Jan 9, 2009

Local newsroom organization (1): 70% to 80% of a French local daily newspaper is written by non-journalists. Why not start to use this model?

Our team is trying to figure out the organization of the newsroom of a local media company. A priori, this company produces both print and digital products and services. The decision on whether the products and services are print, digital or a combination will depend on the local market and the profitability models (we will be working on this as well and will share it too).

I started this conversation at the New Business Models for News Summit, back in October at CUNY. Thanks to Jeff Jarvis. Benoît Raphaël (editor-in-chief of Le Post) and I talked about how the content of a French local daily newspaper is written 70 to 80% by amateurs. They call them "correspondents". They have been contributing for more than 40 years. Their copy is corrected and checked by copy editors or "chef d'agences". The end result is: a hyper-local coverage. In fact, those "correspondents" are sort of "citizen journalists".

We gave this example just to show that imagining a media where the content is, for a big chunk, written by non-journalists is not a fantasy. It already exists and it has been working for years. Pro and "am" can live together and produce a quality medium.

On average, there are 10 correspondents for 1 journalist. Correspondents are paid by the newspaper based on what the newspaper publishes. But they are making far less money than the journalists.

So, to get back to the first step of our work, we are working around the following concept (I insist, it is work in progress, we are just starting):

1- Concentrate on the local coverage and on national and international issues that are affecting the communities that the newspaper covers.

2- A journalist is in charge of a community. This community can be either geographic or based on a major topic that is important for the communities.

3- The journalist and a copy editor manage a team of "correspondents". There are two types: people covering their local community, people covering a topic because they are experts (accountants, doctors, architects, engineers...). Some of them could already have their own blog. Then, there is the witness that happens to be at the right place at the right moment with the right tools to post content. The copy editor is in charge of fact checking the copy of the correspondents and the witnesses.

4- Each journalist and correspondent have a blog. Which means: the "spinal cord" of the medium is an aggregation of blogs. It does not mean that classic reporting is disappearing. At least at this stage of our thinking. But let's be open and forget about any a priori (tough!). About blogs as a center piece, you can read F. Fillioux's post: Blogging, a new journalist genre (editor for the Norwegian group Schibsted)

5- National (including non-local entertainment and non-local sport) and international content are reduced to the minimum and coming from other media like newspapers, magazines, TV channels from the country and other countries too. If you have a strong Greek community, why not translate, sometimes, the coverage of an international matter written by a Greek newspaper. Wire services... not sure they are necessary (TBD). We can still have some journalists whom the job is to explain and / or to give the local ramifications of a national or international news story.

So, once again, this is just the beginning of our work. It is going to change based on the feedback that we are going to receive from professional journalists and non-journalists. Please do not hesitate to react on the following main concepts:
  1. local correspondents
  2. blogs at the center of the local medium
  3. focus of the coverage on local matters
Now I have a question for our French friends :
- What is the ratio, on average, of journalists to people? The ratio could be different based on the concentration of the population (e.g., urban center vs. rural areas).

Update 1: I am receiving answers from French journalists. I'll translate them later.

Update 2: According to the marketing guru, Seth Godin, it is time to start a local newspaper.

Update 3: How to build a media empire by Mitch Joel


  1. Anonymous11:49 AM

    Hi. In France, there is a big difference between real "correspondants", people who often write articles for a newspaper and get paid for it, who are in charge of a small city... and another kind of "correspondants" : those who work for a city council for example and just send informations (plannings, schedules...) that are supposed to be published in a local newspaper.

    Those two kinds of people are both called "correspondants" but they don't do the same job at all. If you just talk about real "correspondants", you don't have 1 journalist for 10 "correspondants"... but 1 journalist for 3 or 4 "correspondants". It makes a big difference.

  2. @jchesse. Thanks for the additional detail. We have been forecasting two levels of correspondents.

  3. Some figures from the SPQR (the equivalent of NAA for French daily newspapers) -- thanks Bruno Ricard :

    - There are 60 regional daily newspapers in France
    - They employ 60,000 journalists
    - There is a total of 25,000 local correspondents.
    - So 1 journalist for 4 local correspondents
    - There are 63 millions inhabitants in France.
    - We have 1 journalist for 10,000 inhabitants.
    - We have 1 local correspondent for 2,000 inhabitants.

