Local newspaper group Archant has decided it doesn’t need as many offices in London. Managing director Enzo Testa told the Press Gazette: “”Offices are expensive, and we don’t need as many as we did. We’re operating with laptops, mobiles, 3G cards. They don’t need to be in the office every day.”
Without knowing the exact ins and outs of the office closures, this seems like a sensible idea, especially as Archant have said nobody will be losing their jobs. And it’s one I mused about a few months ago.
Even before the recession, media companies were looking for ways to cut costs and getting rid of office space is a pretty effective way of doing this. Rent and bills must come to a hell of a lot, so cut them out and you don’t need to cut back on journalists, so the quality won’t suffer.
Communications technology has moved on pretty quickly in just the last few years to the point where, for print journalists at least, there’s little point in heading into the office. Secure servers, cloud computing, internal wikis and the like all free up the journalist to be out where the news is.
Bloggers can use these tools and can get breaking news out quickly as a result, so why have the journalist wedded to the desk. If anything, it should give journalists more flexibility. Just because we’ve always worked in an office based environment, doesn’t mean we should today if the technology allows us to do otherwise.
If this move gives journalists the ability to move around a lot more freely and be less constrained by the notion of deadlines or having to head back to the office to file copy, then it’s a good thing. It puts traditional media on the same level as social media or citizen journalists (using that phrase for lack of a better one at this time of night).
Now what’d be really cool would be to give them decent smartphones that enable them to take pictures and stream video direct to their websites. That really would be breaking news.
“But it’s a journalistic no-no. I know we are doing more work online, but reporters need to maintain human contact. Taking them away from their communities is a huge mistake.
Gary Andrews disagrees, arguing that we don’t need offices nowadays. That would be fine, of course, if publishers allowed their reporters the right to work from their homes. I suspect, however, that this manoeuvre is not about giving journalists freedom, but about constraining them still further.”
I don’t entirely disagree with Roy on this. Yes, of course reporters need to be in and around the areas they’re reporting on. That makes complete sense, and I’m definitely not advocating removing human contact.
If Archant are prepared to make sure that all the journalists on the title are living in (or, at the least, very close to) the area then that’s fine (and that doesn’t mean just employing journalists who live in the area – but helping those who don’t to find a property, whatever form that takes).
It also wouldn’t hurt to have the office – wherever that may be – to have a few hotdesks should journalists need to pop in, as well as a meeting room.
But I really do think that – if implemented properly – this could be an asset to reporters. The technology – wifi, 3G, smartphones, cloud – is in place, and a journalist doesn’t need to be tied down to one place.
I’m a big advocate of home-working or working from the coffee shop, or elsewhere. I know several freelancers – both in journalism and PR – who do just this, using these tools, and it really hasn’t affected them.
The thought of being able to zip from one story to another, or stay and file from the scene of a breaking news story, without having to worry about dashing back to the office – and being able to send in pics and videos live to the website – is one that really excites me. There is so much potential here.
But I’ll tag on a few caveats to the end of this. Firstly, repeating from earlier, I don’t know the ins and outs of exactly what Archant plans to do, so this is really just comment on my part on the idea rather than the logistics.
Secondly, yes, to agree with Roy, this move should be about freeing up journalists, not replacing extra restrictions on them to cut costs.
It’s easy to be cynical about this, but times like these call for creative solutions and this could be it. Providing it doesn’t impact on the quality or productivity.
But I’m willing to take a step back and concede that it maybe be too over-ambitious to suggest its going to live up to my ideal model. Not to mention over optimistic. And let’s make this clear – anything that results in journalists losing their jobs over this and leaves the papers understaffed is not a good things.
But nevertheless, with that in mind, let’s toss this out to any local journos who’ve stumbled across this post.
Taking this as a standalone idea (removing it, temporarily, from the Archant context), how does the idea sit with you? If somebody said: “Right, you don’t have to come in tomorrow – you’ll have access to everything you’d normally have access to, but you’ll be using a laptop, dongle and smartphone and can work from wherever you think is best. Oh, and you can phone or email at any time for editorial chats, plus we’ll make some kind of internal coms thing available (possibly using Yammer?) to bounce ideas off.”
Is that appealing? Or does it fill you with dread?