The Financial Times is adopting a digital first approach, as detailed yesterday in a memo from editor-in-chief Lionel Barber to staff, published in the Guardian. “We need to ensure that we are serving a digital platform first, and a newspaper second,” Barber wrote, inspired by a visit to Silicon Valley last year which, for him, “confirmed the speed of change.”
The memo focused on the importance of proactively adapting to the new digital age, at a time when 25% of the FT’s online traffic now comes from mobile. The FT will be launching new digital products and services, Barber said, such as a new Weekend FT app and “Fast FT” for markets.
A key aspect of the changes is reducing the cost of producing a newspaper and subsequently increasing investments online. Some resources will be shifted from print to digital, and journalists will be trained “to operate to the best of their abilities,” Barber wrote. The paper is about to launch a voluntary redundancy scheme in an attempt to reduce costs by £1.6m this year. It plans to lose 35 of its current staff, while introducing 10 more digital jobs.
“We need to become content editors rather than page editors,” he said, emphasizing this essential change in mindset, while calling for all to “think harder about a more dynamic and inter-active form of FT journalism beyond the printed word.” It will be a "big cultural shift," he believes.
Changes aren’t just about platform, but also about content: “I want to sharpen our commissioning to produce more selective, relevant, high quality content.” Barber called for fewer commissioning channels and on news editors to identify priority stories.
Throughout the memo Barber stresses the importance of producing top quality journalism and is clear that this is the number one priority. “Of course, we must stick to the tested practices of good journalism: deep and original reporting based on multiple sources and a sharp eye for the scoop,” he specifies.
“Our earlier decisions to raise prices, charge for content, and build a subscription business have proven to be bold and wise,” Barber wrote. The Financial Times is one of the few newspapers whose digital subscribers outnumber print. Its success in charging for digital content is unusual, often attributed to the fact that the financial news it offers is essential to many in the business world.
The paper became an HTML5 pioneer after it decided that 30% of revenue and all subscriber data was too big a sacrifice to make to remain in Apple’s Newsstand, and its web app has thrived. Others in the industry will no doubt be watching closely as the FT truly shifts its focus to digital.