McPherson Media Group is a regional publisher based in Shepparton, in Victoria, Australia. The area around Shepparton is dominated by the Goulburn and Murray rivers and as a result, is best known for water sports and a laid-back lifestyle but there is nothing laid-back about managing a media company with a dozen news sources.
McPherson is much more than a publisher. In addition to local papers and online publishing, it prides itself on its integration with the community it serves. That means a lot of ground and a lot of interests to cover, and with that comes a lot of potential scheduling issues for contributors.
Jo Breen, the editor of Shepparton News and a senior editor in the McPherson Media Group explains that the workload keeps expanding; “MMG has taken on the management, support and running of a number of significant events in the Goulburn Valley region. We just recently hosted the two-day Multi Sports event, we organize and run the Seymour Alternate Expo.”
That close integration with community means extensive 'hyperlocal' coverage and with it a huge demand for photography that has to be coordinated. This is where Desk-Net comes in: “If it’s not booked into Desk-Net it doesn’t get done from a photography point of view.”
Desk-Net's StoryList function has become the hub for the rich supply of local stories, as well as a way for busy editors to keep an eye on what's being proposed. As Jo Breen puts it;
“We use the Story List function as the one central place for all journalists and editors to list story ideas and events. We use the dashboard to allocate items to our daily paper and the event facility to record event information for Editors, but the primary use is as an events calendar for our photography team.”
That centralized perspective gives the editor the visibility they need to see if key issues are being covered, or if seemingly isolated local stories are adding up to a bigger picture;
As an Editor the story list gives me a one-stop shop place to peruse what the state of our list is. I can allocate from there, but also update the story post with a request direct to the journalist. I can copy in the sub-editor and photographer and any other staff member and I can request a deadline."
We can also use the calendar to earmark important upcoming stories and events. Journalists are asked to put all relevant information on to their Desk-Net entry - regardless of where else that story information might be. This ensures we don’t drift away from using this as the central management tool.”
Managing rosters and staffing means better control when it comes to looking ahead but also has the inestimable benefit of saving time; “It has assisted with forward planning for editions the following day, and has certainly cut down meetings.”
This has also reduced the amount of duplicated effort when the same story risks being covered from different angles by different teams. No publisher can afford to waste resources on that kind of duplication although Breen candidly admits that it is hard to eradicate completely; “Duplication still exists in the story lists - mainly due to human error, but it is much easier to pick up.
Desk-Net has streamlined the allocation process saving a lot of time and to-and-fro for Editors checking with journalists on specifics, and also in relation to communication with sub-editors, and staff rostered on other shifts.”
Those benefits aren't restricted to editors and photographers and MMG is looking at introducing Desk-Net to other areas in production; “we have recently introduced the facility to let sub-editors know which stories we want to go to the web, social media, etc. The Editor can mark that up on the story entry via the icons and also indicate a time for the story to go across to other digital platforms. We are about to introduce a new website in the new year so, with the new site, it will give us a chance to use the system more centrally.”
The roll-out has been step-by-step; sports journalists, for example, don't currently use Desk-Net although they have been given an acclimatization period to get on board and Breen notes that smaller offices - often with a staff of just one - haven't jumped on the tool but as the bigger publications adopt it there will be clear benefits for greater sharing amongst the entire group.
That incremental approach is perhaps one of the keys to the success of the implementation. As Breen points out; “We haven’t had any disruption issues which has been great, and response to any questions we have had has also been prompt.”
It remains early days and the company is still looking at how the tool can help more with the new site but Jo Breen is optimistic about its future role and is considering the possibility of go-to 'Desk-Net champions' to help spread the word and explain new features.
Because cross-platform communication with a whole community takes more than a little organization.