Networks of outsourced sub-editors, linked by computers, could edit most newspapers , according to Bruce Davidson, the CEO of Australian Associated Press (AAP).
In 1991, Davidson was a founder of Pagemasters, now a subsidiary of AAP. Pagemasters operations in Australia, New Zealand and the UK provided complete design, editing and production services for a range of metropolitan, regional and community newspapers and weekly and monthly magazines. It specialised in administering content online and on digital platforms.
It was this service which allowed Fairfax newspapers to outsource much of its sub-editing.
Dispersed newsrooms of editors, linked by computers and broadband, could more flexibly respond to the ebbs and flows of newspaper copy, Davidson said. Previously production had been constrained by internal departments within newspapers. There was a lot of down-time. In contrast, newsagency editors worked shifts which stretched 24/7.
It was very much silo-ed into segments on the paper. There were feature subs, sports subs business subs, general news subs and advertising and commercial content subs. A lot of newspapers stared to break that down to create more of a pool scenario..In the UK and the US… there are broader sub-editing teams subbing across multiple sections of newspapers, rather than being segmented.
It varied from newspaper to newspaper. “But there is still a need for specialist knowledge,” he said.
We don’t have a one size fits all, generic, assembly line approach to this. We sit down with the newspapers and work out the best ways they want to change their structures. ..AAP is [already] a big part of the landscape for the media industry. We provide a large proportion of the content that’s in our media every day, not just stories but now pictures and video, and audio grabs for the radio. Pagemasters expands this to providing services around that content. We are also re-purposing content so that it can be populated on websites and digital platforms that much more easily.
Efficiencies came from breaking down the silo culture, changing expectations and changing what journalists did on a daily basis. “If you talk to our sub-editors, they don’t see that as onerous,” Davidson said,” they just see it as a good solid work flow”. “We have at our disposal a large pool of skill which we can deploy as the load dictates,” Davidson said. “We can do the work as it arrives”.
Group Managing Editor for Pagemasters, Peter Atkinson described the process.
The copy really moves around in the models that we use. In both the New Zealand operation in Auckland, where our team is doing sub-editing for the New Zealand Herald and the APN (Australian Provincial News) regional titles, our teams work in a system that networks directly back into the newspaper. Similarly with the work we do for Fairfax, our Brisbane office producing feature sections for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Age, we connect by high speed Firewire directly into the Fairfax mainframe.
“We work as if we were in the very next office,” Atkinson said.
We provide solutions to some of the challenges facing newspapers and their businesses in a fairly dynamic environment. For a lot of our history we offered work that was a on a page ready basis, that is prepared and ready for press. Particularly regional publishers who had less resources could download out work and send it straight to press. It was completed in house and syndicated via the web. More recently we have got into providing editing services, where we provide sub-editing power…
But what of quality?
We have the same aims as our clients. We hire the same qualified staff and give them the same excellent working conditions. We train them to be at the cutting enge of the profession. We have the same commitment to the end product and good journalism as any newspaper.
Pagemasters was tied by contract to meet key performance indicators of quality. “We meet substantial financial penalties, if the standards of our work are not up to an agreed level,or even if we fail to meet deadlines”.
- Transforming Fairfax (mumbrella.com.au)