Design and production of the company’s newspapers will in future be separated from the content creation function with a centralised production unit in Norwich responsible for all print titles.
Meanwhile content teams will publish directly to the web in what the company is calling an ‘audience first’ publishing model.
The company has declined to put a figure on the number of redundancies expected, but it is understood that the plans could see the loss of up to 57 roles across the company, with around 40 new roles to be created.
Staff were notified of the proposals yesterday afternoon in an email from chief content officer Matt Kelly and then in a follow-up email from chief executive Jeff Henry.
Jeff’s email, which has been seen by HTFP, states: “We have been working for some time on a plan to specifically transform our content function. This has been shaped to reflect the profound changes in the way that content is both created and consumed.
“Our current editorial structure and workflows are too print focused and we believe they impede us from having an ”audience first“ approach. This inhibits our strategic aim to become the best local media company in the UK by the end of 2017.
“Whilst, regrettably, we are proposing to make a number of today’s existing roles redundant, we will also be creating a number of new positions across the group.
“Those people whose roles are at risk of redundancy will be informed as soon as possible and we will then enter into a period of consultation with them.
“We appreciate there is some potential for instability and uncertainty as this process proceeds. We will endeavour to conclude matters swiftly and will support relevant staff as best we can.
“These proposed changes are critical for our future – they reflect the essential transformation required in order that we embrace the myriad of new opportunities and ensure that Archant continues to flourish and remain the most relevant media in the communities we serve.”
Matt set out the rationale behind the proposals in a lengthy document which has also been seen by HTFP.
He wrote: “Newspapers and magazines, contrary to today’s perceived wisdoms, remain a vital and unique platform for our content. There is no digital equivalent to the sense of belonging, of serendipity, of concrete value that print can give a reader.
“And we’ve seen many examples of how media companies who relegate their printed products to the margins of their business (in so-called digital-first strategies) often pay a price in accelerated circulation declines and, in some cases, a worrying decline in the standards of journalism that separate us from every hyper-local blogger or tweeter or Facebook community out there in the ether.
“That’s why what I am proposing for Archant is not a digital-first strategy. Nor is it a mobile first or a social first or whatever the next buzzword-strategy-du-jour may be. Our strategy to be more relevant than ever before is not dependent on platform. Our strategy begins and ends with our audience. That’s why we describe our approach, quite simply, as Audience-first.”
He added: “An audience-first strategy aims to deliver excellence in every platform on which our audience chooses to consume our content. But to enable this, here at Archant, I believe one simple but fundamental shift must be made. We need to separate the production of the newspaper from the creation of content.
“Our day-to-day routines are almost entirely geared-up around print. From the design of our CMS, the rotas we work to, the amount and type of content we create, the vast majority of it is designed to accommodate print.
“In our newsrooms, our newspapers dominate thinking throughout the day.
“These proposals aim to change this, and give you, our content creators, the ability to fulfil your journalistic potential across all of the platforms our audience chooses.”
In the document, Matt announced the appointment of two content directors who would oversee the implementation of the “audience first” strategy in Steve Anglesey, who will cover East Anglia, and Laura Adams, who will be responsible for London, Herts, Cambs and the South West.
Matt also revealed that Mark Hindle would be in charge of the centralised newspaper production unit, which will be based on the first floor of the company’s Prospect House, Norwich HQ, pictured above.
He said that the newspapers would be edited with a very “light touch,” adding: “I do not want editors spending hours deciding between the page 9 and page 15 leads, or coping with the perennial last minute need for dozens of fillers to complete news pages.”
And he revealed that the four daily titles are currently being redesigned “to make them simpler to produce without compromising their looks.”
He added: “I do not believe it is any longer our job to follow the old mantra of “covering everything that moves” in our communities. Frankly, these days we are not the best at it anyway – not when compared against the instant reactions of the community themselves on social media.
“Our job is to edit. To decide what is important and to cover those subjects in depth. To set the agenda. To campaign. To investigate. To entertain. To inform.
“Our job is not, and never has been, to be mediocre. But if we try to cover everything that moves, then mediocrity is often the result.”
“Our newspapers, magazines and websites should sparkle with delightful and surprising content that only we can create. We should be seen to be the vital pulse of the community, reporting the issues that matter in depth, and then we fulfil both our social aims as local media and also our commercial goal of being the ultimate community connector.”
An Archant spokesperson said: “Archant can confirm it will be making changes to its content teams across the company to radically transform how it works as it continues to develop its audience-first strategy.
“This is to ensure it remains the most relevant media in the communities it serves, whilst protecting its journalistic values. It has started a consultation process with affected staff.”
Asked how many roles would be affected, the spokesperson responded: “Archant’s policy is never to disclose details around confidential staff matters.”
Andy Smith, National Union of Journalists national executive member, said: “We are extremely concerned by the news of the proposed job losses at Archant.
“The union has yet to meet Archant management formally to discuss the proposals, but the there is little in the reported statements from Jeff Henry or Matt Kelly to indicate how moving to an ‘audience first’ approach can justify the loss of at least 17 jobs.
“Putting 57 staff at risk of redundancy, particularly at this time of year, will be incredibly stressful for them all, and our first responsibility is to support our members through this process.
“Though the consultation is at a very early stage, it is difficult to see how these proposals can have any other effect than to impose more work and more stress on an already overburdened staff still coming to terms with the effects of the photographer redundancies made earlier this year.”