MAY 31, 2021

Making the Media S1E11: Work Flows

Morten Brandstrup on the Making the Media podcast

Top-down technology decisions don't win tech leaders any popularity awards—but most importantly, they run the risk of missing crucial needs that weren't properly articulated.

In this episode we ask: What's a better process for making technology decisions that truly reflect evolving news workflows? How has the democratization of technology given end users a voice? And how do you go about building a user-first tech stack?

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Listen to Hear:

  • Why end users deserve a much bigger seat at the table when it comes to technology decisions
  • How consumer technology has upended users' expectations for the technology they use in their professional life
  • Why defining technology requirements outside of a broader workflow discussion is a step in the wrong direction


Our Guest This Episode

Morten Brandstrup is Head of News Technology at TV2 in Denmark, where he bridges the gap between news production and technology, with a focus on providing the right toolbox for reporters and photographers. He has spent his professional life in news, event, and sports production, having been a sound engineer, cameraman, director, editor, satellite operator, and field producer.

It basically always has to be the user who has to make the choice. We can have a lot of strong opinions about it... But in the end of the day, if it doesn't fit, if they cannot use it, or they don't understand, people in the newsroom will find other ways to do stuff.

Morten Brandstrup, Head of News Technology, TV2

Mentioned in This Episode

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Episode Transcript

Craig Wilson: Hi, welcome to the Making the Media podcast. I'm Craig Wilson, and thanks so much for taking the time out of your busy schedule to join me.

This time we're talking news workflow. You know, workflow? The way work flows? If that sounds a little bit of an alien concept then maybe that's because it's not something that has been considered enough in your newsroom.

The technical team go out and set out a bunch of requirements, right? They look at what you have today. They look at what's available in the market right now. And then they make the choice, don't they? A lump of storage, a bunch of edit clients, a bit of asset management, a newsroom system, some integrations with other systems to get the whole thing to work, and there you go, users—please go off now and do your work with the choice we've made for you.

But maybe those days are changing. They certainly have at TV2, the national commercial broadcaster in Denmark, who have adopted an approach where workflow—and crucially, the user's voice—are at the heart of their decision-making process.

Joining me on the podcast is Morten Brandstrup, TV2's Head of News Technology, who can tell us all about it. I began by asking him about what the background was to them adopting this approach.

Morten Brandstrup: We had some experience from the past when we launched our news channels, and from that we learned—what we were doing there was changing the whole news operation from having one or two or three primetime shows per day and basically starting from scratch in the morning, building up the news during the day, and then presenting that. That's a printed newspaper, basically.

When you have the news channel 24/7, it's a totally different workflow. And you need workflows, because you repeat what you do over and over again, and therefore it has to be much more efficient. You might not have the resources compared to what you're spending on a primetime show, and so on.

So from that experience, we learned what it meant to develop really efficient workflows. And we also learned from that that we could keep our ambition pretty high, but we could wire efficient workflows and actually achieve it with a lesser amount of resources. And that was a big learning for us, basically, at that time.

CW: How did you feel that the non-technical staff, if you like, responded to being involved in that kind of conversation?

MB: They have much more to offer in that discussion. I mean, who knows better how the daily work is than those who actually do it? So we who support the workflow and the toolbox in general, we definitely have to bring them in in the middle of what we're discussing and listen to them, letting them have a strong voice and having them to help prioritize stuff.

And when we went into the workflow, the exchange of the whole production platform, it was based on basically very simple storytelling about how we want to collaborate, how we want to work together in a newsroom.

A news desk, a newsroom, is so much more complicated today, because you have this variety of outlets. You're publishing different outputs from the same desk. At least that's what we have chosen, that we've brought to collect together. So it could be anything from a piece to the web, or it could be packet to the news channel, or it could be actually part of a documentary running on the main channel.

And when you start to work like that, you discover with the power of the news flow when you are able to bring bits and pieces on different platforms, then you realize that it's really, everything is about workflow.

CW: But does it become much less about individual features and functionality, and much more flipping it on its head and seeing, what is it that we actually want to achieve here?

MB: Yeah. A lot of the shows we are using could be—I mean, a non-linear editor, it's more or less a standard way, like when we type into a document. So each of these components, it's not necessarily the most important stuff. It's really about how these work together, how it compiles what will be their workflow that you need for that given output.

