COVID-19’s Deep Disruption May Have Permanently Altered the Modern Newsroom

“Deep disruption …”

That’s the way Faisal Kim in WNIP describes how COVID-19 reshaped the news publishing industry. And unlike many industries in which the disruptions are likely more short-term, this year may have dealt a deadly blow to the traditional newsroom setup.

Kim cites a new report from the Institute called Changing Newsrooms 2020 that outlines how lockdowns and safety restrictions made dramatic changes in days to how news is produced.

“Almost overnight, we’ve witnessed dramatic changes to workflows, including online editorial conferences, remote editing, and virtual brainstorming,” notes the report. “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.”

The report surveyed newsroom leaders — EICs, CEOs and other senior positions — from around the globe, 38 countries in all, to learn how they and their teams were adapting to their new realities.

More than half said working remotely has made them more efficient, but three-quarters found it harder to build and maintain relationships in a remote team. Only 34% feel remote work has improved creativity; 42% say it hasn’t.

Some expressed serious concerns about team morale and cohesion, along with communication challenges and less overall interaction.

“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,” said 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.”

Perhaps most striking is the long-term impact the pandemic may have on the traditional newsroom model. Almost half of the respondents said their companies planned to reduce office space, and more than half said they want to go into an office less often.

“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 report notes.

Two years ago I wrote about the serious challenges facing news publishers. First, it was the massive disruption to their business model, followed by the drumbeat around “fake news” and the growing disengagement of the reading public. Throw in a worldwide pandemic, massive social unrest, and a highly contested presidential election, and the challenges become extreme. The bottom line: It’s not easy out there for news media.

To its credit, the news industry has done a remarkable job of adapting. The news around the globe has been relentless this year, and the news industry has been a crucial part of our lives, more so than any time I can remember. Kudos to newsrooms and journalists for persevering under these daunting odds and continuing to report the news with professionalism and alacrity.