MERGING Western Australia’s two biggest media outlets was a decision two years in the making. It marked a new era for The West Australian daily newspaper and the Seven Network’s Perth television station, which had been based at its old headquarters for half a century.
In February this year, parent company Seven West Media combined its editorial operations and merged its commercial teams in one of the biggest operational shake-ups of a media company in Australian history.
A TV newsroom and a print newsroom came together, and sales teams from Seven West’s digital, radio, print and television properties were integrated.
Agencies can now approach a single source for multi-platform campaign planning, and Seven West Media can offer clients a huge array of options across different media properties. TV and newspaper journalists work side-by-side, reporting is done across different media and chiefs-of-staff manage the newsroom from a single, central desk.
The architects of the combined newsroom were The West Australian editor Brett McCarthy and Seven Perth news director Howard Gretton. “I think a lot of what you see here now looks obvious, but it wasn’t two years ago,” Gretton said.
A shared building was on the agenda since 2011 when West Australian Newspapers itself merged with the Seven Group to form Seven West Media, but ambitions were not always as big as the ultimate outcome.
The two men had envisioned that Seven News and the newspaper would share a building, but be run out of separate newsrooms on different floors. Then they took a trip to Europe and toured integrated newsrooms in Denmark, Finland and the UK, which showed them the potential of reporters from different media working together and freely sharing information.
The trip sold both Gretton and McCarthy on the idea of putting Seven News and The West Australian in the same newsroom, but nothing they saw overseas came close to the magnitude of what they had to achieve back home.
“Most weren’t on the scale of this. In fact, none of them were,” Gretton said.
Now, three months on from Seven’s move into the Osborne Park headquarters, reporters are filing for television, print and online, sales teams have planned high-impact ad executions utilising every platform and agencies are finding it easier than ever to plan a campaign.
The newspaper’s state political reporter Gareth Parker is reaping the benefits of working in a multimedia newsroom on a daily basis.
“The editorial management of the paper have identified individuals who they think could cross over,” he said.
“And for me, it’s been a process of getting trained on those things, doing voice training with [newsreader] Susannah Carr who’s one of the very best in the business, going out on the road and practising stand-ups, practising pieces to camera.”
His first TV story was about an Aboriginal protest at Heirisson Island. “It was a relatively straight-forward story journalistically,” he said.
“The newsgathering things don’t change; it’s just a different way of presenting and writing your story.”
The newsroom, which holds Western Australia’s two biggest news operations as well as the digital arm Yahoo!7, is no physically larger than before Seven moved in.
Editing booths, control rooms and recording studios were installed at the back of the newsroom. The only addition to the entire building was a television studio for the news, and a transmitter tower.
Seven journalists practise voiceovers, repeating sentences over and over, next to newspaper reporters and layout artists preparing the next day’s paper. The newsroom is noisy and feels busy, and it has since the first day of the new system when Seven Perth’s entire staff moved in overnight.
Crime reporters from Seven and The West Australian sit next to each other and share ideas. Parker and his Seven counterpart Geof Parry are desk neighbours, a few metres away from a camera set up for Seven News reporters to do live newsroom crosses.
“The rhythm of the newsroom’s changed quite a bit,” Parker said.
CO-ORDINATING all the inputs and outputs across the new, vast enterprise, Brett McCarthy and Howard Gretton sit in neighbouring offices, divided by a glass wall so they have line of sight to each other and the newsroom at all times.
“We’re probably using only 10 per cent of the capacity of what we could do down the track,” McCarthy said. “We need to keep building on that until we can use 80, 90 per cent of the brainpower and ability that we’ve got in this room to produce content for wherever we need content to be produced.”
The presence of Sunday Night reporter Steve Pennells in Indonesia for the execution of Australian drug runners Andrew Chan and Myuran Sukumaran provided a great example of what is possible, according to Gretton.
“He works across both print and TV effortlessly,” he said.
Pennells had been filing from Indonesia during the night while Seven Perth co-ordinated national network TV coverage of the pending executions, broadcasting through the new control room.
