Writing for editorsweblog.org, Rory Satran makes "A Case for Measured Integration" of print and online newsrooms.
This is a complex issue, and one full of opportunities to fail. Many of us (legitimately) fear seeing online efforts placed under the thumb of luddite or inept print editors, and yes, there are plenty of those still in power in American newsrooms. Web news is not "just another edition" and there's a very real danger of unlearning the hard lessons we've learned in more than a decade of Internet publishing. I've seen those lessons tossed right out the door -- along with online editors who were perceived as threatening to the power base of print editors.
But those issues are merely common stupidity and can be dealt with. What is more dangerous is shifting to a production-efficiency focus at a time when we desperately need to break out of the "online newspaper" trap.
Several years ago in his doctoral dissertation for the Harvard Business School, Clark Gilbert documented a tremendous performance advantage held by newspaper online departments that were organizationally separate from print. This separation made possible quick decisionmaking, rule-breaking thinking, and direct accountability for results.
I believe we are not finished defining online news, and we need to be careful not to lose the agility of a separate online operation as we seek efficiencies. Print editors will argue that they're innovative, forward-thinking and fast-moving, but I've consistently found an order of magnitude of difference in those definitions.
More importantly, we've hardly even begun making process outside of the "news" concept in local information and community interaction.
Newsrooms are not designed to address product-development and innovation issues in such areas; newsrooms are production factories.
So we should be careful to make separate, protected places in our organizations for such work. Good intentions are not enough.
I am not making an argument against integration. In fact, I think production processes need to be integrated and "newspapers" need to become multiplatform organizations managing a portfolio of products.
What I think has to be separate is the process of innovation outside the "news" core. This is where the NewspaperNext project comes into play. The N2 definition of core versus noncore -- which is not drawn on lines of product technology -- should help us understand when and how to integrate, and when not do so.