  4. How much local correspondents are paid (tx to proxiti), here is an example for the regional newspaper Sud-Ouest (Toulouse).
    It is a point system. 1 point is paid 0.80 cts/euro.

    1- Brief (3 to 4 lines) = 1 pt

    2- Short article (5 to 20 lines) = 6 pts

    3- Article (30 to 50 lines) = 14 points

    4- Special article (crime, accidents...) = 20 pts

    5- Feature (50 to 70 lines) = 35 pts

    6- Alert (phone call to share news with the local pro journalist) = 8 pts

    7- Results (sports, elections) = 25 pts

    8- Regular photo = 4 pts

    9- Cover photo = 15 pts

    10- Cover local section photo = 10 pts

    (source -- nov 2006: correspodant de presse 64: http://correspondant-de-presse-64.over-blog.com/article-4440098-6.html#anchorComment)

  5. Sur le rôle des correspondants dans les quotidiens régionaux en France.
    Il faut d'abord rappeler une évidence: si les journaux de la PQR (presse quotidienne régionale) ont recours à un réseau de correspondants locaux de presse (CLP) c'est tout simplement parce que le maillage de l'information locale est tel que les effectifs d'une rédaction raisonnable en nombre n'y suffisent pas.
    Ensuite, on peut aussi s'interroger sur le rapport "qualité/prix" de l'apport éditorial sur de l'info micro-locale. Le CLP sera de ce point de vue toujours mieux disant au plan micro-local. La question qui reste ouverte est celle de l'évolution de ces CLP dans un contexte où chaque lecteur à travers internet peut devenir lui aussi "journaliste citoyen".
    L'autre question qui découle de ce constat (les correspondants locaux font l'affaire éditorialement et économiquement au plan micro-local dans le modèle traditionnel du papier) est de savoir quelle est la fonction résiduelle des journalistes professionnels pour la production de valeur ajoutée à cette information locale d'une part, et à d'autres informations d'autre part.
    La réalité d'aujourd'hui dans les titres régionaux est que souvent beaucoup de moyens humains sont encore consacrés à la gestion des articles envoyés par les CLP: relecture, recalibrage, titrage... ce travail de desk représente un volume important du temps de production et mobilise beaucoup de compétences journalistiques. C'est plus que de la simple modération sur les blogs ou les commentaires des sites d'info.
    On peut certes rêver à des médias multisupports qui fonctionneraient avec un réseau de "journalistes citoyens" et/ou de CLP rationnalisant au mieux les tâches de modération et de gestion de ces contenus entrants et qui permettraient donc aux "professionnels de la profession" de refaire leur métier.
    On n'évitera donc pas de se retrouver face à cette éternelle question: quelle valeur ajoutée va-t-on apporter aux lecteurs/internautes?

  6. Anonymous9:58 AM

    Les correspondants locaux ont le mérite d'exister, mais franchement, leur production est vraiment inégale et c'est souvent assez terne... C'est d'ailleurs tout le paradoxe des quotidiens régionaux: leur raison d'être est l'information locale, voir hyper locale, mais ce ne sont pas ces informations qui emploient les meilleures journalistes. Dans un quotidien régional, plus on est bon et plus on traite des informations nationales!

  7. I am not saying that the French system is perfect. I am just showing that this idea of mixing pro and amateurs already exits and works (for more than 40 years!). That it is not a fantasy but a reality. Can the system be improved? Of course. Can it allow better local coverage? No doubt. Just take an American local newspaper and count the number of local news versus what it is done in France. Way less in the US.
    On top of that, there is a lot of information that do not need a pro and, by the way, pros don't want to cover. It is mostly practical information, agenda, etc. Very valuable information for the community.

  8. Anonymous5:03 PM

    Les correspondants locaux sont de plus en plus souvent de simples interfaces entre de l'information (texte + photos) qui leur arrive directement des associations, mairies, etc, et qu'ils se contentent. Valeur ajoutée 0. Et sur les faits divers info et photos nous arrivent désormais aussi rapidement, voir plus vite, par des lecteurs