“Brett had his people here until the early hours of the morning, so there was a team working together and feeding off each other. That would never have happened before,” Gretton said.
The nature of the coverage, with continuing uncertainty about whether the men had actually been put to death, meant communication between senior reporters with different sources was critical.
“My senior person, the night editor who was there, and Howard’s senior producer were able to easily communicate to each other – okay, we’re happy with it, now we can go live on TV and our guys can push the button on the paper,” McCarthy said.
The relationship with Yahoo!7 and both Seven News and The West Australian remains unchanged, with a digital- first policy on breaking news.
“On a day by day basis, we operate just like we used to. There’s no difference. We chase every story down,” Gretton said. “If one of our [Seven] reporters breaks a story, we break it on Seven News.”
He said there had been no examples of one side scooping the other side, and each side has ownership of their exclusives.
One of the more dramatic examples of the possibilities under the new structure is TV journalist turned newspaper reporter Grant Taylor’s coverage of immigration raids in Perth last month. Taylor used his contacts to get a spot alongside police as they conducted the raid, and brought a television camera.
“We decided we’d break the story in the paper in the morning, and pointed from the paper to Seven News that night. The previous night, Seven had made their own promo which pointed to the paper in the morning,” McCarthy said.
Both McCarthy and Gretton stress there are no rules around what journalists can cross over platforms. “Some won’t want to, some won’t be good enough to do that, but some will,” Gretton said.
“The understanding of the newspaper and what makes it tick, and the understanding of television and what makes it tick are what makes journalism tick anyway.”
Political reporter Gareth Parker says having two reporters on the same beat hasn’t created any logistical challenges. If his TV counterpart Geof Parry heads off to a press conference, Parker might go with him, or request he asks a question for him.
“You can get maximum value for the information, and you can reach more people with your story,” he said.
At the centre of everything is the brand new “superdesk”.
Chiefs-of-staff, editors and subs from TV, print and digital sit together at the heart of the space and co-ordinate coverage across all platforms.
“We’re able to easily communicate, we’re able to look at joint projects,” McCarthy said. “It’s a hub, it’s where the reporters gather.”
Gretton adds: “When the big one breaks, everyone hears what’s going on.”
Although Perth’s two largest media companies are now effectively one, neither Gretton nor McCarthy believe the state will suffer because of a more concentrated media landscape.
“We’ve already been the same company for a few years, so it would make sense that if you’re one company, you’re doing it together,” McCarthy said.
“If I’m publishing stuff in the newspapers that’s written by people who have formerly just been doing stuff for Seven, you can mount the argument that the voice is more diverse.”
The technological change for Seven in particular was huge. Not only did staff move an entire television station to new premises without missing a bulletin, but they are working with entirely new equipment.
Staff have adapted well, however. Opinions on the newsroom floor are overwhelmingly positive. Despite the stereotyped differences between print and television reporters, there has been no cultural clash.
“You could argue that adults should get on with everyone else – yes, we should, but it’s a hell of a thing to move one big newsroom into another,” Gretton said. “There’s a genuine kind of enthusiasm that’s bubbling in the place now.”
“Part of the future for this newsroom is being able to hire young people to come into a newsroom like this . . . with an expectation that they’ll be able to work across everything,” McCarthy said.
“For young people getting into the industry, that should be an exciting prospect.”
IN THE middle of the sales floor at the Osborne Park headquarters of The West Australian and Seven Perth, a pile of construction equipment and furniture sits on the ground waiting to become a “purpose-built pod.”
“That’s where the full integration will happen,” The West Australian sales director David Bignold said. “Teams from Channel 7, from digital, from press, from our regional papers, from the radio station – they’ll come together and they’ll work on proactive and reactive briefs there.”
The new integrated sales pod is along the same lines as the editorial superdesk upstairs. It’s where the integration between Seven Perth and The West Australian is physically manifested, with one point of contact for direct customers and agency clients to guide them through the smorgasbord of multi-platform options.
