Modern newsrooms reflect changing business, technology, and journalism itself. Sometimes, the biggest change is about what is no longer to be seen in the office rather than what is.
In the past year, as INMA’s researcher-in-residence, I talked to the teams of more than 150 member publishers and visited almost 50 editorial offices in Europe and North America.
Since the pandemic, many newsrooms have continued to work in part remotely, like Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung in Germany, where I saw a newly built but sparsely occupied skyscraper. Gone was the buzz of the newsroom. My guide broke the silence: “Everyone is at work, just not in the office.”
An even bigger surprise was the newsroom of Berlingske in Copenhagen, Denmark. This 275-year-old newspaper, one of the oldest continuously published in the world, no longer works on a printed newspaper.
Berlingske still published a print edition, but the editing was first relegated to the corner of the office and then outsourced to an external facility. The chief editor explained: “The newsroom is practically and symbolically digital-only.”
My home is my soul
Let me step away from the newsrooms for a minute and tell you what I saw on the streets of Antwerp in Belgium.
In the autumn, I visited the headquarters of two biggest media companies — DPG Media and Mediahuis — both financially successful, expanding internationally, and innovating.
DPG Media’s new office was right in the city centre and next to the iconic Antwerp railway station. It’s a statement building, with a large video screen outdoors, projecting the company’s multimedia ambition and competitiveness.
Mediahuis’ office was located in a quiet suburb, in an unassuming building surrounded by greenery. Its humble and sustainable office spoke to the company’s focus on productivity and collaboration.
If brands have souls, the buildings are the manifestations of their identities and values.
In the centre of the universe
Digital success usually requires different organisation than in the printed days of glory, and this shifts the office layouts and moves furniture, architecture permitting.
Fifteen years ago, editors lined up to visit the Daily Telegraph in London to see the largest open plan office space in England, with its iconic central hub or a round table for the key editors. Sections fanned out from that central hub, like planets orbiting around their sun.
Last summer, the Telegraph’s editorial floor looked more or less the same, but its layout has clearly inspired the world — be it The Wall Street Journal in New York or the little Dennik N in Bratislava, Slovakia.
Large screens for analytics remind everyone that the audience rules, and the subscription conversion numbers on those screens show the new priorities, like at Dagens Nyheter in Stockholm, Sweden.
Robots casually worked alongside humans, for example, at Svenska Dagbladet across the town, which automated the process of planning and creating its print page layouts.
Newsrooms got image conscious and Instagrammable, just in case somebody takes a selfie or shoots a video commentary in the office. Both El Mundo and El Pais in Madrid, Spain, featured large logotypes near the editorial hubs and instructed the guest how best to capture it all.
Piles of old newspapers, books, files, cigarette ash trays — or whatever else characterised my office 20 years ago — disappeared. Hot desks and standing desks pushed away even family photos and mugs; nothing personal, just business.
The omnipresence of studio facilities reflected former text-only publishers’ bet on audio and video, with Aftonbladet and Expressen, both in Stockholm, splashing on fancy furniture, green screens, and robotic cameras. Welt in Berlin, Germany, merged its newsroom with a news channel N24.
What’s trendy? A TikTok-optimised studio like the one at IPM’s Les News 24 in Brussels, Belgium. The hint: It’s for vertical filming and not the horizontal type.
As media shift to customer-centricity, editors are expected to collaborate more with product and marketing colleagues. Windowless workshops no longer suffice. Flexible room layouts and mobile furniture help set up ad-hoc spaces, giving space to work on projects together.
Sometimes, the novelties become permanent. At Gazeta Wyborcza in Warsaw, Poland, the consumer revenue and audience teams sat next to the offices of chief editors.
Communal spaces sometimes resembled airport lounges, music clubs, coffee shops, gyms, or playgrounds, with informal chairs, sofas, swings, balls, or barbells awaiting journalists seeking a respite. Old brands want to have cool offices to attract the new kids on the block.
In Tallin, Estonia, the office of Postimees stunned me with bold paintings and sculptures that you’d expect at a gallery, not at a workplace. “Our newspaper owner is a collector of modern art,“ the editor whispered.
At Blick in Zurich, plush toys were preserved in glass jars. Pickle Elmo, a Canadian artist’s comment on our consumer culture, glared at me at the reception desk.
Is there a space for any legacy in these temples of modernity? At Corriere della Sera in Milan, Italy, editors climbed the marble stairs covered by a thick red carpet and sat behind a century-old, long, wooden table.
When they discussed the news of the day, they were surrounded by classic front pages hanging on the walls and a historic map of the world.
The only sign of a new world was a screen with a camera for video calls and sharing statistics. That winter, the noble Corriere reached 30 million online users, or half of Italy’s population, and passed 550,000 digital subscribers.
Hear from Corriere’s Maria Sgromo and Globe and Mail’s Andrew Kendall during next week’s Webinar on how to convert the 2024 news cycle into subscriptions (January 31, 10:00 a.m., New York time).