Today is the first day that we follow our daily production routine, which includes two news conferences a day, story and multimedia production, the taking of pictures, allocation of copy and the production of pages. Basically, everything but printing the paper. Once we enter this daily cycle, our focus will shift permanently from thinking to acting. The challenge is a stark one: We must beat the the months of expectation about what The Times will be. We will have just over two weeks to iron out all the last wrinkles. We have been joined for this phase by the phenomenal Peter Atkinson who consults for the Daily Mirror*. He will be with us right through the launch and it is very reassuring to have the presence of one of Fleet Street’s greatest on our floor. Today we will meet not as the band of bright-eyed idealists that started out on this journey months ago, but as a group of mission-focused journalists doing what we do best – writing stories, taking pictures and making movies.
As Marcello Rios of Zero Hora put it: “The first duty of a story is to be read”. There you have it.
*No, that does not mean that The Times is going to be a red-top like the Mirror or the Sun.
The Times staff are at training again today. We had a very inspirational talk and workshop with Sue Horton of the LA Times on Monday morning. She is a great old-school journalist (hope that’s an okay description, Sue..) who gave us insight into decision making on stories and threw out great ideas. This was followed by a presentation by Carly Ritz, the Multimedia Editor, who introduced the staff to our plans with podcastsl, vodcasts and video and took us through some examples of great multimedia.
On Tuesday, the staff split into two training streams – the writers and subs who will work on the PC-based editorial system and the multimedia and pictures guys who will work on Macs. By the end of this week, everyone should be up to speed on their equipment and their content management systems. Next week, we shift up a gear to achieve two things:
1. Get reporters/mms and photogs out on the streets doing real stuff, some of which we can start posting online; and
2. Going through the motions with our production system to check for scheduling gaps and fixes we need to bring in.
In the meantime I am finalising the staff list and reconciling everything with budget – which I am hoping I will beat due to tight approach we have taken with staffing and equipment. It goes without saying that as a start-up operation, we are going to be very cost conscious and we are mining existing syndication sources and minimising the purchase of outside/freelance material other than our fantastic rack of columnists*.
The approach taken with recruiting has been to make an offer which is a modest (around 1,2 grand) improvement on existing pay on a take-it or leave-it basis. There are many cases where editors have suddenly woken up to the potential of employees and made counter-offers which they have accepted. I have not gone into any kind of bidding war over these people, because I need them to be along for the ride and not the cheque at the end of the month. At least I have inflated the wage bill of the competition a little . Most who were made counter-offers turned down more money because they felt the excitement. To them, I say: Yeeehah!
* Details when contracts in and signed …