“We have got a key decision-maker from Seven West Media allocated to the key buying houses. That’s the initial point of contact for everything,” Bignold said. For direct customers, “we’ll go and see them, they’ll want a brief, we’ll suggest the idea.”
“We’ll look at how we can get more of a spend into all of our Seven West Media assets. We may be able to deliver a hell of a lot more with added value, a bigger audience and a more targeted audience.”
Already, the integrated system – even while the “pod” is still being built – has notched up plenty of runs on the board. Seven West has just helped to launch the Liebe + Haus premium appliance brand “with a fully integrated proposal,” Bignold said.
Liebe + House will have two showrooms in Perth. One is open now, and the other is around two months away from opening.
“The [WA] Office of Road Safety has just come to us with a massive opportunity which we’ve fully exploited for all of our assets. And the list rolls on into new homes, into motor vehicles, into new categories of business. It makes life a lot easier for them; it makes them look a lot more professional whether it’s a direct client, or whether we’re going to the agency.
“The agencies we’re dealing with think it’s fantastic, and they can see this is the way of the future.”
Working on the Liebe + Haus brief was Jon Sharp, managing director of The White Room agency. The White Room has a staff of 10 and is based in Perth.
Sharp went to the agency’s account manager at Seven West, who has been in regular contact about the changes at the publisher and the opportunities available to buyers.
“He was the first port of call to see what Seven West can bring to the table, if it [was] the right fit for our target audience and our brand,” he said. The Seven West manager brought in specialists from Seven, Yahoo, and promotions and circulations people.
“It was great to have that one contact who understood what our objectives were, he understood what our target audience was, and he could liaise with the other channels they own and provide that solution for us,” Sharp said.
Like the integrated newsroom, sales staff from different platforms work side-by-side. TV representatives sit next to press representatives who sit next to digital representatives, who work with staff from the data commercialisation arm Red Fusion, who work with radio salespeople.
“It’s just great that someone can access them all and bring them all together for us, and unlock a few doors and a few opportunities that probably wouldn’t have existed before.”
Sales teams from the Seven West-owned magazine publisher Pacific Magazines are not based at the Osborne Park site, although they pass in and out. Customers deal with a Seven West sales rep that works across all the platforms, and instigates the contact with Pacific.
The move hasn’t been without its challenges – the commercial side of the fence has to contend with competitive pressures that the editorial aspect hasn’t. Every client wants something different, and many are coming from previous relationships with different broadcasters and newspapers that previously haven’t included either Seven or The West Australian.
“They may have used Nine and The West, or they might have used Seven and The Sunday Times,” Bignold said.
“We’re saying to them if you give us all your budget, not only will you be in the state’s premier products, we’ll deliver more audience, we can do it cheaper and we can actually give you more added value.
“We’ll produce the best targeted results for them.”
Bignold says there has been some pushback from clients but many of these issues have been overcome.
“Some parts of the market are lapping it up; other parts of the market will take a bit more time.”
However, he said the integration was securing Seven West a greater percentage of the market. “It’s slow and steady because we don’t know what the end model will actually look like yet . . . [but] it’s got a great vibe right now and we’re seeing some really positive responses.”
A key source of data to inform the planning of integrated campaigns will be the Red Fusion data business, which is still in its infancy. It has been used on a few trial campaigns but is part of Seven West’s “big data” strategy.
The company has an uncommonly large number of different “touch-points” for data collection because of the sheer number of different places people can be reached by Seven West.
“We’ve got touch-point out of everyone that’s entered a competition, subscribed to a Pacific magazine, downloaded Yahoo, subscribed to our newspaper, they might have entered our footy tipping competition; we’ve got over 1.2 million people on our database here,” Bignold said.
Seven West can use this data to precisely target the right audience for a client when planning a multi-platform campaign.
Bignold is convinced that integrated sales teams will become the new norm as media companies centralise and consolidate their businesses.
That view is also held by Jon Sharp from The White Room.
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