The Challenges and Opportunities Ahead for Hybrid Broadcast Newsrooms

By in Broadcast

The phrase on everyone’s lips these days is “the new normal.” But what that looks like in the broadcast newsroom is up in the air. No one knows how, when, or even if reporters and editors will be able to return to work as they once knew it.

Traditionally, the newsroom has been a crowded environment, where those who create the news gather in large bullpens to get stories on the air. Now, with the need for social distancing, the status quo is evolving as producers figure out how their teams can do their jobs safely.

Moving to a Hybrid Newsroom Model

The industry has embraced more tools to meet its changing needs, but many were already in play before COVID-19. Take virtual and augmented reality technology: newsrooms have been using this tech in their news graphics for flexibility and efficiency, making it now far easier for those working remotely to appear “together” and practice social distancing even when sharing an on-screen appearance.

As CNN Business points out, even the most popular and influential shows are bringing increased efficiency—and intimacy—to news production to meet the times. In some cases, this has meant reducing the number of staff in the studio. Anderson Cooper, for one, is broadcasting his show Anderson Cooper 360 from a remote studio with robotic cameras, while much of his crew works from home.

This also means viewers are getting used to the idea of seeing their news providers’ familiar faces on Zoom and Skype. Hosts of morning news shows including Today and Good Morning America have begun interviewing guests from their homes. Viewers may feel a sense of “we’re all in this together” when their favorite talent is also stuck at home, and producers can count on viewers being more patient with the sometimes necessary drop in production quality these tools deliver.

Even as reporters and producers reenter the bullpen, some things may never be quite the same. As long as social distancing measures are in place, employees may only be allowed back in smaller numbers. Meanwhile, some newsrooms may cling to some of the more effective remote working techniques even after the pandemic fades. Producers may find themselves managing “hybrid newsrooms” that have a mix of both on-site and remote employees and combine on-premise and cloud-based media access.

The ground hasn’t settled yet. What challenges will producers face in this changing environment?

Handling Hybrid Media Storage

One of the biggest challenges for those who work remotely is staying connected to the large volumes of media that news organizations need to deliver their content. “We absolutely need to invest in the cloud as a matter of urgency for our media storage and our craft editors to continue to work remotely successfully,” said Helen Killeen, head of production for daytime TV at ITV Studios.

Most newsrooms will have to take a hybrid storage approach. For instance, cloud storage comes in handy for immediate or live event coverage. If a reporter or editor has to wait for large amounts of data to be ingested into on-premise servers before remote access is possible, they won’t have what they need in time to release up-to-the-minute coverage. However, in many cases it simply isn’t cost-effective to make large volumes of deep archive material available in the cloud. Carefully weigh what needs to be immediately accessible compared to what can exist on a delay. Add to this equation the fact that newsrooms may be relying more heavily on archived footage while some restrictions exist around shooting new material.

Embracing New Approaches to Security

Many newsrooms sit inside the infrastructure of a corporate media environment—and they’re notorious for having incredibly strict system security. The sudden need for so many people to access those systems remotely (and the potential need for cloud-based media access) can create new security challenges. Protecting company resources will require that every employee who logs in remotely uses features like VPN and multifactor authentication. In many broadcast environments, edit stations are prohibited from having internet access, which creates additional obstacles to accessing cloud storage.

The growing number of hybrid newsrooms will need new tools and workflows to run successfully, and corporate IT departments will need to be consulted around new approaches to security so the solutions work for everyone involved.

Keeping the Team Spirit Alive

Amid all these tech considerations, don’t overlook the human element. News production thrives on the connection and collaboration between people. Though everyone is trying to adjust as best they can to all of these changes, being unable to turn in your chair and discuss a story with a coworker can create huge roadblocks in the process.

Killeen agrees: “It’s much harder to react to breaking news with teams working remotely and Wi-Fi issues delaying response times.” Tools that facilitate real-time collaboration are absolutely vital. For producers, the advantages of integrating that tech into the same tools used to create and edit news stories provides the most streamlined experience possible.

Adapting to the pandemic with innovative workflows and technology keeps the team safe—and, although the most important bottom line right now is employee safety, it doesn’t hurt that these changes can also benefit the financial bottom line.

As Robert Lydick of Tegna told TVNewsCheck, “Some of the workflows and some of the innovation that’s happened has put us in a much better place than we were, even pre-COVID.” As producers make important changes that let broadcast newsroom teams safely and effectively return to work in the short term, there’s real potential for beneficial long-term improvements.

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Amy Leland is a film director and editor. Her short film, Echoes, is available on Amazon Video. She is an editor for CBS Sports Network.