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Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Independent and Independent on Sunday merge business desks

The Guardian reports that the UK's Independent and its sister Sunday title the Independent on Sunday are merging their business desks into a seven-day operation. Shouldn't be difficult finding room around the desk for everyone, the Sunday was down to one staff business reporter anyway.

The announcement comes hot on the heels of the Daily Telegraph, Sunday Telegraph and online business desks merging.

The appeal of a seven-day operation is clear: pool your precious resources and co-ordinate your story coverage across print and web titles. The execution, however, is tricky.

Sunday editors are understandably reticent to let go of the secrecy and spirit of competition that traditionally exists between a Sunday and its Daily stablemate. Competition fosters ingenuity, after all, and no one wants to risk losing their page one splash to wagging tongues, especially when it's a Daily section editor who gets wind of it and steals a march on Friday night.

Nor does anyone want to risk a ratings dive by messing with the chemistry behind the distinct tone that sets the Sunday apart.

Then there's the men and women in the reporting pools and subbing teams who don't necessarily thrill to the prospect of changing work schedules.

That said, it's hard to see how publishers can do anything but move towards seven-day operations in the current climate. From a backend point of view it makes sense - they often already share a building, a website, an IT department, a content management system, marketing department, print site, and canteen. Why not subs and reporters?

Some moonlight on sister titles anyway and/or work for competitors. And there's no inherent difference in requisite skills, only a need for good editorial managers giving clear direction to their reporters and subs.

A co-ordinated approach to coverage takes care of the internal story thieves and sensible house rules about blabbing can take care of the rest (along with judicious use of privileges in the content management system to restrict visibility of sensitive stories and limit story handling to those in the direct chain).

Papers could always turn to their web editors for a few tips: news websites have largely been seven-day operations from the get-go.