Change is hard in broadcast production, even when that change is as important as implementing story-centric workflows. We've already talked about why this shift to a story-centric mindset is essential; here, we'll discuss how to actually implement this change, with tips from broadcast veterans who are doing just that.
Adapting Your Newsroom's Mindset
One barrier to break right off the bat is institutional inertia. Swedish Television (SVT), the public broadcaster for Sweden, has been around since 1956, and 70 years of continual broadcasting can make for some very entrenched modes of thinking. "Are we rebuilding the broadcast industry, or are we reconstructing everything as [if] it was new?" is the question SVT CTO Adde Granberg posed on Avid's Making the Media podcast. His conclusion? "I think we need to reconstruct everything."
There are two powerful tools in your toolbox that you can use to counteract resistance to change when attempting to get your newsroom into a story-centric mindset.
The first is to put forward-thinking evangelists in positions of power. The other is to get buy-in from a wide swath of stakeholders before making any kind of tech switch, as BBC Head of Change Charlotte Eimer told Making the Media.
"Often, you start working in change with the board or assess the stakeholders before any sort of change project or initiative really exists, and you're there facilitating a group of people to help draw out what that change is and what it looks like," Eimer said.
Producers and reporters can be a particularly tough crowd to sell change to, as they are the people that will be directly adapting from a traditional rundown to story-centric workflows. According to Eimer, "Clarity of purpose," or having a clear vision for what a particular change will accomplish, will help you communicate with them.
Arabic broadcaster Al Arabiya had to learn this when facing initial challenges in retraining reporters to think digital-first, Ruba Ibrahim, Al Arabiya's Director of Operations, explained on Making the Media. "You don't want to force it. We want people to feel engaged," she said. "You have to convince them you want them on board."
To accomplish this, newsrooms need to break down the silos that digital and broadcast teams have often put themselves into. "We thought we shouldn't have separate islands—we should marry them. We should have full integration," Ibrahim said.
Practical Tips for Implementation
From a practical standpoint, having the right software and hardware is going to go a long way toward convincing your newsroom that a story-centric approach is not simply a fad or an arduous change.
Busy reporters and producers simply want intuitive UX that works and hardware they already know how to use. One way to satisfy these criteria is to give reporters the ability to do their jobs with their phones. "I think in a mobile-first world, we have to work with smartphones because users work with smartphones," Dr. Marie Elisabeth Mueller, new media trainer, news futurist, and co-author of the book Social Storytelling, said on Making the Media.
Smartphones were key to Al Arabiya's approach, Ibrahim said. "We say, you know what, instead of doing a huge investment with the 3G kit or whatever, it's an application on your phone, and you just stabilize it and put it on a stand (on a tripod) and that it works," Ibrahim said. With phone cameras and the right software, reporters can record right to digital. But what about runtime? Digital audiences famously have shorter attention spans, depending on the platform.
Broadcast story packages at Al Arabiya, Ibrahim said, used to be 2-3 minutes each. To switch to a story-centric workflow, they brought that time down to an average of 90 seconds. "Instead of repackaging and re-editing everything for digital, we can push it directly to digital" at that length, she explained. While the aspect ratio for different platforms (i.e., YouTube's vertical vs. Instagram's square vs. Twitter's landscape) still needs to be changed before a story is pushed onto specific platforms, making that adjustment is far easier than recutting the story.
That will have knock-on effects for a traditional newscast—shorter packages mean you will need more of them. Or extended interviews and live content. With a lighter general production lift, though, and by making reporters more mobile and nimbler, this shortfall can be easily erased.
Balancing the Present and Future
The COVID-19 pandemic showed just how quickly newsrooms can adapt when necessary. Shifting your broadcast production team to story-centric workflows may not have quite the same urgency as going remote due to a pandemic, but the impetus is similar: the fundamental nature of news distribution has changed, and the people delivering the news need to change along with it.
Getting buy-in for this kind of change by having clarity of purpose as well as by giving reporters and producers tech that makes their job easier can set your newsroom up for success in today's shifting news environment.