Last week, the Financial Times announced plans to launch a single edition, global print product in the next year. In a lengthy memo published online last Wednesday, editor Lionel Barber shared the next steps in the FT’s ‘digital first’ strategy, including a focus on ‘smart aggregation of content from our own journalists and third parties’.
The production of the newspaper will be driven by the website, rather than the reverse, prompting a change in working practices and a shift in resources to FT.com. Late nights will be changed to early mornings, as ‘production journalists will publish stories to meet peak viewing times on the web rather than old print deadlines.’ This also marks an important shift for PR professionals, who must collaborate with digital editors working to new deadlines, in order to ease the transition towards a new digital-focused workflow.
The memo also outlines a considered strategy to move from ‘reactive news gathering to value-added “news in context”’, which places greater emphasis on ‘pre-planning and intelligent commissioning’. Certainly this is a smart reaction to changing reading habits, evolving patterns of media consumption, and an acknowledgement that Twitter has emerged as an essential source of breaking news. Interestingly, it also marks a move towards focusing on more analytical and long-form articles as a point of differentiation in an age of instant media gratification.
Crucially, this shift suggests there is still a demand for thought-provoking, quality journalism, regardless of format. Although the print edition will remain an important part of the FT’s multi-platform offering, its metered paywall has proved a commercial success at a time when many major news websites still rely on the traditional ad-supported business model. The FT now had a subscriber base of 600,000, with digital subscriptions outnumbering print sales by more than 100,000.
Moreover, engagement has also been a key driving force behind the FT’s approach. The appointment of Stacy-Marie Ishmael as vice president of communities is indicative of the FT’s commitment to forging a genuine relationship with its audience. The launch of fastFT (a live reporting and comment service), featured reader comments on the homepage and the development of a strong social media offering gives consumers the option to access content based on their own preferences.
It’s a challenging yet exciting time for digital content delivery. Last month, Lloyd’s List announced that it would be digital-only moving forward, a significant development for a title with an illustrious 279-year history. Indeed, it appears we are fast approaching a digital watershed, and those publications that anticipate change and react fastest will be the ones that reap the benefits. The FT falls within this category, but future success will depend on the flexibility of news producers to disseminate high-quality, original content in a commercially viable way.