Next is dead. What's next?
Thursday 19 September 2013
Reuters’ new chief executive Andrew Rashbass has taken just two months to deliver his first major strategy decision, and its implications are huge. It raises big questions, the answers to which are as yet unknown.
Some old hands thought the Reuters Next project begun more than two years ago - an ambitious re-imagining of the established Reuters.com website - was an unnecessary extravagance and not the best way forward. The man from The Economist evidently agrees, although he believes the old site has room for enhancement and improvement. “Next is a long way from achieving either commercial viability or strategic success,” Rashbass told Reuters staff. He has pulled the plug on all design and development work on Next, which has been publicly available in preview mode since its launch in beta form earlier this year. The project had struggled to meet delivery deadlines and remain within budget. Its costs have not been disclosed. Reuters spokeswoman Barb Burg would not comment on how much had been spent on the project and David Girardin, a spokesman for Reuters’ parent company Thomson Reuters, declined to say whether the cancellation would impact group earnings.
Few seem to have seen the execution coming. Only seven days before Rashbass’s announcement, Jim Roberts, executive editor of Reuters Digital, issued an internal notice making new appointments to his digital operations team. Now Roberts, brought on board in February from The New York Times, and Daniele Codega, design director, will leave the company after a transition period. Stephen Adler, editor-in-chief, and Bill Riordan, promoted as publisher of Reuters.com with a direct line to Rashbass, are re-organising their leadership teams.
Henceforth, Reuters’ digital efforts will concentrate on enhancing and improving its existing suite of websites published in Chinese, French, German, Italian, Japanese, Portuguese, Russian and Spanish as well as separate English versions for UK and US audiences. Although Reuters.com needs work, Rashbass says it is a better place from which to start to present Reuters’ public face online.
Being so new to Reuters and with a reputation for running a successful web business at The Economist, Rashbass had the advantage of bringing a fresh eye to the project. What he saw was that there is value in Reuters.com. He concluded it was time to put the kibosh on Next. “I know that this will feel somewhat ‘Back to the Future’ but the existing Reuters.com has many strengths, which I recognise coming from the outside, that perhaps people here take for granted,” he confided in an e-mail to staff.
The decision also surprised media experts. Joshua Benton, director of the Nieman Journalism Lab at Harvard University, told The New York Times: “There were a lot of really exciting ideas in Reuters’s Next. What we saw in the preview was very forward-looking in terms of both content and technology. It generated a fair amount of excitement as a news organization doing something that looked digitally savvy.”
But Next failed to play to Reuters’ strengths: a constant stream of high-quality, real-time news (something most news organisations lack), created by more than 2,000 journalists around the world; unique photography and video in an increasingly visual media world; and the core strength of international news relevant to local audiences on local-language websites.
comprehensive content created by an organisation with a global presence and an editorial reputation earned over more than 160 years trumps 'digitally savvy'
Rashbass, who joined Thomson Reuters in July to run Reuters’ news and media business, has determined that In an always-on environment in which news consumers are accustomed to and expect as a right both constant connectivity and instant updates on every breaking development, the market for online business news is increasingly crowded. New players have emerged as competitors to Reuters and other traditional news vendors. Few have Reuters’ advantage of a sustained stream of real-time news from every corner of the planet.
That stream of news, delivered free to anyone with an Internet connection, adds value to the Reuters brand with every hit. It has made Reuters.com one of the world’s most visited business and news sites with 37 million visitors each month. The site achieves premium advertising rates in a highly competitive market; it has responded well to changes in the advertising market such as the growth of real-time bidding; it has multiple language versions. “And,” says Rashbass, “its dependence on automation is a virtue not a vice. Yes, it has issues and the team will now focus on fixing those and on taking the business forward.” The clear implication is that more can be done with fewer people.
The big questions arising from the switch in online strategy are these: does it represent the beginning of a return to traditional Reuters strengths and standards, and what does it mean for those high-profile editors and executives who joined the organisation over the last five years with reputations that owed nothing to Reuters? In the post-takeover new Reuters, a world where nothing was taken for granted and everything was up for grabs, they were given a pass to think differently and big budgets to effect change. Some have already left Reuters, one way or another. Many of those who remain must be looking over their shoulders. ■