Long-established news workflows suddenly became poorly suited to news production in March 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic upended traditional TV news processes. Reporters, news photographers, editors, and news managers all shifted to home office setups to comply with social distancing guidelines and protect public health—replacing the newsroom's typical give-and-take with purely remote collaboration.
While working remotely from colleagues was a radical departure from the norm, hundreds of broadcasters succeeded in transforming their production workflows to accommodate the pandemic. Introducing remote collaboration tapped the readiness and skills of entire teams, including journalists, news managers, technical staff, IT, and even human resource managers.
"Broadcasters have been very good at coming up with solutions that have worked and were stable [during COVID-19]," says Avid Senior Director of Product Management Régis André. "Everybody has been pitching in, from the end user to the management team to the technical team."
While admirable, this extra effort isn't a sustainable strategy. According to André, the future will require a set of best practices that enables seamless remote collaboration among colleagues. That way, everyone involved can focus on their core functions. "The next step is to be able to put processes into place . . . it's about how to standardize and build best practices for all of this so it's repeatable and economical," he notes.
Over the past year and a half, these best practices have enabled remote collaboration throughout news workflows that teams can lean on for the long term.
Reconnecting in a Distanced World
Workflows in news depend on communication, and collaborating remotely wouldn't work without substitutes for face-to-face conversations in the newsroom. Journalists gather in Google Docs to simultaneously work on scripts and other writing; meanwhile, apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Skype, and FaceTime have become newsroom staples as morning editorial meetings traded huddling around a conference table for sharing screens.
In a remote world, videoconferencing comes into play throughout the workflow. Teams use remote tools to let reporters and video editors collaborate on stories, to help assignment editors keep track of progress on reporters' stories, and even to serve as an alternative to in-person interviews with newsmakers—both live and for edited segments.
André adds that last year, Avid introduced its MediaCentral | Collaborate app with news collaboration in mind. The app gives news managers a convenient way to assign news resources and personnel, monitor story progress, and manage the distribution of stories online and on-air.
Seamless Remote Access to the Newsroom
Remote access technology ensures that everyone is connected not only to each other but to their workstations and the tools they use daily in the newsroom.
Across the pandemic, André has seen tools like Teradici's PCoIP (PC over IP) client software or HP's ZCentral Remote Boost enabling journalists to connect securely to their newsroom workstations from their remote laptops. Unlike typical software tools used to access remote computers, these solutions support audio playback as well as smooth-running video with no dropped frames or choppy motion. Users report that the experience feels as though they are seated in front of their newsroom workstations.
Newsrooms that deployed Avid MediaCentral also support remote collaborative workflows. Reporters connecting securely to the server-based solution from a web browser via a VPN can access the tools and content they need from MediaCentral to remain productive at home.
The pandemic also directly affected the newsgathering element of TV news workflows. Traveling to the studio to collect mics, cameras, and newsgathering backpacks or even simply picking up an already outfitted ENG vehicle was out of the question for many reporters and broadcasters who wished to minimize interactions and exposure. Reporters learned to instead reach for their phone and contribute stories for broadcast and digital, a change that can easily continue post-pandemic and enable reporters to do more work from the field.
Lasting Impacts on Broadcast Workflows
Broadcasters successfully transformed their workflows in response to the pandemic—but what now? According to André, simply "going back to the office" may not be the best approach now that the industry has embraced the benefits of distributed working, such as how the pandemic incidentally brought reporters closer to their stories.
"In news, people are always out in the field, because that's where news happens," he says. "The fact that people in news need to be in the office is probably the one workflow where people won't go back to the office. I don't think it's going to go 'back to normal' for news . . . we need to improve remote collaboration tools for a seamless news creation process."
This effort is well underway. Video conferencing tools such as Zoom can quickly connect reporters, editors, and managers; remotely accessible editorial tools can help broadcasters maintain the quality of their news product and utilize on-premises infrastructure from any location; and intelligent apps give journalists an alternative to traditional newsgathering and contribution technology, enabling them to cover and file stories directly from the field.
The pandemic may have jump-started the transformation of remote news workflows, but many of the changes it has brought about are likely to remain long after the pandemic has passed. Adopting enhanced workflow efficiencies, putting reporters in closer proximity to the communities they cover, and maximizing how teams use technology and personnel resources will see to that.
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