How blogs beat VNU to announcing its News Centre was doomed

Interesting: got a trackback from Drew B’s take on tech PR which then pointed me on to Tom Foremski’s blog (Hi, Tom!). Where it turns out there’s a whole lot of UK-media-watching going on: Tom had the tale of how VNU broke up its centralised News Centre long before it was news, or even announced, in the UK.

VNU chopping up its news centre into a bunch of twisting, edgy journalists seems to me an acknowledgement that such “repurposing” schemes just can’t work. You can’t make a bunch of people simultaneously write copy for a whole stack of outputs, and yet for none of them. It only works for news agencies like PA, Reuters and AFP because often their copy gets used directly in local papers (and even some nationals)

But trying to take that sort of philosophy in-house means you are never speaking directly to the reader, which is what a journalist must at least feel like they’re doing. Lose touch with the reader, and you lose your readership. The “news centre” concept was briefly mooted at Mirror Group in the late 1990s, and rapidly dropped; a rare example when sense prevailed. It’s cheaper; also worse.

Good luck to the VNU folk seeking jobs. May you find the ones you want.


  1. Another downside to the news centre idea is that PRs don’t know who to talk to or how to pitch stuff. It pretty well breaks any chance of building up the relationships to those components of one’s job that make it anything more than copy monkeying.

    I believe that VNU is now considering a European News Center, even more centralised and reliant on translation to spread the butter of copy yet more thinly across its titular loaf. This might sound awful: it’ll be worse than that.

    I expect VNU to embrace it warmly.

  2. As the guy who usually saw their copy first, I’d comment that you’re selling the news centre reporters a little short.

    They became very adept at understanding their different audiences. In some cases regularly contributing better stories to several titles than the title’s own staff (IMO).

    Charles, many news centre alumni have gone on to better things, and I can’t think of one who didn’t leave having developed into a significantly better reporter.

    I would argue the system, as it worked at VNU, suited reporters who like variety and were confident in their own ability.

    It also worked for those at an early stage in their career, who were given the opportunity to see which kind of audience suited them best.

    However, I would concede that news centre systems would be unlikely to work when the reporters don’t have self-confidence or are overloaded with tasks and aren’t allowed to focus on quality. That wasn’t the case at VNU.

    BTW, in terms of finding jobs, what does technology editor at the Indy pay? :-)

    All the best with your blogging,

  3. I’ll bow to Ian’s knowledge on this. Good thing if the VNU Centre staffers were able to find their feet and write for a mixed audience.

    Of course to say I would concede that news centre systems would be unlikely to work when the reporters donít have self-confidence or are overloaded with tasks and arenít allowed to focus on quality is a worthwhile distinction. Obviously, that *never* happens anywhere.

    What does tech editor pay? I don’t pay anything, they pay me. (Brrm-tish!.) And after December 3, it’ll be “nothing”. Salary? Presently, slightly more than the average for a reporter on the Indy. (Effect of long service, and changing job title four times.) But I still don’t know if they’re going to replace me in the newsroom, or get a general writer in, or what.

  4. Oh, and to add a data point on the salary thing, the minimum salary for a reporter on The Independent (as agreed through the NUJ) is £30,000.

    Though as Mrs Craddock would say, first catch your rabbit.

  5. Ex-VNU News Centre person

    Tuesday 19 October 2004 at 3:46 pm

    Let me try and be diplomatic about this. Speaking as one of the original News Centre reporters who left for better things a while ago lets just say I don’t agree entirely with Ian’s comments.

    The whole thing was as badly executed as it was conceived, which resulted complete isolation and distrust from all the other titles and plummeting morale among the people left to try and hold it together.

    Let’s hope VNU learns its lesson this time and good luck to those trying to find jobs.


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