Seven West Media navigates expanding, integrated newsroom

By Michael Beach

The Sunday Times

Perth, Australia


Something quite remarkable is happening right in front of me as I write this. What I can see from my glass box was quite unthinkable a few weeks ago, but now it almost seems routine.

There are three people sitting together having an impromptu meeting. Bookending Ben Martin (who has just replaced me as our company’s head of digital content) are two online editors, Emily Moulton and Simon White, who used to be fierce rivals.

Seven West Media now houses a number of print and digital publishing components.
Seven West Media now houses a number of print and digital publishing components.

The natural competitiveness hasn’t evaporated, but they now cooperate as well.

Welcome to the latest instalment of our fascinating newsroom, which continues to evolve so rapidly we’re having trouble finding enough desks for everyone.

Let’s bring you up to speed: Less than two years ago, our newsroom published one very dominant Monday-to-Saturday newspaper, The West Australian, and its companion Web site.

Then our company bought the country’s biggest television network. We built a whiz-bang TV studio and redesigned our news floor so our new Channel 7 colleagues could edit and produce two top-rating live news programmes and a current affairs show each day.

The novelty of blokes in make-up doing live TV broadcasting from the newsroom wore off very quickly. Pretty soon, the so-called traditional newspaper reporters got the hang of it as well, after first learning a newfound appreciation for how easy the TV reporters made it look.

It was a quite a dramatic merging of two cultures, but the overriding principle was simple — common sense. (I actually drew the first version of the combined newsroom layout with my kids’ coloured pencils on the kitchen bench at home one night. The TV news director, Howard Gretton, and The West Australian’s editor, Brett McCarthy, then fine-tuned my scribblings.)

The next step was turning our single-newspaper subbing operation into a much bigger one so it could handle 18 regional newspapers as well. Looking at the subbing queue can be quite daunting, but far more rational production people than me calmly worked through the myriad of deadlines. There were some major CMS upgrades for both the newspaper and TV station in the middle of all this, but I won’t bore you with those details.

Then, just as we were starting to catch our collective breaths, Seven West Media sealed a deal with News Corp to buy our traditional rivals, The Sunday Times newspaper and its PerthNow Web site.

Rupert Murdoch actually had quite a sentimental spot for The Sunday Times because it was his first acquisition after his dad left him a single afternoon newspaper, the Adelaide News.

But the economics and the infrastructure around one newspaper didn’t add up any more. So, last month, after a long negotiation period, Seven West Media bought the 119-year-old Sunday Times and 10-year-old PerthNow Web site from Murdoch.

I was fortunate to be appointed editor of The Sunday Times. The only catch was we had less than a week to move its staff across town, train them on our computer system, and start publishing.

We had done some background work, but there is only so much you can do.

The sale went through at lunchtime on a Wednesday, PerthNow went live from our newsroom at 5 p.m. that day, and by Saturday at 4:30 p.m., the massive presses next door were rolling with the first edition of The Sunday Times, produced by us.

It was a massive and exhausting effort by any measure. But we did it.

We’re now four weeks in, and there’s a delightful frisson of competition between the newspapers despite the terrific backend cooperation on the production side. And the respective Web site editors are working out what stories work for their different audiences and demographics.

But we haven’t finished yet.

While all this has been going on, we’re moved the digital development team into the newsroom to completely rebuild the Web site in-house. As I finish writing this, that Web site goes live in 36 hours.

Wish us luck — and another healthy dose of common sense.

About Michael Beach

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