Late October 1999
400 days to go
The Challenge: I am with Jan Thompson, managing editor of The Independent and The Independent On Sunday, in her office at One Canada Square, the landmark tower at Canary Wharf. Eighteen floors down and 600 metres across the water in London Docklands is Independent House, the newspapers' future home. Also in the room is John Hardie, the consultant employed to plan and oversee the moving of the newspapers. John will be our eye from outside, to question everything we do now and to suggest better ways of doing them when we move to our new home. There are 400 days before we have to be in the new building, producing two national newspapers, with journalists and advertising staff able to do their work from the moment they first walk through the door. The way they work must be familiar, but the equipment they have to do it must be better. The challenge is to pull this off while replacing the technical and administrative support that we have enjoyed from Mirror Group Newspapers, now Trinity Mirror, during the papers' five years at Canary Wharf.
370 days to go
Linda Taylor, The Independent's production editor, has been assigned to work full-time on the move with Jan Thompson. Nigel Tisdale, The Independent's new head of IT, will manage the huge technical project. Linda will ensure the new building and its computer system work for her and her colleagues. Her brief is to oversee an upgrade to the editorial system, improving newspaper production with the minimum of risk.
210 days to go
PCS, the company providing the operating systems at Independent House, joins the move team. Dave Dean from PCS introduces the new publishing system to the journalists. The journalists seem impressed.
151 days to go
John Lock joins the IT department as editorial systems manager. Where Linda Taylor has been editorial's main link to IT, John is now going to be IT's main link to editorial. More than almost any other creative profession, the production of newspapers depends on the moment-to-moment contact with IT professionals. The last key member of the move team is now in place.
143 days to go
PCS takes Linda Taylor and John Lock to its base in Wolverhampton in order to test the operating system with which we will design and edit the pages. This is the crucial technical test. The system stands its task, with automated computer "scripts" simulating the workings of 300 journalists. It has been decided to be bold and go for the latest version of operating system and page-design software - the largest such network in the world. Linda Taylor drives the project for editorial day in, day out, and for the next two months the editorial move committee holds weekly meetings and grabs other spare moments in the daily production timetable to keep in touch.
79 days to go
The new operating system is in place at a "pilot area" at Independent House and ready for testing. It is the first chance to see the new building, to sit at fresh desks and try out the cutting- edge computer screens. Everything has the smell and feel of a new car.
25 days to go
The first dummy run to test the system in the new building. The main section of The Independent is produced at Independent House in parallel to the real edition back at Canary Wharf. The computer system keeps running and the pages look familiar but also fresher and sharper. But the pleasure is tinged with unease. With so little time to go, we needed something more to go wrong. It will be better if we have to find solutions now rather than on 25 or 29 November, when The Independent on Sunday and The Independent are first produced at the new office.
18 days to go
The day of the second dummy. The second chance to find holes in the new production system. Make a shadow edition of the whole of The Independent at Independent House, with Jan Thompson and Linda Taylor. The pages are produced successfully by a skeleton staff while a computer "script" again simulates the workings of 300 other journalists thrashing their machines to the limit. By 8pm the pages are done and the sub-editors are gone.
Wait with John Lock for a gap in the newspaper's printing schedule so that we can send the pages to the print sites. By 11pm we have finally found something to worry about. By midnight, the systems administrator, Karl Davies, is surrounded by Nigel Tisdale, Andy Brown (the IT manager) and every other senior member of the department. There are matters of principle and technical details to be thrashed out and they can't wait.
By 3.30am the answers are clear and we can go home. Exhaustion is banished by a sense of relief because we have faced a possible weakness in the system that can be removed ahead of the day.
9 days to go
Journalists, designers, and picture scanners from The Independent On Sunday arrive at the new building to work in anger. The first bedding- in period: some of the more delicate blooms have four days before their first deadline; others must produce finished work that evening for the colour magazines. The chairs are comfortable, the flat screens are an impressive new toy.
Lizzy Owen and her scanning team are working with the latest generation of equipment. And there is the first sense that, after five years of being supported by technical staff who worked for another company, we are benefiting from having a team of our own.
And that the new faces will teach the papers' staff, some of whom have been with The Independent since its foundation in 1986, to like each other a little bit more.
5 days to go
The moment of truth. Complete sections of the Sunday paper are successfully sent to the print sites. The pages look like newspaper pages. The Sunday management's only complaint is that they need the dustbins on the editorial floor to be emptied twice a day rather than once. Members of the move team have been working 16-hour days for some time. People have even run out of clean clothes. On a trip to Canary Wharf to identify new computer hardware that can come to the new office, John Lock and Linda Taylor buy me two shirts and pick up a new suit that Dave Dean had ordered.
4 days to go
The first big deadline. The Sunday paper is now working at full blast to produce its main, live, sections. The support staff pace the floor, waiting for trouble. Nothing serious comes up. The paper is published to deadline, and the champagne is allowed to flow. We now have the first wary feeling of relief.
3 days to go
The lull. The Sunday paper staff are at home. Nothing is being produced at Independent House.
Time to take stock. The features team of The Independent are due tomorrow, the first day on which people will arrive in the morning and have to produce a finished product on the same evening. Go over to Independent House after producing the paper at Canary Wharf. Examine the floor with John Lock, checking the computer set-ups at every desk. John and his colleagues stay into the early hours setting up the last email accounts on journalists' screens.
2 days to go
The first crossover day. The main section of The Independent is being produced at Canary Wharf and the Review section at Independent House. The senior correspondents are agreeably surprised at the speed of their computers, how quickly they can find their way around the internet. There is a happy feeling of discovery in the now half- filled new offices. The Review section is now being sent off early.
The final hurdle and the biggest. The whole of The Independent is produced at Independent House for the first time. There is an expectant hum in the office, but senior members of staff find it hard to conceal the tension on their faces. At 8pm Simon Kelner, the editor-in-chief, Terry Grote, managing director, Jan Thompson and Linda Taylor are all on the floor as the last pages go to the print sites.
Thanks are exchanged. The champagne can flow again. Those who are on the 400th day of the project are ready to weep with relief. Jan and Linda's brief has been fulfilled: mission accomplished.
Louis Jebb is Production Editor (News) of `The Independent' and was a member of the editorial move committee.…