Guardian visit

We had great feedback from those who went to the Guardian on Tuesday 8 December with several people saying it was the best event they had attended. Certainly it was a great treat to listen in to the morning conference. We'll organise more visits next year. In the meantime, thanks to Tom Maddocks for his report on the event.

Caroline Cecil, Chairman

Tom Maddocks is the founder and Course Director at Media Training Associates, one of the UK's leading media training consultancies. He is particularly known for his expertise in working with financial sector and business-to-business clients.

What goes on at a newspaper's editorial conference - the key meeting at which the strategy and the agenda for the day are set? Fifteen CIPR Corporate and Financial group members were given the chance to find out at the glamorous new Guardian and Observer HQ in Kings Cross on December 8th. Head of Business Dan Roberts showed us around the spacious newsroom, as well as the multimedia area, where podcasts and video material are produced from a studio complex big enough to power a string of local radio stations.

At the centre of the visit was the opportunity to sit in on the Guardian's morning conference - or at least one of them. This was an open conference - apparently anyone in the building is allowed to attend. Lounging on a rectangle of low-backed yellow sofas, or standing around the periphery of the large conference room, around 40 Guardian journalists debated the developments in a number of key stories (Afghanistan and bankers' bonuses, various political rumours), with an impressive openness and ability for anyone to contribute. After only a brief postmortem on that morning's edition, and some self-congratulation on strong online figures, editor Alan Rusbridger was in listening rather than commanding mode, with only a brief run through from the section editors of their key prospects. Clearly the real editorial decisions are taken behind closed doors - nonetheless this was an impressive attempt to avoid the classic national newspaper editor's trap of surrounding himself with a small number of acolytes and listening only to their views.

Dan Roberts explained that the business section is now much closer to the centre of the editorial process, compared to the layout in the previous building in Farringdon Road.

There is now an integrated business operation across the Guardian and Observer, with half a dozen senior editors and a couple of dozen reporters. The online business editor comes in as early as 6.30am. Dan explained that Business has its own meeting at 9am to firm up story inputs into main conference, with a further meeting after conference at around 10.45, and yet another at noon focusing on the flat plan of the day's section, showing what editorial space is available. Finally there is what he called 'The Wall' at 5.30pm. This is when the day's pages for the business section are pinned along the wall of a meeting room in numerical order, giving a strong visual indication of whether the flow-through of stories in the section is working.

Dan said there is no particularly good or bad time to pitch business stories to the paper, barring the age-old rule of avoiding the late afternoon rush except for a very big story - as ever, earlier in the day tends to be less frenetic than later. In terms of embargoed stories, weekend material tends to be divvied out between the Sunday Observer and Monday Guardian sections as the team sees fit (subject to any specific embargoes or special requests). Integration rules OK.


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