Archive | July, 2022

The three-newsroom problem

5 Jul

Vienna – “Austria’s capital, Vienna” – is the most liveable city in the world, and the Tribune is all over the story. Global news, global news organisation: it’s the perfect fit. Except that, no sooner have we announced the winner than, one paragraph later, we’re straight into a controversy about … Auckland.

Now, Auckland was last year’s winner by reason of its strict lockdown, and now it’s 34th for the same reason, which is interesting. OK. But two brief paragraphs about Vienna later, we move on to … Melbourne. Melbourne came tenth.

Then we address Australia’s other major cities, none of which are in the top 25. Finally, at paragraph seven, we get to a brief rundown of the six European cities in the top 10.

By paragraph 11, we’re back on the subject of Melbourne, with a quote from the premier of Victoria,

and you start to suspect that, just possibly, this global-interest story about all the world’s cities was filed by the Australian office. The byline tells you only that the article is by “Staff and agencies”,

but the dateline reveals a launch time of 2.43am, British summer time – approaching 10pm for the US office, which is day shift only, but 11.43am, right in the middle of the working day, down under.

The Tribune has three fully fledged newsrooms: London, New York and Sydney. The demerits of having a trio of autonomous operations running in parallel have been rehearsed at length in this blog, but of course there are merits as well. For instance, live blogs and big rolling stories in one country can be kept alive all night and into the morning by the other two offices; as a natural consequence of the time zones in which it operates, the Tribune never sleeps now. Quality of coverage may dip a little as, say, London reporters wrestle with the snakepit machinations of Capitol Hill, but breaking political news at 5am EDT will be up ready for a breakfast audience across the US before the baton is handed back.

In these circumstances it is instinctively understood who the story “belongs” to, and which are the senior and junior newsrooms in each case. There is also a clear, if slightly troublesome, policy about whether you should write local news chiefly for a local audience in each jurisdiction: the answer is yes, even if those stories sound a bit baffling to readers abroad. The three-newsroom problem that we do not seem to have addressed yet is what to do about stories of apparently global relevance where all the interest will in fact be local, and vary according to where it is being read.

Last year we discussed the Sydney-bureau story about heat deaths around the world in which all the experts quoted were Australian. This story has a further problem: despite introducing antipodean figures as though they were familiar names, it also tries to adopt a slightly tortured citizen-of-nowhere approach to the geography (“Switzerland’s Zurich”, “fellow Swiss city Geneva” and so on). London, the Tribune’s home and headquarters, is not mentioned until the 18th paragraph. The same is true of New York (or, as the article calls it, “the US city of New York”).

A conscious attempt at impartiality mixes with the subconscious desire to find relevance for the home market, and for two-thirds of its audience the story jars. But it’s hard to believe that writers in New York or London would, or could, have approached it any differently.

And that leaves us with a suggestion that defies efficient planning and good internet practice, but seems to make the most journalistic sense: if you have three newsrooms, are there in fact some stories that you need to cover three times?