It's really an interesting time, because a lot of us were used to, basically, "Look at that feature, all the brand new stuff!" And that's basically the car model. So it was, "Well, you know, this is a little more better than this, and so on." But today you cannot isolate it to that simple standalone thing.

CW: And is that engagement of staff to the level where, if you're trialing things, you look at it, one, from a technical perspective—you know, does it meet the requirements that you have—but you also look at it from a user perspective as well? And how are those things weighted now, if you like? Is it fifty/fifty, the user/technical, or is it more weighted in favor of the user and the choice that you eventually end up making?

MB: It basically always has to be the user who has to make the choice. We can have a lot of strong opinions about it. We can also have technical know-how about certain technologies, stuff, details, and so on that we really want to push hard and define. But in the end of the day, if it doesn't fit, if they cannot use it, or they don't understand, people in the newsroom will find other ways to do stuff.

CW: And I guess to come back to something you said there, that if the users develop their own workflows or their own workarounds to achieve what we want to do, that in essence, breaks the overall chain, because one thing you may want to have is a metadata flow all the way through with this system as well. So you know, something that somebody does upstream, if you like, of the delivery of the platform, they may not necessarily recognize it, but it breaks everything else that happens further down the line.

MB: It's a challenge to track, to give people the full picture of what we're trying to achieve it. And you also have to find ways to communicate that. Because a lot of this stuff we are finding from Windows' product details, flyers, presentations, and so on—sorry, but they cannot be used for the staff in the newsroom because they have too many details, too much focus on that single product or that single task, and so on.

So I think that that's one of the things that we're struggling with, is actually to build up our own way of telling the story and giving the story of what the workflow is, how it impacts the different steps in what we do. And that's something to work with, and basically also what I believe that Windows should support us with in a better way.

CW: And another thing I guess as well is that people are now very used to technology in their personal life. You know, if you step back to a period in time when I was younger and we were doing stuff, you know, technology was something you came across at work. But then you perhaps didn't have much in your personal life.

Whereas now, most people, they have technology at home. They have, you know, a laptop, or they have a mobile phone, and that also then, I guess, gives them a sense of empowering them to go off and do stuff. And then they want a solution that is as simple to use in their professional life as what you have in their personal life.

MB: I think that's one of the points that we who are responsible for the technology might not have had enough focus on. Because it's been said so many times, that "bring your own device" and had that whole discussion. And yes, it should be a smart phone first, and so on. Which is, yeah, well, it's a nice feature, and so on.

But the reality is that's the reference for the people; that's what they're used to. You know how iCloud works. You know that you're using your iPhone, and there's someone who takes cares of all the pictures and videos and so on. You have always access and so on.

Then you walk into your workspace and it gets totally complicated, and you have to use the special dedicated software to find it and other software to do this and that, and they do not relate and it's not that well integrated.

And I think that that's something that we have to learn to understand much better. And I don't think we're close to that yet.

CW: Now Morten, I know that you're heavily involved with the EBU, the European Broadcasting Union, and so you regularly discuss these kind of issues. Is this something that you see as a universal challenge, so it's not something that's unique to TV2 that you're trying to resolve?

MB: Yeah, that's definitely what we trying to support from two sides, both in my work and at EBU. Because when we have the conversation with our colleagues in international, we realize that it's the same challenge we all are dealing with at the moment. So it's not different. It's my Finnish colleagues, or it's someone from Portugal, or it's UK, or whatever—we even have right now a strong relation with New Zealand—I mean, we should know that we have a lot in common, talking about how to be organized, how should the story of the day travel between different desks and so on.

So we have all this connection, and it's how I process differently that we should try to find a common way of doing stuff. We strongly believe that we're not that clever. We need friends who also want to collaborate with and to find the best practice. And if it suits, and if someone has found a clever way of doing stuff, why shouldn't we just adopt it instantly?

CW: Do you think it's also the case that as you look at other parts of the industry, you discover that while everyone may think they're unique, the challenges are actually very, very similar?

MB: That's what we have found. We've had a couple of really good sessions the last couple of years between different broadcasters, discussing graphic workflows and trying to align that, so we don't show up and have a request for different details in that, and actually trying to find a common language, which is the first step—that we actually use the same phrase. Because that's sometimes a challenge, that we might do it similar, but we are talking about it in different ways. So align that, having a common language for what we are doing, and then actually making that common generic workflow.

CW: Have you found that the technical side of the organization has now to play such an important role in bringing all these different voices together? So you're going into it with the mindset which is not just, "I need X amount of storage, X amount of editors, this number of clients," whereas now it's much more around, "I have this problem and challenge I want to solve."

