A mystery blogger enjoys the comforts of the press facilities at the World Editors Forum in Gothenburg, Sweden, where there was much discussion and dismissiveness about that fly-by-night phenomenon known as the internet.[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pof7Iiv5Vmc]
Le Figaro is predicting that 20% of its revenue will be generated by its online operations by 2010.
But the French newspaper has plans to beat this, Pierre Conte, deputy managing director for new media and advertising for Le Figaro Group, told delegates at the World Association of Newspapers (WAN) conference today.
After rising from 2 million unique users to its websites to 8 million in two years, the group’s web traffic now accounts for 1 French internet user out of every four.
Last year its online revenues accounted for 13% of its total income – so how will the publisher build on this?
Online success will only be achieved if all the group’s editorial teams want to take part, Francis Morel, managing director, said.
As such Le Figaro adopted an ‘invite not assign’ policy, giving journalists the opportunity to do work for the websites if they wished (though initially for no extra pay).
According to Morel merging editorial teams for print and online was seen as essential, despite concerns raised by the unions.
Journalists became increasingly enthusiastic about working for the websites and now both editorial teams are on the same floor under the same editorial head, though Morel insists this has been about building bridges and not enforced integration.
The group has sought to recoup floundering revenues from print classifieds by making a concerted push with this advertising online, setting up a team to find advertisers for online-only.
Contextual and behavioural advertising is also being experimented with.
E-commerce and diversification
Building around the flagship portal of Le Figaro, the publisher has launched specialist sport, finance and lifestyle websites, in addition to acquiring several e-commerce sites.
Content has also been syndicated to other websites, though this is not a long-term business model, Conte says.
“This business [selling content to other websites] will continue to be weak and limited. We need to work on ad revenue. We are not reinventing anything by saying that, but we need to integrate our sales house.”
News remains a priority online for all the group’s content-based websites. On the Le Figaro site a commenting function has been added to articles and submissions from users are welcomed.
Le Figaro has also set up its own TV studio to produce video clips for online and mobile.
As a word of warning, Morel stresses that the digital developments in these areas have not been at the expense of the print product.
“It is indispensable to continue to invest and focus on print, because while the internet is a key territory, it will not replace print.
“We need to be extremely cautious and prudent. The internet is a very volatile market. We need to be very flexible at any time to change our course because we do not know what tomorrow holds.”
Integrating newsrooms isn’t just a matter of putting all you desks in a spoke and fulcrum formation and projecting the web traffic figures on the wall.
The small matter of how you remunerate journalists expected to work both for print and web is an issue for newspapers across the globe.
It’s an issue that the Guardian and Telegraph, to name just two in the UK, have been wrestling with as they bring their divergent print and online editions closer together.
International editors sitting on a panel looking at whether integrated newsrooms are really working at the World Editors Forum, today in Goteborg, Sweden, admitted to a similar set of problems.
Jim Roberts, editor of digital news at the New York Times, told delegates that the Times’ own integration plans were hampered by the different contracts and lower pay web journalists were receiving compared to their print colleagues.
Roberts is overseeing the introduction of a ‘horizontal’ news production system where each separate news department has web producers embedded with them to encourage multimedia content production, oversee publication.
The Times is trying to spread multimedia, video, podcasts and interactive features across all its news verticals – even to the point where the Times is reverse publishing blog content as columns into the printed edition of the newspaper.
This drive for web content has also brought a renewed thirst to keep the newspaper print edition fresh, as Roberts said ‘to redirect this energy back into print’.
But as staff are now expected to work for both web and print, the different contracts they work under has led to union wrangles. WSJ.com managing editor Almar Latour and Javier Moreno, editor-in-chief of El Pais, Spain, agreed that they faced similar contractual problems on their integration projects.
The final words spoken at a lengthy round table discussion on press freedom at the the World Association of Newspapers 2008 conference here in Gothenburg, Sweden, were obvious but challenging: “There is no international standard of freedom of expression.”
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