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“Lasting legacy of the coronavirus crisis”: How COVID-19 is reshaping the publishing industry

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The pandemic has created deep disruption in the publishing industry. “Lockdowns and safety restrictions have changed the way news is produced, with long hours and extensive remote working making communication and day-to-day production more complex,” according to “Changing Newsrooms 2020,” a new report from the Reuters Institute. 

Almost overnight, we’ve witnessed dramatic changes to workflows, including online editorial conferences, remote editing, and virtual brainstorming. TV shows have been presented from home, while newspapers have been produced with not a single journalist in the office. Newsrooms have been forced to rely more heavily on digital collaboration tools like Zoom, Teams, and Slack to support remote working practices.

Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

The report is based on a global survey of newsroom leaders on how their organizations are adapting to the new challenges. The survey had 136 respondents from 38 countries. They included Editors-in-Chief, CEOs as well as other senior positions in editorial, commercial and product. 

55% say that remote working has improved efficiency

Majority of the respondents (55%) believe that remote working has made them more efficient. However, 77% say that it is harder to build and maintain relationships in a team while working remotely. And 34% feel that it has improved creativity compared to 42% who disagree.  

Source: Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

“For people who know each other well, it’s possible to work efficiently remotely,” says Venkataramakrishnan, Associate Editor, Scroll Media, India. “But remote work still lacks the serendipitous conversations that can sometimes lead to great ideas from newsrooms, and people can get tired and distracted on calls easily.”

Several respondents have expressed concern about morale and team cohesion arising out of communication difficulties. Effective communication is hard when working remotely. The process takes longer, the tone is often lost, and there tends to be less interaction and two-way feedback than with a conventional process.

“The biggest challenge for a daily news operation is the loss of instant communication which you have in a newsroom and the understanding by everyone why something is being done and how,” says Ben de Pear, Editor, Channel 4 News, UK. “In addition, the camaraderie and joint purpose, the human contact, the humour and spontaneity are bled dry by lack of contact and by technical interaction.”

“Successful leadership requires a more conscious and proactive effort from managers”

Other important concerns revolve around employees’ health and technological challenges arising out of work-from-home setups. “Home working setups may vary significantly between staff members and with that the impact on their ability to work effectively,” write the authors. 

What emerges from these comments is a sense that successful leadership requires a more conscious and proactive effort from managers: communicating more to keep everyone aligned, maintaining a sense of organizational cohesion and team unity, making sure that all voices are heard, and identifying teammates in need of help and support

Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

Despite these challenges, some respondents see the current disruption as an opportunity to re-imagine workflows and accelerate transformation processes that were already underway. For one editor it’s an opportunity to push his company towards much-needed modernization and digitization. 

Others appreciate the increased flexibility associated with remote working. They can arrange their schedule around other commitments like childcare duties. Moreover, they also have more time in hand as they are not commuting anymore.  

“Accelerated shift to hybrid newsrooms”

Finally, few wish to return to how things were before the pandemic. 54% of the respondents say that they would like to go to the office a bit less often than before coronavirus and 21% say that they’d like to go back far less often. 

Newsrooms also appear to be keen on continuing with at least some combination of the new ways. 48% of the respondents said their organization is actively looking at plans to downsize their office space. 

Changing Newsrooms 2020, Reuters Institute

“An accelerated shift to hybrid newsrooms – with some staff in the office, some working from home, and some on the go – is likely to be a lasting legacy of the coronavirus crisis,” the authors conclude.

The full report is available at Reuters Institute: 
Changing Newsrooms 2020