenues in other areas, like print, decline. In general, Roussell said he believes that newspapers across the industry will spend the medium term “seeking to get a better balance between subscription and advertising revenues.” He also sees there being activity in the area of retail and direct sales to the interactive online audience.

Roussell’s vision is establishing a “truly multimedia” content process, creating a social place where debate and exchange of ideas can take place, and being able to produce a “Telegraph experience of equal quality” across “core areas which are the Web, tablets and smartphones.”

With increased emphasis on alternative revenue streams and a continuing focus on editorial excellence, The Telegraph is hoping that by creating a “very social place” it will also create a “very profitable place.”

This interview and more will be available in the World Newsmedia Network’s upcoming World Newsmedia Innovation Study. To secure a free copy of the report, please take our survey, available in nine languages.
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