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Sun Online Editor Pete Picton on editorial technology

On Thursday 26 February, AOP hosted a forum looking at how new editorial technologies are shaping multimedia publishing. We caught up with the event’s Chairman, Pete Picton, Editor of Sun Online, to discuss how editorial process has evolved over the years.

Download speaker presentations from AOP's forum on editorial technologies - AOP members only. // Read AOP's summary of the event

Q. How has the shift towards digital media changed the way editorial teams work, compared to the pre-Internet days?

Pete Picton
Speed: that’s the key to it. We’re now talking about a matter of seconds to be first to a story- which can make all the difference. If you’re first to a story, you’re the first to the search engines and aggregators. For example, this morning we broke the news about the 13-year-old dad first. Already we are seeing rival newspaper sites using our story as their lead!

There is also more flexibility. On the night of the US election, we ran six different splashes of the Obama story on our site in one day. You can update and change on a regular basis, whereas newspapers are limited to late and evening editions at best.

Online also gives you greater audience reach. Unlike newspapers which are largely limited to national distribution, a great online story can now be read throughout the world. As editorial becomes multimedia, teams must also be conscious of how different writing styles are suited to different content, whether via mobile, TV, online or in the newspaper.

Q. Has digital media been in any way a hindrance to editorial standards and practices?

I don’t really think it has made a difference. At The Sun we have a motto: ‘Be First. Be Fast. Be Accurate.’ We apply those principles online too. Although I have no problem with the aggregation of content, I think more needs to be done to prevent people lifting content.

If anything, I think editorial standards and practices have been sharpened. Working online, journalists need to be adept at a number of disciplines beyond filing a story. They need to be conscious of the page layout, source images, and write headlines. They also need to be aware of different styles needed and how content will appear in The Sun, on the website, in Google search listings and on mobile.

Q. Is the technology keeping up with demand from editorial? How can technology improve the way content is created and delivered?

I think there’s a big role for technology, but it’s important that it’s seen as creative addition to the production of news stories. The strength of a newspaper is that you deliver a fantastic product to your readers everyday - so the time issue is very important. Unlike many other industries, you simply don’t have the time to go into lengthy projects to test the viability of new technology.

For example, when Obama became US president, we saw another site do something clever with their online coverage. We wanted to do something similar, so that afternoon I found some appropriate software which I bought for $99. Within hours the new feature was up and running, and we had a better editorial product than the other website.

This is what we’re aiming for - sometimes the technology doesn’t live up to the demands of a fast-paced editorial process. It’s got to be able to deliver.

Q. How do you think a typical editorial team will look and work in five years time? What are the main trends and changes to look out for?

I think one thing that will stay the same is the ability to produce great content. Some people get obsessed by delivery- new ways of bringing editorial content to the reader - either online, interactive TV or via mobile.

But it’s not really about delivery. People buying their newspaper in the morning don’t care about how it got there, they just take it as a given. It’s about producing great editorial content that’s better than anyone else.

Pete Picton spoke at the AOP Forum ‘Editorial technologies shaping multimedia publishing', which took place on 26 Feb 2009 at IPC Media Offices in London -

Download speaker presentations from AOP's forum on editorial technologies - AOP members only. // Read AOP's summary of the event

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