Expanded interview with Rhidian Wynn-Davies
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Rhidian Wynn-Davies is consulting editor at Telegraph Media Group (TMG), publisher of the Daily Telegraph, the largest-circulation quality daily title in the United Kingdom, as well as the Sunday Telegraph and other publications and websites. Here, he talks with us about the benefits and lessons learned from changes the group made when TMG moved from Canary Wharf to central London in September 2006 and thoroughly reorganised its newsroom with the assistance of IFRA.
IFRA: What have been the major benefits Telegraph Media Group has realised since reorganising its newsroom?
Wynn-Davies: What that enabled us to do was effectively generate more copy in a more efficient manner to meet the demand for online news content in particular. And while that was important, because we needed to serve up more content, we also think the news organisation as a whole has become a lot sharper, and a lot slicker, which is fed through to what we feel is a much, much sharper newspaper product, particularly around news. That was felt from the introduction of full-colour in the late summer, early autumn of last year (2008) when we moved to full-colour presses.
I also think the way we are configured within the newsroom has also helped engender, and indeed foster cultural change – although you do need to go through a hearts-and-minds excerise as well. We have much more of a “can-do” attitude among our journalists now, a much more creative environment within which to operate. Whereas before the limitations of our previous newsroom meant that we were focused on producing the newspaper in a certain way. And whilst that way previously had proved reasonably successful in terms of newspaper sales, it was quite clear that it was out-moded for what was rapidly becoming the current media environment. Those would be the main benefits.
There is also something around the aesthetic of your working environment helping people to improve their performance. We’d been at Canary Wharf for 20 years in a towerblock in the east part of London, and it had become fairly tired and shabby looking. I think if you turn up into an office which looks as though it’s been invested in, it can only help.
IFRA: What were the main lessons you learned from the reorganisation process?
Wynn-Davies: I think the challenge we face is that it is not something that comes to a natural conclusion. It’s ongoing. You need to keep communicating the messages on a regular basis, almost daily really, because I think the idea that somehow we’ll arrive at a full stop is erronenous.
We need to constantly be stepping up to the plate to meet whatever the next challenge is. Coming back to the design and the philosophy behind the newsroom, I think that basically it’s designed – and the under-pinning principles are aimed at supporting that design – to be flexible and responsive to a changing media environment.
IFRA: That would also be something I think that goes along with training?
Wynn-Davies: Yes, we’ve gone from a zero-training organisation to a training heavy organisation. We have literally hundreds of hours of training available to all of our journalists throughout the year. I would however say that there is always the danger that training can be viewed as something you just bolt onto an organisation. I think it’s got to infuse everything you do.
We’re finding on an ad-hoc and informal basis some of our senior journalists helping to coach and mentor some of our younger journalists and that has been incredibly valuable. Again, the atomosphere and the design of the newsroom lends itself to that sort of approach. We’ve found that quite encouraging. There’s more of a learning and sharing of experiences culture than we had before, alongside formal training packages and programmes.
IFRA: I imagine that one of the advantages now is also the way that communication works within the newsroom as opposed to what you had before the move?
Wynn-Davies: I would say that the way you sit gets you a certain number of miles down the road, but the cultural change is as important if not more important. The idea that we talk together as part of a creative process is much more infused within the organisation.
IFRA: Do you have any plans to make additional changes to your newsroom in the near future, say six months to a year? And if so, what?
Wynn-Davies: No, nothing fundamental. Certainly not in terms of the infrastructure of the newsroom. We’re pretty happy with the way things are operating. We have changed things over the course of the last couple of years. For example, our research and analysis showed us that it was important for us to get our comments and communities desk closer to the heart of the hub, so we moved them in their entirety.
We also moved features to sit with some of our weekend supplements because basically there were synergies across our weekend products and some of our features offerings, and that’s worked for us. So, the demand from Telegraph.co.uk users for intraday comments and analysis and opinion alongside news was looked at, and we decided we needed to get them closer to the heart of the action.
Interview by Brian Veseling, senior editor for Editorial, Advertising and General Management.