For the last month or so I’ve been interning one day a week at the Fairfax news website Brisbane Times. For the uninitiated although Brisbane only has one daily newspaper, since 2007 the Courier Mail has faced competition from the online only Fairfax website Brisbane Times.
The website quickly grew an audience and became an integral part of the South East Queensland news mix. So much so that after only five years in operation it has overtaken their better resourced rivals The Courier Mail and become the most visited news website in the State.
It’s a pretty impressive achievement, especially considering they would have around a tenth of the staff as the CM.
I wanted to intern at BT because although I still want to work in a traditional print newsroom, my three internships at Quest had given me only limited exposure to a newsroom that was geared towards the online environment. At BT it may be similar to a print newsroom, but as they only publish online they do everything differently.
Unlike a newspaper, the website is always live so journalists are on a constant pressure to file stories. They don’t have a daily deadline but several mini unofficial deadlines throughout the day. These are based on things like peek viewing periods (most people view the site from their desks at work, naughty naughty) and planning types of stories to publish at certain times.
For breaking news however, all bets are off and the pressure is on the journalists to file as soon as possible. If a BT and CM journalist are both at an important press conference then the race is on to be the first one to file and gain a majority of the online readership for that story. On my first day I followed BT journalist Marissa Calligeros to a presser by Clive Palmer where he accused the state government of conspiring against him. It was a big story on the day and Marissa armed with an iPad and a voice recorder filed the story from the room of the press conference just a few minutes after it finished. A few minutes after the subs had looked at it the story was online.
For stories that are not time sensitive the editors will file the stories and put them online at various times during the day so there is constantly fresh content every few hours. The editors will also constantly look at the real time stats and metrics to see what stories lots of people are reading and rearrange popular stories on the site layout to improve visibility of them.
For a relatively small newsroom they do quite a lot. And as one of the first online only mainstream news sites they have proved quite successful So much so that their former editor Conal Hanna was poached to become the online editor of the Sydney Morning Herald.
As more newspapers shift focus to an online news world I think more and more “traditional” newsrooms will operate something like how the Brisbane Times does now.