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November 4, 2016updated 07 Nov 2016 8:27am

‘Audience-first’ changes at Archant could see all print titles created centrally and newsrooms replaced with ‘content rooms’

By Dominic Ponsford

Regional press group Archant is planning to centralise production of all its print titles at one site in Norwich as part of a wholesale “audience first” reorganisation.

Archant publishes 50 weekly newspapers the south of England and four East Anglian dailies: the Eastern Daily Press, Ipswich Star, East Anglian Daily Times and the Norwich Evening News.

Chief content officers Matt Kelly (pictured above) yesterday communicated the changes to staff in an email marked “private and confidential”.

They look set to result in dramatic changes for sub-editors, editors and news editors working at the group in particular. Up to 57 jobs are at risk of redundancy with 40 new roles being created.

Senior journalists working in “content rooms”, rather than newsrooms, will publish directly to the web under the changes and report to content editors.

Kelly said that newspapers will be edited with “a very light touch” and mainly comprise material already published online.

There are also plans to make more use of reader-generated content.

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Kelly said: “If matt kelly, local world.JPGwe box clever, we can out-perform even Facebook in our communities.”

He said the changes were about “reclaiming relevance” and will mean the group entirely separates “the production of the newspaper from the creation of content”.

He said the changes are needed because while print circulations have been in decline “we have not yet been able to recreate the same highly engaged, large loyal local audiences in digital that we have enjoyed in print”.

He said that print remains “vital” and said: “We’ve seen many examples of how media companies who relegate their printed products to the margins of their business (in so-called digital-first strategies) often pay a price in accelerated circulation declines and, in some cases, a worrying decline in the standards of journalism that separate us from every hyper-local blogger or tweeter or Facebook community out there in the ether.”

No buzzwords

Rejecting “buzzwords” he said: “What I am proposing for Archant is not a digital-first strategy. Nor is it a mobile first or a social first or whatever the next buzzword-strategy-du-jour may be.

“Our strategy to be more relevant than ever before is not dependent on platform.

“Our strategy begins and ends with our audience.

“That’s why we describe our approach, quite simply, as audience-first.”

A centralised newspaper production unit in Norwich will be responsible for “design and delivery” of all the newspaper titles under the changes.

He said: “Editing the newspaper will be done with a very light touch from title editors – I do not want editors spending hours deciding between the page 9 and page 15 leads, or coping with the perennial last minute need for dozens of fillers to complete news pages.”

The four daily titles are to be redesigned to make them “simpler to produce”. Kelly said: “I think the results are stunning, and that both you and – even more importantly – our readers will love them.”

The new “content rooms” will be “less hierarchical” under the proposed changes.

“Senior reporters and specialists will be encouraged to publish direct to digital and – liberated from the domineering task of filling the newspaper – I expect to see us create even more content than we do today.

“To facilitate the easy production of the newspaper, we will create content in pre-ordained styles that will both look great online and in print. But the practice of holding content back for print will end, with very few exceptions.”

Describing the role of the content editors he said: “In a nutshell, I am asking us to stop editing a newspaper, and instead edit the community we serve. ”

He said: “It is absolutely not my intention to compromise on the quality of our journalism.”

He said that “big monthly unique audience numbers” are “are meaningless and do not translate into meaningful revenue”.

Kelly said: “Our strategy is large, loyal and local.”

The new content editors will report in to two new content directors udder the changes: Steve Anglesey (who will oversee East Anglia) and Laura Adam (London, Herts and Cambs and the South West).

Kelly said that journalists should not seek to “cover everything that moves” in their communities.

“Our job is to edit. To decide what is important and to cover those subjects in depth. To set the agenda. To campaign. To investigate. To entertain. To inform. Our job is not, and never has been, to be mediocre. But if we try to cover everything that moves, then mediocrity is often the result.”

Under the new system a proportion of features content will be created centrally “taking the best of what we produce across the group and giving it broader reach wherever it is relevant”.

Kelly said: “If these proposals come to fruition that we will lose several colleagues through redundancy.”

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