Newsroom of the future?
Sunday 18 August 2019
In recent months, editor-in-chief Stephen Adler has regaled his troops with numerous updates on a sweeping reorganisation he calls the “Newsroom of the Future”.
This grandiose title looks misleading to say the least. Far from a brilliant new plan, it seems to be a mixture of decades-old ideas and cosmetic changes that will do little to reverse steady losses to Bloomberg - which should be Adler’s central concern.
As colleagues have repeatedly pointed out on The Baron, none of this stuff is new, let alone futuristic. I can see nothing radical in Adler’s new structure. For example, the three regional desk heads in London, New York and Singapore will remain, but with different titles.
Rather than cutting-edge innovation, the “Newsroom of the Future” appears to be a cover for the latest in a wave of deep cuts to frontline staff who generate news, while creating a bewildering proliferation of expensive senior editors and bureaucracy.
The two “work streams” of News Planning and Creation, and Editing, Curation and Publishing, seem to be long-winded names for news editors/correspondents and the desk, which are hardly fresh ideas.
Ironically Adler also lists global reach and speed as among Reuters distinctive strengths, but both have diminished under his top team, which remains packed with former Wall Street Journal staff and their friends.
The agency has become distinctly more American and less global, with parts of the world where it excelled diminished both in numbers and strength. Dedication to speed has been severely damaged by an emphasis on long form stories designed to win prizes rather than attract money-paying clients.
On one positive note, Adler and his focus groups have finally realised the decade-long folly of the Top News desks, which illogically divided a diminishing pool of deskers into two groups and demoralised those not admitted into a sometimes-arbitrary elite. These desks, dubbed “Stop News” by frustrated correspondents, were encouraged to emulate the long form philosophy of holding copy back for minute inspection and rewriting - the antithesis of good agency practice.
Now some of the editors from those disbanded desks, instead of being moved to fill gaps in frontline desking and reporting, where they are desperately needed, will join a somewhat oxymoronic “spot enterprise” (long form) unit.
Perhaps Adler has missed the irony of all this because he and his team have, from day one, displayed a remarkable contempt for the core strengths and history of the organisation they took over. They tried to graft newspaper ideas and magazine-style journalism on an agency which made its money from being fast and best and everywhere.
Only more recently have they had to acknowledge the need to turn back towards the principles on which Reuters was based, while all the while cutting the staff necessary to do it. ■