It’s Not Your Father’s Newsroom

By: Steve Outing

Pardon that somewhat sexist headline (it’s not your mother’s newsroom, either), but it gets the point across – how the newsroom of a few years hence will be unlike anything old newshands could have imagined.

Indeed, the newspaper newsroom that people in my generation have known over
the last couple of decades may cease to exist except at smaller papers. To
inhabitants of the new-media newsroom of a few years from now, the environs
and work habits will look more like Star Trek and less like The Front
Page or All the President’s Men.

This is where we’re heading

There is a vision of the future newsroom that is becoming more widely accepted
as being inevitable. It is a newsroom powered by Internet, wireless Internet, and
wireless voice technology. It is a newsroom where technology-savvy editors have
greater responsibility than traditional-media editors currently have. It is a
newsroom where fewer humans are required to be in the office, and
communications technology makes it simpler for journalists to work in the field or
in far-flung locations – there being less need to appear physically in the

A compelling vision of the future newsroom is presented in a 9-minute video
produced this fall by IFRA, the German-

based newspaper and media publishing association. Called “Tomorrow’s News,”
the dramatization of what a high-tech newsroom of the future will look like was
created by Kerry Northrup, technologies editor of IFRA and executive
director of the IFRA Centre for Advanced News Operations, and his

The video, which took more than a year to complete, depicts editors running a
complex newsflow at some unspecified time in the future. Technology is at the
heart of this theoretical news operation – technology that allows for news-

gathering from all parts of the world, and technology that distills various
information and news sources into multiple feeds published to multiple

Mission control

There are two individuals featured in the video who are at the heart of this 24-

hour operation. They are essentially assignment editors who use wire and various
news feeds to stay on top of breaking news, then they assign staff reporters and
“e-lancers” to cover stories. It’s interesting to note that the in-office staff is
portrayed as being relatively small.

There’s good reason to predict that newsrooms of the future will be less physically
crowded. The technology that’s represented in the IFRA video makes it possible
to conduct the business of a newsroom from varied locations. For example, the
assignment editors have a large video screen with which they can interact with
reporters or other editors, without having to leave their desks.

An early morning editors’ meeting is conducted by video-conference. Six editors
“assemble” for a short discussion about what they’ll cover that day, with four of
them represented by images on screen. There’s no indication of those people’s
physical location, and it really doesn’t matter. They could be on another floor in
the same building, in different locations around the same city, or around the

Once the various editors have agreed on their tasks for the day, coverage is
assigned. The editors also consult an online story budget throughout the day, and
make their recommendations about how various stories should be ranked and
presented. One of the assignment editors calls up a freelance correspondent who
is at the Boston airport. He’s carrying a portable tablet, which he uses to
communicate with his European editors.

The tablet is a wireless communications device, about the size of a magazine. It
has a small camera, which the reporter points at his head in order to have a real-

time video conversation with his editor. The device obviously features broadband
wireless capability – taking advantage of a 3G wireless network of a few
years hence. The tablet takes the place of a mobile phone, and it is capable of
surfing the Web, getting and sending e-mail, communicating via “Instant
Messenger” software, etc.

Such a device is, in effect, a handheld portable office for a journalist. It can be
used for taking notes (or digital recording) during an interview; writing a story;
communicating with editors at the home office and taking part in virtual meetings;
and accessing source materials on the Internet and newsroom intranet via high-

speed connection. With such a handheld wonder, there will be scant need to spend
much time in the physical newsroom.

Such a vision of the future should relieve the crowding common in many
newsrooms, where staffs have outgrown available physical space. Reporters will
get by with small desks in the newsroom because they’ll spend little time there.
Also, much of the newsroom’s technology assists in-office editors, making their
jobs easier. In this vision of the future newsroom, there can be fewer people
processing news and more people out reporting and writing the news.

One newsroom, many media

A striking characteristic of the IFRA future newsroom is that it supports many
media. As the editors discuss a breaking story – a computer virus that is
affecting air traffic control computers and shutting down airports worldwide
– they plan for publishing various elements of the story to different

For example, mobile phone and pager users who subscribe to a headline alert
service will receive a text message on their phones or text-capable pagers alerting
them to the airport shutdowns. Should the virus affect only a single airport
(Boston), the news system might alert only those mobile subscribers in New
England. A longer alert is sent to subscribing e-mail news service users, and
another version to wireless PDA (i.e., Palm Pilot) users.

Content is also readied for the Web and a print edition. The Web offers the
opportunity to have the most complete coverage of the story of any medium in use
by this newsroom. It can include links to airline schedules showing delays;
streaming media of a news conference in progress; video clips of interviews with
airport supervisors and airline executives; and so on. For a story about local traffic
tie-ups, the Web site can include live images from traffic-cams, and an interactive
mapping feature that gives a specific Web user personalized driving instructions
to avoid heavy congestion. (Actually, wireless PDAs utilizing broadband
connections also could receive some of this content.)

