reporter on location communicates with team on mobile

Nothing could have thrown the importance of effective communication into such sharp relief as the COVID-19 pandemic. While communicating with reporters out in the field has always been a necessity, a suddenly scattered workforce needed to replicate the ease of in-person collaboration at scale.

Beyond highlighting the importance of remote team communication, this experience also stress-tested existing systems, prompting a period of reflection. What communication tools are working for newsrooms today? And what kind of tools can newsrooms use to make collaboration easier, regardless of location?

How Can Newsrooms Communicate with the Field?

A practical approach to remote collaboration requires acknowledging that your team will probably want to use consumer communication tools in tandem with enterprise solutions.

Ilkka Ahtiainen, editor in chief at MTV Oy in Finland, recommends approaching communication from multiple angles. He leans on a common blend of phone calls for one-on-one discussions and a messaging app for group conversations.

"In simple and shorter matters, SMS is still important, while a reporter and news editor discussing a story for the evening show would still tend to rely on the phone," he says. "But when it comes to a breaking news situation and the need to keep a larger group of people informed about the situation, WhatsApp has become more and more important."

Although Slack reigns for quick communication among some areas of production and Microsoft Teams has gained traction for videoconferencing, it is WhatsApp that has become a "solid tool for us quite spontaneously—because it is so easy to use." Ahtiainen cites the ability of editors and producers using the app to "make quick decisions in steering the show and picking up the right locations at the right time in a live show."

But messaging tools are not the only method of communication. For many newsrooms, moving towards a more story-centric model of working—where the story itself is at the heart of team collaboration—requires more than just text-based chat. Project tracking, content sharing, task status, and updates are all relevant when considering an effective, all-encompassing communication strategy.

Scottish broadcaster STV, for its part, chose to standardize on Facebook Workplace in 2019 to centralize communications across all of its newsrooms. According to STV's channels operations manager, Sam Dornan, the platform has proven to be "perfectly suited to continued use during the pandemic and has aided with teams deployed all over the country." Nonetheless, STV team members still supplement their collaboration with various other tools—including WhatsApp and Slack—while an organization-wide move to Office 365 is expected later this year.

At both MTV Oy and STV, broadcast-centered staff and field reporters alike have reasons to continue using consumer- and professional-grade systems in their daily working lives.

Communication isn't just about simple messaging, but about providing the journalist with an integrated way to find out about all the aspects of a story and the work their colleagues are doing. With a tool like Avid's MediaCentral | Collaborate, users have a single place to plan, share content, track project status, and be notified of new tasks.

5 Considerations for Future-Proofing Remote Communication Tools

For any organization affected by a disruptive event, it's natural for the post-crisis period to herald a period of reflection. Broadcast news teams aren't likely to buck this trend after COVID-19.

Decision-makers should consider the five following points when evaluating which new or existing communication tools are fit for purpose:

  1. Ease of collaboration: Delivering news content across platforms hinges on seamless cooperation between team members. Communications platforms have to be fast, fluid, and accessible.
  2. Automation and security: Reporters face exacting deadlines and difficult field conditions. In the midst of it all, they have to be able to receive feedback and updates seamlessly—not to mention securely.
  3. Changing requirements: The cycle of production technology upgrades only continues to accelerate. Preferred platforms should have plenty of scope for future expansion.
  4. Consumer vs. enterprise: Some platforms are more conducive to use by individual team members or collective use. Each approach comes with trade-offs: for example, a consumer tool such as WhatsApp might be more familiar and accessible for remote users, while an enterprise solution may offer more security and admin capabilities.
  5. Ease of integration: As news cycles become more complex and remote workflows proliferate, communication tools must be able to integrate with pro-level production systems and the environments where people already work.

As newsgathering and production take on new complexities, paying attention to the practicalities of communication helps keep things simple. Newsrooms should think beyond simple communication to an overall, integrated solution to benefit how they work, communicate, and share with each other. Messaging is important, but a single place to view, plan, track, and collaborate will provide wider advantages to the organization in the long run.

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David Davies
David Davies is a journalist, editor, and copywriter specializing in audio and broadcast technology, music production, and professional AV.

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