Guardian/Observer ‘To Merge Sections’ For Web Integration; Editor Alton Quits

The backdrop to the resignation of The Observer editor Roger Alton after nearly a decade last night is the looming online integration of the Sunday paper with its daily stablemate The Guardian. Writing in the Evening Standard, The Guardian’s own long-time media commentator Roy Greenslade rejects rivals’ suggestions of a “feud” between the two titles over editorial policy but does acknowledge “genuine concern” on both sides about how Guardian News & Media’s print-web integration strategy will affect the two

Greenslade: “The papers’ owner, the Scott Trust, is committed to 24/7 online news delivery. It is obvious that it cannot possibly work – not least in terms of budgets – unless there is greater co-ordination between the titles. To that end, some 250 staff have been involved in exercises aimed at introducing them to the problems they will face in the brave new online world. One consequence will be the merging across titles, and across platforms, of various sections, such as sport, business and foreign news. ” It’s the first confirmation of integration across the titles’ desks.

It’s these changes that have “spooked” Alton – not to mention the journalists who have balloted for industrial action over plans to extend working hours in the move from 16-hours-a-day to 24/7 multi-platform operation, a strategy that involves some job losses and the creation of new posts working across print and online. So Alton’s departure looks like a mirror image to one at a paper that has already undergone a large-scale, job cut-laden shift to multi-media production – Sunday Telegraph editor Patience Wheatcroft’s resignation in September over “strategic differences” was attributed to her “failure to embrace the internet“.

Like The Guardian, The Telegraph, too, is still facing some continued union opposition to restructuring. As we wrote last month, the daily/Sunday/online integration will be fueled both by the new, rolling requirements of the online component and the degree to which a Sunday can remain profitable as a single entity.

Guardian Media Group CEO Carolyn McCall in September told paidContent:UK The Guardian’s newspaper and website will become “indivisible” and will share a single editorial budget. She also raised the prospect of integrating sport, news and foreign desks back then: “There is no point having lots and lots of different desks – five or three different desks doing the same thing.” This morning’s relaunch the latest section update in a patchwork redesign process, doesn’t do much to play down integration talk – it aims to cull “content from across the Guardian and Observer newspapers and Guardian Unlimited website network”.