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Newspaper publishing giants are waking up to multimedia's potential. Content anytime, anyplace, anywhere is the name of the game, as Gareth Jones discovers

The newspaper industry is undergoing a radical transformation. Readers are turning to the web and mobiles for their daily headlines, meaning that, to avoid going the same way as yesterday's front pages, publishers are being forced to rethink the way they do business.

For years, the web has been encroaching on traditional print media's dominance. Figures compiled by MediaTel Group show internet take-up has increased by nearly 1000% over the past decade, while national newspaper circulation has dropped 14% during the same period.

Web portals such as Google and Yahoo! have emerged as the fastest-growing news route for millions of people, providing publishing companies with a new kind of competition. Big-budget advertisers are moving their spend online, making the internet a threat the newspapers can no longer afford to ignore.

The UK's largest newspaper publisher, Trinity Mirror, is attempting to tackle this problem head on with an initiative to turn itself into a cross-platform content provider geared towards serving today's tech-savvy consumers.

The company behind the Daily Mirror recently announced plans to make digital a central plank of its long-term strategy. To bolster classified revenues, chief executive Sly Bailey recently freed more than ?80m of investment to acquire online recruitment companies Hot Group, Smart New Homes and Jobs Online. She has also set up a new division charged with developing Trinity Mirror's five national newspaper sites: Daily Mirror, Sunday Mirror, People, Daily Record and Sunday Mail.

Rival companies including Telegraph Group, Guardian Newspapers and Independent News & Media have been online for years. However, Trinity Mirror was one of the first to acknowledge on a large scale that cross-platform publishing is about more than having a collection of websites. According to Julia Smith, head of digital for the company's national newspaper division, Mirror Group Newspapers, it's about creating multi-platform content that can be distributed on an on-demand basis (NMA 19.01.06).

"My vision is a simple one," says Smith. "At 6am, when you're getting up, you'll receive the news headlines directly to your mobile phone. This will encourage you to buy the newspaper to read on the way to work. Then, throughout the day, you'll consume the website, which will be updated regularly with original content. Before you go home, you'll receive an email newsletter talking about what will be covered the following day, before the process begins all over again."

In an attempt to form a virtuous link between its print, web and soon-to-launch mobile presence, Trinity Mirror is investing heavily in the training and development of multimedia specialists. This new breed of journalist will be capable of creating content that can be distributed simultaneously across multiple media channels, both nationally and regionally.

"We want to be able to interact with our consumers anytime, anyplace, anywhere," says David Black, head of digital for Trinity Mirror's regional titles. "We're totally focused on using emerging platforms to extend the reach and penetration of our brands in terms of immediacy, community, interactivity and searchability."

Trinity Mirror is not the only sleeping giant to have woken up to the web's potential. Last year, News Corporation boss Rupert Murdoch told investors "there is no greater priority" than to extend his company's internet presence and "properly position ourselves for the internet explosion". Since then, the newspaper giant has invested nearly ?750m in the acquisition of social networking site MySpace, online video and entertainment network IGN and college sports site Scout Media. At the same time, News Corp also began to unify its existing web operations to create Fox Consolidated Media, a new division responsible for driving online growth.

Murdoch clearly believes there's still life left in the newspaper market, but his focus is shifting to how the web and mobile phones can be used to extend the lifecycle of his existing print titles.

This strategy is evident in the company's recently launched freesheet, The London Paper, which, like Associated Newspapers-owned rival The London Lite, relies heavily on emerging digital media to create a dialogue with its readers. News International is also focusing on adding new features to its flagship national newspaper websites, The Sun and The Times, to keep up with internet users' sophisticated demands.

Research from the Association of Online Publishers reveals the true extent of these demands. An extensive study of web usage reveals that watching videos is one of the most popular online activities, with 49% of users seeking out audiovisual content. Reading blogs (38%), downloading podcasts (21%) and using RSS (12%) are also high on the list of activities enjoyed.

