Over the past few weeks, social distancing policies and travel restrictions to limit the spread of COVID-19 came into force in countries across the globe, impacting billions — journalists included. Almost overnight, news publishers had to find new ways of working that didn’t involve being physically present in a newsroom. To make things even harder, many news publishers are facing a financial threat and a global recession which is causing a lot of layoffs, pay cuts, closures and so on.
Amid this crisis, it is clear that the newsrooms that will survive and thrive in a post-COVID-19 world will be the newsrooms that embrace the shift to distributed teams that will:
- develop and refine distributed workflows, processes, and structures.
- instill an online organizational culture in digital spaces.
- strategize carefully about the technologies and tools they use.
- plan for how to continue the professional development through distributed training.
- explore new kinds of editorial products and audience engagement initiatives.
The benefits of distributed teams:
Considering the current financial challenges, distributed teams save big amounts in terms of maintaining a physical office. Depending on the size of the company, it’s likely that the costs of insurance, maintenance, security etc..end up taking a huge cut from the budget. Distributed teams do have costs as well, such as software subscriptions and tools, but they are just a fraction of what it would take to maintain a physical newsroom.
This would work particularly well for startups. They can easily bypass the investment of a physical workspace and instead focus on revenue-generating activities such as content and editorial products. For larger corporations, downsizing could help bump up savings as well
Diversity and accessibility:
Journalism has been facing a crisis of diversity and accessibility for a long time. For example, a young person wanting to work for a newspaper in New York is faced with very high living expenses that cannot be met with a starting salary for a journalist. The result is that only people wealthy enough get the opportunity, whereas others are left with less and less opportunities. This also applies to people with certain disabilities for whom required physical presence means turning away from pursuing a career in journalism.
This has vast implications for the type of reporting your newsroom is likely to produce and its relevance to audiences. Operating as a distributed newsroom will make your organization more accessible to diverse talents, which can directly benefit your reporting and, thus, your sustainability.
Not just COVID-19:
There are many other situations in which newsrooms might need to work (or benefit from working) as a distributed team. Natural disasters, future pandemics, breaking international events, national elections. If newsrooms maintain and develop distributed teams, they can move more nimbly to cover essential breaking stories for their audiences.
Technology for efficiency:
Artificial Intelligence (A.I.) is the hottest topic in almost any industry now, even more so in the online news/publishing industry. A.I. tools today can help in solving direct pain points such as saving time, in-depth analytics, personalization and much more. Making processes more intelligent frees employees’ time to do more value-adding tasks, allows them to deliver tailored content to their readers, and helps in efficiently organizing and managing content across various platforms. What publisher wouldn’t want all that?
When we think of newsrooms, we normally picture an office bustling and loads of energy, with editors and reporters talking about the next big story and screens showing the latest analytics. Replicating this energy to a digital world is a huge challenge.
When done wrong, digital newsrooms can feel isolating and remote, without the satisfying and energizing bustle of the news desk, lacking the laughter and emotion that often accompanies work as journalists. But implemented well, this can create a digital newsroom with the ability to create a new culture and a new way or working, all the while supporting productivity and collaboration.
When faced with challenges, we are all forced to adapt. This is the time to build a sustainable future.