MB: It's a totally different discussion, and something that we probably haven't yet found the right way to do it. But that's what we internally are working on. Also because, as today, you cannot just approach one part of the technical department, because what technology are you talking about? If you just request that amount of storage, these clients, so many computers, and so on, you'll probably get what you asked for, but it might not solve the issues you're trying to to deal with.

CW: Yeah, do you think that that kind of engagement that you've characterized here, of having, you know, the balance between the users on one side, the technical stuff on the other side, that's an ongoing process now, that's not something that's going to go away?

MB: There will be much more involvement from the user side. So there will be this track and this attention. We also have to be more precise when we're setting up a conversation with the vendor around the topic. Are we talking in the editorial part of it, and will there be representation from that part, so we should talk more into that? Or is it about the technology, integration, and so on? That might mean that there would be spending more time on a different style of presentation in the future.

CW: But overall, what benefits do you think that TV2 has gained from having the kind of engagement where the users are much more closely involved in it?

MB: We are seeing that they're taking more responsibility for the tools, basically, and they do understand what we try to achieve. So the better we are to communicate what we have, what we are offering them, how the toolbox looks, the better they can adapt to that and use all the great tools that we have in that toolbox. So it's about engaging them, and thereby having a greater output, more efficient or better-told stories, and so on.

CW: Because ultimately that's really what it's all about, isn't it? It's all about producing the best content.

MB: That's where we should compete. And that would definitely have to have our whole focus. We used to be more or less the only ones who were able to buy into that kind of tools and have access to a video camera and be able to edit it in a nice package. Now everybody has it in their smartphone, and often as a much more advanced and professional toolbox.

So I mean, today, if you have a smartphone, you have a MAM and PAM system built into your handheld device. How cool is that? We're talking about moving into cloud some things, and that might be a challenge as a broadcast news provider. But the reality is that my Apple iPhone has been a cloud-enabled device for many years.

CW: And then my final question, Morten—when you look at the broadcast landscape, and things like that—what is it, if anything, that keeps you awake at night?

MB: At the moment, what really strikes me is, how do we secure that we are able to collaborate, in general? Not only to have the tools, but also as we as humans adapt into that. Because it's more than just having the right tools in front of you. We really need to find new ways to collaborate. That's to me the most important, what keeps me working.

CW: Collaboration is undoubtedly key when it comes to making a newsroom workflow run smoothly. Thanks to Morten for joining us and sharing his thoughts. It certainly is an approach which I think reaps benefits.

Next time on the podcast we're going to take a look at innovation in methods of storytelling, and to do that I am going to be joined by the new media trainer and news futurist Dr. Marie Elisabeth Mueller, who has just co-authored a book called Social Storytelling. Let's hear from her now.

Marie Elisabeth Mueller: Stories are what, as a people, we like to listen to. From other people, about other people. To learn from them, to distract ourselves, to identify, invent, or to learn. Learning and entertaining. And that is why, for example, TikTok learning is so powerful and so successful. Because all ages like this pattern of story. It's learning in an entertaining way.

What you have to be as a journalist and a storyteller is a guide who can guide this knowledge, this learning, together. And that is the chance that we have when we show ourselves. We are guides. We guarantee the credibility of our stories. We connect with people in a personal sense, be it remotely or be it physically—this really doesn't matter a lot.

CW: It will definitely be worth checking out that episode, so make sure to subscribe on your podcast player of choice to get notified when it is released.

Don't forget to post a review, rate, and share too. And get in touch! Email us: we are [email protected]. Or on social media, my user name is craigaw1969 on both Twitter and Instagram. Or you can check out the Avid social channels on Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, Linkedin, and now TikTok as well.

If you want to find out more about some of the topics which Morten was talking about, then check out our show notes. There you will find links to an article looking at how the day-to-day workflow of a journalist is evolving and the impact that has on their technology needs. You can also listen again to episode 5 in our podcast season with Bobby Hain, Managing Director of Broadcast at STV in Scotland, discussing collaboration and teamwork in a changing environment. And you can also get details on MediaCentral|Collaborate, part of Avid's story-centric news solution.

That is all from this episode. It would not be possible without our producer Rachel Haberman, so thanks to her. No point in doing it if you are not listening, so thanks to you for joining me. Catch up next time with me, Craig Wilson, for more Making the Media.

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