We crave news. But when it comes to how we receive our news, we all have our preferences. How often? Which topics? Long- or short-form updates? Written, video or interactive content? The growing list of options for news consumption has led to widespread change in newsrooms around the world, as media outlets jostle to cater to each of us.
But it’s not just consumers that are driving newsroom change. Like almost every other sector, technology is shaping the future of work in the newsroom as well and it’s needed too.
The number of full-time journalists around the world has steadily declined for the best part of a decade, leading to a rise in freelancer numbers. Marshalling a shifting group of people from day to day is tricky, particularly in a hyper-competitive industry where news is increasingly needed in ‘real-time’.
To co-ordinate this changeable workforce – and meet consumer demand – news outlets are using technology to focus on three key ideas: acceleration, collaboration and automation. And they’re already seeing success.
In news, speed is, obviously, a big deal. Each title vies to beat the competition and be the one to break the next big story.
Moving at speed requires fast co-ordination by multiple people often located across multiple sites. This is one of the biggest drivers for newsrooms adopting Slack and other tools like it.
Rather than having thousands of emails flying around where conversations can become siloed and key information buried in an inbox, newsrooms need a central place that provides everyone working on a story with the same information and a place they can discuss angles and share thoughts as easy as if they were sitting next to each other.
Endless email chains where someone asks a hundred colleagues if they know an expert on a topic or have the mobile number for a contact is a constant challenge in some newsrooms. Having a central place where all the relevant people can see a request and respond quickly with an emoji reaction like a thumbs-up makes the process much simpler and more productive for all.
Even editing can become a ‘live’ process. Red ink and scribbled notes don’t cut it in 21st century journalism. Instead, editors can provide feedback and tweak stories digitally, in near real-time, to get the news published that bit faster and allowing journalists to catch their breaking news moments. The LA Times has taken this to the next level by integrating their CMS with Slack allowing them to publish stories straight from their channels. Of course, the fast pace must not come at the cost of accuracy, and that’s where seamless teamwork also comes in to play.
No journalist works in isolation. Reporters check sources, find and share images, and submit copy as quickly as they can, and it all requires collaboration. Remote working means that teams are spread across different cities, even countries, so you can’t always pop over to someone’s desk.
In the UK, it’s common to have in-person editorial meetings daily, and once these have ended, reporters jump into their virtual newsroom. Instead of one-to-one email exchanges, newspapers are using tools like Slack (and others) to post questions and updates, where everyone can see and refer back to a channel to see the full conversation. This can also relate to handing over ideas and content between different time zones. Editors can check on progress whenever they like and reporters can help each other out and get the job done, both efficiently and effectively. It’s quite a sight to see – journalists collaborating at speed, with a living, evolving story that editors can check-in on whenever they need to.
New tools encourage journalism to be dynamic and collaborative, but they don’t remove the more tedious jobs. Or do they? Having calendars automatically create deadline reminders as well as having links integrated to RSS feeds for keeping an eye on story developments can provide easy, on demand access to information.
And many of the best news outlets in the world are experimenting with how technology can help them further streamline processes and allow reporters to focus on what matters – the reporting. One of the US’ most influential papers took automation to another level and developed a bot to predict which articles and blog posts will do best on social media, and uses machine learning mechanics to suggest potentially successful posts, articles and blogs based on previous performance data.
In Germany, Süddeutsche Zeitung developed SZbot, which combines and automates over 20 different functions into one place. Users can learn about shift assignments, check site traffic data, check translations and pull the top stories from competitor sites – and plenty more.
Co-ordinating the news
Nancy Gibbs, former editor-in-chief of Time magazine, said back in 2010, ‘I would like to see every newspaper and every magazine have a network of bureaus all over the world, gathering news.’
The big outlets may have achieved this, but with varying degrees of success. Others have to rely on a mix of freelancers, travelling correspondents and syndicated content. The common thread is that every organisation co-ordinates diverse teams, in disparate places, at speed. The good news is that today they can make it faster, simpler, and more collaborative.
Johann Butting, Head of EMEA at Slack