"Newspaper publishers have to go a lot further than simply replicating their print title on the web," says Alexandra White, director of the AOP. "It's about creating content and disseminating it to users in the most appropriate way."

Guardian Newspapers seems to be taking this on board with an online offering that allows newspaper readers to interact with editorial content via blogs, forums and podcasts. Its aim is to use a full range of digital media tools to add value to its existing newspaper offering.

"Among other things, blogging has really allowed us to break away from conventional journalism on the web by creating a community of interest around our content," says Neil McIntosh, assistant editor of Guardian Unlimited. "We've reached a point where our newspaper journalists regularly ask us if they can write blogs or take part in podcasts."

In an attempt to integrate interactive media with everything it does, Guardian Media Group has appointed Simon Waldman as group director of digital strategy and development. The newly created role will see Waldman help to create a coherent digital strategy across each of the company's media divisions, including newspapers, radio and the web. Emily Bell, editor-in-chief of the Guardian Unlimited network of websites, has also been promoted to the group's board in a move that will see her take on the new role of director of digital content across all platforms.

The Telegraph Group is another traditional publisher recognising that relying on newspapers alone is no longer enough. The company is following the Financial Times by integrating its print and web journalistic staff. The group claims the result will be the UK's first multimedia newsroom at its new offices in London Victoria. They will house a range of staff responsible for producing, not just the broadsheet's pages, but also digital products containing text, audio and video. These include 'click-and-carry' pages - fully interactive PDF files that contain multimedia elements when viewed online, but which can be printed out and read like a traditional paper.

"By consolidating our print and digital newsrooms we can exploit the expertise of our best journalists across multiple platforms," says Edward Roussel, online editorial director at The Daily Telegraph. "We're now in a position to look at whether audio, video or blogging can be used to enhance the story we're trying to tell."

Like its rivals, The Telegraph Group believes that developing new ways of distributing news through integrated print and web formats is key to its survival. It is keen to extend its brand across as many platforms as possible, in an effort to compete against web giants like Reuters.

"This is without question the biggest revolution that the newspaper industry has ever undergone," says Roussel. "Those who don't wholeheartedly embrace the changing media landscape will find themselves fading into obscurity."

But it's not just publishers with national brands that are attempting to transform themselves into cross-platform providers. The UK's second-largest regional newspaper company, Johnston Press, is also overhauling its business model. It's developing a cross-platform newsroom in Preston that will allow it to gather and disseminate news across a variety of channels by the middle of next year. In addition, the company has partnered with the University of Central Lancashire to set up the Institute of Digital Journalism to train a new generation of technologically proficient reporters.

"Print has been the way we communicate with our audiences, but now they're demanding greater choice in terms of the way they access news, content and information," says Tim Bowdler, chief executive of Johnston Press. "To get more than 2,000 journalists and sales people to embrace new digital channels and a new way of working is no small task."

All of this points to a future where consumers will be able to choose exactly how they want to consume their particular brand of newspaper. Rather than shying away from new media, publishers are finally realising that it could herald the most exciting time in their development - even providing print with a new lease of life.

Quick Take:

The newspaper industry is undergoing a radical transformation as readers increasingly turn to the web and mobile phones for their daily headlines
Publishers are rushing to experiment with ways of using new platforms to create greater involvement with their print titles and shore up a decline in newspaper readership
The UK's largest newspaper publisher, Trinity Mirror, is attempting to tackle this problem by turning itself into a cross-platform content provider
News Corporation has also woken up to the digital age's potential after Rupert Murdoch told investors "there is no greater priority" than to extend his company's internet presence and "properly position ourselves for the internet explosion"
In an attempt to integrate interactive media into everything it does, Guardian Media Group has appointed Simon Waldman as group director of digital strategy and development
The Telegraph Group is integrating its print and web journalists, in a move that it claims will result in the UK's first multimedia newsroom at its new offices in London Victoria
It's not just publishers with national red top and broadsheet brands that are attempting to transform themselves into cross-platform content providers. Regional newspaper company Johnston Press is also overhauling its business model for the digital age

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