Who needs offices anyway?

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.


Roy Greenslade picks up on this as well:

“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?


4 Responses to “Who needs offices anyway?”

  1. 1 Alan Fagan January 14, 2009 at 2:36 pm

    Walking around some of the dodgier parts of the East End with a laptop? What could possibly go wrong!

    Newspaper groups are only interested in cutting costs. Jobs are being lost all over the place – are they really going to spunk thousands and thousands on new technology?

  2. 2 Gary Andrews January 14, 2009 at 5:55 pm

    Er, Al, that wasn’t quite what I meant; journalists walking around with a laptop until they find a story and all that. More that it gives the journalist more freedom, even if their initial base is at home/cafe/library etc.

    It probably needs a bit of support and training and – yes – money thrown at it to work. Now whether this will be done with Archant, I don’t know.

    But I still maintain we’re wedded to a very old-school way of working. We don’t need to be in the office 9-5 or constantly have to head back to the office. The tools to make work more flexible are there. It’s how people use them.

  3. 3 Dina January 15, 2009 at 1:43 pm

    Hey Gary,
    i have some interesting points for this post, seeing that I work for Archant and all, however i will email them to you.
    What i need to know though, after trying to convince our new media team to use twitter as part of our website, is why use twitter instead of RSS?
    How can a local paper use this digital platform to increase traffic?
    Why use twitter at all? the logistics behind it?
    Help, help, I tried explaining but i’m not very eloquent when it comes to talking about new media, i need your opinion as you seem to have your finger pretty much on the pulse.

  4. 4 Gary Andrews January 15, 2009 at 4:19 pm

    Aw, thanks Dina, that’s vry kind of you. Why use Twitter instead of RSS… I feel a blog post coming on on that 🙂

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January 2009

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Yes, this is my name. And my email. Use it wisely or you're not getting a biscuit with your tea: garyllewellynandrews [at] gmail [dot] com

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