Critical Thinking

As Many News Organizations Switch to Remote Work, How Will This Affect News Reporting in the Future?

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Ivanka Perez, 20, junior, Rice University, Houston, Texas

Perez is studying English, philosophy and business, and hopes to enter the publishing industry when she graduates. She currently serves as co-editor-in-chief of the Rice Thresher, Rice’s student-run newspaper. 

The switch to remote work may be accelerating the transition from print to online-only journalism. Just this year, the Thresher has faced a similar struggle—when classes at Rice went online for spring semester, so did the Thresher, and we halted print production for only the second time in our publication’s history. This semester, we’ve resumed having print issues, but have reduced the length of our papers because fewer students are on campus to pick up our papers. However, throughout these changes, our content production has remained consistent—it’s just shifted online. As other media outlets face the same obstacles as us, they too may be reducing their print issues, and they may not find a reason to expand their print presence once more when the pandemic ends.

While the shift away from print papers marks the end of an era, it also marks the rise of an exciting new form of journalism: multimedia reporting. With online content, journalists are now able to integrate videos and photos into reporting in a way that simply wasn’t possible with print, helping readers to visualize content in a new light.

The transition to more remote workrooms also impacts how teams of reporters work together. In a normal year, Thresher staffers would spend every Monday evening in our office. Although we edit individually, it’s inevitable that we find ourselves discussing the stories we’re writing and editing, getting advice from others along the way—something that I know is not unique to the Thresher. As we embrace the conveniences of a more flexible, remote workroom, we must also find a way to re-incorporate a team mindset into the way our staffers operate. There are pros and cons to the direction journalism is headed in, but there’s no looking back; we must adapt to the changes that are heading our way.

Rick Lubbers, 50, executive editor, Duluth (Minn.) News Tribune

Lubbers has worked at the News Tribune, owned by Forum Communications Co., since 2005. He has served the past six years as executive editor, and in the newspaper industry for more than 28 years.   

What seemed unfathomable a year ago—operating a newsroom with a majority of its journalists working from home—has become an everyday reality in this topsy-turvy 2020.   

Newsrooms thrived for decades in a culture where an idea could spring up organically and be tested in the scrutinous rapport among editors, reporters and photographers. The best ideas were further honed by a smaller group of journalists and eventually crafted into published content.

That model worked well when journalists were physically connected by an array of cubicles, offices and photo studios. But they are now linked via the internet in a vast electronic sprawl of emails, social media, Zoom meetings and instant messages.

Editors can no longer drop by a reporter’s desk for a quick chat about how a story is shaping up. Nor can reporters swing by the photo department to brainstorm visual ideas for an enterprise package they are putting together. Any type of newsroom collaboration requires more heavy lifting to get it off the ground. 

Newsrooms are resilient, though, and the work-from-home wave was already chipping away at the numbers inside most publications well before anyone heard of COVID-19. Newsrooms learned quickly that they can put out a paper every day and continue to feed an insatiable website while the majority of its content producers are working from afar.

It soon became apparent, too, that ideas can be volleyed back and forth in a Zoom meeting or group messaging room. The best of those ideas still make their destined routes to print and digital readers. Newsrooms just have to be more intentional—and probably err on the side of over-communicating whenever possible—to ensure these valuable conversations and brainstorming sessions are taking place. One-on-one meetings are a must, too, especially for folks who are hesitant to contribute to the discussions in larger group settings.   

Even when this pandemic ends and journalists can begin returning safely to their cubicles and offices, many will stay behind and opt to continue working from home. Connecting these two groups of people through an efficient combination of in-person and electronic communication will determine how successful newsrooms ultimately will be in reaching their readers.

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