broadcast journalists at the news desk

The Evolving Role of the Broadcast Journalist

Cindy Burgess

September 2, 2020

The average broadcast journalist’s to-do list has grown longer as they face more complex workflows. On any given day, they’re juggling multiple technologies, platforms, and deadlines to deliver content faster and farther afield than ever before. The COVID-19 pandemic has added the challenge of working remotely with little to no physical access to the newsroom.

Keeping up in this environment means embracing a broadcast workflow that’s starkly different from even 10 years ago, let alone the pioneering days of TV news.

Moving to Mobile and Always “On”

Once upon a time, most broadcast journalists worked on a single delivery platform—TV—and with a single deadline—the upcoming newscast. The advent of the 24-hour news cycle brought more opportunities to cover news live, but more pressure came with that. Reporting speed was often measured by how quickly a TV crew could drive a satellite or microwave truck to the location and set up.

Fast-forward to today’s digital-first environment, where a broadcast journalist is always “on.” News breaks online, almost instantaneously, across Twitter, Facebook, and YouTube. Being first with breaking news means monitoring social media feeds for potential stories, interview subjects, and user-generated photos and videos. And that’s on top of traditional newsgathering methods.

One thing hasn’t changed for broadcasters: the importance of delivering content as quickly as possible. The need for speed, combined with advances in digital technology, is fueling the rise of mobile journalism. A field reporter armed with a smartphone or tablet can capture photos or video, perform simple edits, and—with quick newsroom approval—publish directly to social media with just a few taps. They can go live using a mobile device within minutes, as long as they have access to a network.

Camera operators are trading SNG trucks for portable transmitters that can fit in a backpack and offer greater speed and mobility, whether journalists need to livestream or upload footage from the field. With modern asset management systems, every member of the editorial team can view and access raw video as it’s ingesting and transcoding, making for faster turnarounds.

Streamlining the Digital-First Workflow

A digital-first broadcast should engage audiences where they are—and increasingly, that’s mobile and social. In addition to creating content for legacy linear TV newscasts, broadcast journalists are now feeding multiple online platforms. To do it right, they’ll need to stay versatile and be willing to learn new tools.

While some news organizations have teams dedicated to digital, others expect every employee to contribute. Either way, anyone working on the content will have to keep distinctions straight between various social media channels. Twitter limits posts to 280 characters, while Instagram limits video clips to 60 seconds and prefers a 1:1 (or square) aspect ratio. TikTok’s audience skews younger—it primarily attracts millennials and Gen Z. Creating a newsroom social media manual will help establish standards and keep everyone consistent and up-to-date on best practices for each platform.

Ease this digital-first workflow with tools that simplify delivering video content to multiple social media channels simultaneously. Ideally, editors can build templates ahead of time with the appropriate technical specs for each destination. Then, it’s just a matter of dragging and dropping video clips, graphics, station branding, and ads into each one and clicking a button to publish. All the transcoding happens automatically.

Establishing Remote Collaboration

Even before COVID-19 hit, mobile and digital-first newsgathering was already pushing broadcasters toward a remote, cloud-based workflow. The pandemic has accelerated that process, and now many more broadcast employees are working from home.

Editorial teams hold daily story meetings virtually on software platforms such as Google Meet, Skype, or Zoom. Journalists use instant messaging platforms like Google Chat, Microsoft Teams, or Slack to communicate and collaborate in real time.

A robust cloud-based media platform is essential to keep remote broadcast workflows running smoothly. After signing in over a virtual private network (VPN), team members can access the same user interface and tools they’d use in the newsroom. Writers can create scripts directly in the lineup, and editors can access media libraries and graphics. Reporters can upload video and even edit entire packages from the field—all they need is a laptop or other device and a solid internet connection.

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced broadcast journalists to innovate on a dime. From set-decorating the living room for a live hit to building blanket forts to record voice-overs, journalists have shown a remarkable ability to improvise and adapt to working from home. The fruits of this hard work and creativity have proven that remote, cloud-based collaboration works. The question now is: what part of this broadcast workflow is temporary, and what will stick around in the form of a “hybrid” newsroom when lockdown restrictions are lifted?

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Cindy Burgess
Cindy Burgess is a Toronto journalist, educator, and entrepreneur with more than 25 years of experiences working with video.

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