This has been quite a time to be a journalist. Our work feels urgent, while the business is in flux. There are serious questions to think about; about the future, about the role the media plays in a democracy, about how we support ourselves. But yet – I want to talk about how we work on a daily basis. I want to share some thoughts on workflow, from someone who spent years in network news, and knows how newsrooms operate.
For the non-newsies who may be reading this, there are some things that I want to clarify – news does not just happen. The fundamental atomic element of a story is not an article – or a video – it is a fact. It is research. It is an interview. It's the notes that a reporter lays out and reviews before starting to write.
Yet, software aimed at journalists misses this. There are great tools out there for finding and processing information, and some really interesting and helpful CMSes. But little in between – where do those notes go?
I have long complained that little has changed technologically for journalists, since – well – ever. Our transformative tools have been cell phones, email, Twitter. I look to other industries and see massive disruption – and we report on it, though often with our Google Docs accounts.
What's even more frustrating is that there are really cool products introduced on the production end. I've long suspected that those of us with nerdy predilections find ourselves on technical side of the business – in TV that generally means behind a camera, or in an edit bay. And so we get wireless IP transmission systems, cloud-facing asset managers, and impressive CMSes, but when it comes to reporting, we're still just all stuck on workarounds. That might be fine when you're working solo – but the friction becomes more noticeable the larger the team grows. It's even worse when you are on tight deadline – and every login, forgotten password, and misplaced email is another minute or two you are not writing.
I started thinking about this a few years ago – and in that time, I've only seen things get worse. In an industry now plagued by layoffs and perpetual consolidation, we've seen friends and colleagues forced to constantly reinvent themselves and find new opportunities. Though beyond the personal toll, this turnover wreaks havoc on the institutional memories of news organizations that so often differentiate themselves through their ability to contextualize. As new forms of media pop up, these ever shrinking teams are asked to produce content for more more platforms; newspapers now have video, TV stations are doing Facebook Lives, everyone now has podcast and apps. And so those producers are asked to do more, they need to have quick access to the latest information.
"But what about Slack?"
I hear this question often, and it is valid. Slack (and by extension, Microsoft Teams) has a simple interface that lets you broadcast messages to your staff. How could that be anything but helpful?
To that, I can only agree – though with a caveat. Like e-mail distribution lists, you can get an update in front of your whole team – or a predefined subsection – at the press of the button. But what if you don't know who needs to see it, or forget someone? So you send to a whole channel, alerting everyone – even those who do not need to see it – or, worse, decide it just is not that important, and keep it to yourself, rather than "spam" the newsroom.
Importance, of course, is relative. Yes, there are some days with a story so big that the entire staff is working on it. Most of the time, however, there isn't; and that's when beats and assignments have a bearing on what a reporter wants or needs to know. The lead story is important, unless you're on deadline writing something else. I may not want to check in on my day off, but an update to something on my beat could change that. On Slack – like email – those nuances are lost, or segregated into so many groups as to make organization impossible.
The institutional memory – or in far less sexy parlance, "the archive" – is difficult to navigate on any of these systems. Few newsrooms now archive their notes – it is far more common to just Google for the old articles on your own website – though that loses so much. What about the contact information for that source? Was there a rumor we were never able to confirm? What got cut for time or length? All of that is just lost – or requires scrubbing through hundreds of lines of chat, if it was ever shared in the first place.
As much as I like griping about the disappointing state of affairs, I am also excited to offer a solution. Nillium NewsApps is a web-based tool to handle everything your newsroom produces before it goes into the CMS, or becomes a page in the show lineup. This is a pre-CMS, a Reporting Management System – an internal newswire organized by story, that sends real-time notifications and automatically archives. (Oh, and we integrate with Slack.)
Add information through the web, by email, by Slack, or even by text message – for when you are out in a place with limited data coverage – and immediately get in front of everyone who needs to see it. Through topical tags and story assignments, you do not need to think about who to CC – it will just get there. And months from now, when you have to write a follow up – even if you didn't expect one – all of the information will be in one spot.
We're in a free beta, so please reach out to schedule a demo.
Down the road, we are working on a publishing solution to compliment the newsroom tool – to offset the costs for the newsroom and create new revenue streams, though nothing is published now, nor will it without your cooperation.