Much of this wealth of content, which is available for use in the various media to
which the newsroom publishes, is accessible from the editors’ workstations and
found on the Internet, newsroom intranet, and newsroom digital archival

Print edition and printed edition

While digital devices, whether wired PCs or wireless portable devices, are
perhaps most exciting and most capable of presenting many facets of a story,
printed editions also will change in the future. While the many-page edition will
continue to arrive on many subscriber’s driveways, other “print subscribers” will
pick up shorter printed editions from their home laser or inkjet

The IFRA video shows a consumer picking up a single-page “newspaper” from a
small printer located on a kitchen counter. The idea is that printers will find their
way out of the home office or den and into common family areas – hooked
into an Internet connection and not tethered to a PC or laptop. Content for the
home-printed edition will need to be succinct; consumers won’t tolerate 50 pages
of content being spewed out daily from a kitchen-counter printer.

Personalized news

Northrup and his IFRA team envision that the news disseminated from this
newsroom will be quite varied – from common reports that read the same
for all readers, to customized related content that is specific to an individual. For
example, a story about local traffic patterns is augmented with individualized
driving directions based on where the reader/user lives – which might be
accessed on the Web or on a PDA.

Another interesting example of personalization is to create multiple forms of a
single story, aimed at different interest groups. For example, a story about a new
military aircraft might have one presentation that offers a political appraisal, while
another offers a technical evaluation. Which angle is chosen depends on the
interest of the reader/listener/viewer. As Northrup points out, this future news
organization will have profiled its users and readers, so that it can present them
with customized or personalized content.

And, of course, different users of a news organization’s content will want its news
presented in different ways. While many will “read” it (on paper, or on some sort
of screen), others will prefer to listen to the news (such as auto commuters
listening to a news organization’s reports on Internet radios).

Technology helps, but people are the key

What I find interesting about the IFRA newsroom of the future vision is as much
how it portrays staffing and organization as the wonders of new technology.
Broadband wireless is no doubt a “cool” technology that will allow newsrooms to
do things differently. Tomorrow’s news staffs will spend more time in the field,
because the new technologies will allow them to work just as well across the
country as they do when physically in the office.

That’s great news for journalism, because it means more resources can be
committed to reporting and doing better journalism. New technologies will
require less people power to process the news – because much of the
process will be automated – and allow redistribution of human

The future newsroom and its new technologies also will support better use of
freelance correspondents. Armed with broadband wireless communications
devices, they can be brought in on a moment’s notice to cover breaking news.
(This is why ventures like are so important
for the future. With that service, editors can quickly find “e-lancers” to cover a
story where there are no staff reporting resources stationed.)

The video also gives a glimpse into how journalists’ job duties will change.
Reporters, obviously, will have to master using new devices to communicate,
collect news, and do research – all while out of the traditional office
environment. While not expected to become expert TV camera operators as well
as text reporters, they may have to collect some video and photos during their

It’s editors whose jobs will change the most. The IFRA video’s overriding
message is that newsrooms of the future will publish to multiple media –
print, home-printed, Web, e-mail, PDA, mobile phones and pagers, Internet radio,
etc. While distributing news to all these formats and devices will be largely
automated, tomorrow’s editors will foremost have to understand how content must
be presented appropriate to each medium.

Northrup makes a point in the video of not showing repurposing (“shovelware”)
of content between media. The editors as they discuss how to cover a story plan to
collect and present content in many formats simultaneously. The goal for a major
story is to pull all available news distribution services into play so as to present an
integrated, branded report.

It’s an exciting – and challenging – future for journalists.

(If you’re interested in obtaining a copy of the IRFA newsroom of the future
video, contact Jamie Davies at


In my Nov. 15 column, “Reprints Leap From Print to Web,” I included an
inaccurate statement about the Copyright Clearance Center.
Below is a corrected paragraph that describes CCC’s services:

“iCopyright’s principal competition comes from the Copyright Clearance Center.
That entity handles licensing of various forms of content for some 10,000
publishers (of all kinds). Like iCopyright, it automates permissions and delivers
content on behalf of client publishers. CCC last year distributed $57.3 million to
its client rightsholders. CCC has begun focusing its efforts on protecting
publishers’ content using digital rights management technology, as well as
providing ‘trust-based’ copyright permissions, as does iCopyright.”

Other recent columns

In case you missed recent Stop The Presses!, here are links to the last few columns:

Waves Of the Future: Delivering the News, Wednesday, Dec. 13
The Many Possible Directions Of Future Media, Wednesday, Dec. 6
Will Consumers Pay for Wireless Content?, Wednesday, Nov. 29
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This column is written by Steve Outing for Editor & Publisher Online. Tips, letters and feedback can be sent to Steve at

Copyright 2000, Editor & Publisher.

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