Author: Paddy Payne, Director of International Business Development ENPS
At the turn of the millennium, I joined a dotcom which pioneered the idea of virtual reality exhibitions. You might not go to the Zurich Motor Show, for example, but in a virtual world, you could interact from the comfort of your own laptop with products and services, generating a digital profile to titillate an exhibitor’s sales team. The theory and the technology were good enough for the company to raise a chunk of money and early adopters ran virtual events alongside their in-person meetings to ‘extend the reach’.
However, our plug-ins were too suspect, corporate firewalls were too sensitive, domestic broadband coverage too patchy, our avatars too clunky. People either attended the real event or just went to the website. Our business didn’t fly. A couple of decades and a few lockdowns later, we all rely on virtual technologies for meetings, exhibitions and webinars.
The adoption of technology requires not just supply-side innovation but proven performance combined with conditions on the user side conducive to making the change. The risk gap must be narrow enough for the compromise to be a good one.
Most broadcasters know, some having learned the hard way, that developing, supporting and maintaining their own newsroom systems became prohibitively expensive and was not their core business. With the exception of one or two outliers, newsrooms now prefer editorial solutions that are delivered by an experienced specialist provider who knows not just the tech but also the news business. Editorial leaders should be uncompromising about stability, reliability, security and compliance with ISO27001, along with a progressive development roadmap.
The best newsroom technology will only frustrate users if it doesn’t talk to the best video production, graphics, automation and playout systems. One solution to the interoperability question is a full suite of technologies from a single supplier, but the buyer compromises by not offering the newsroom leaders the ‘best of breed’. In a growing proportion of cases this is not a compromise they are willing to make, particularly as editorial leaders become more tech-savvy.
Way back, the MOS group of companies, some in competition with each other, collaborated to establish the MOS Protocol, standardizing how systems integrate. This compromise was recognized with an Emmy and a choice of the best broadcast technologies from a range of vendors was handed back to the newsroom.
But what about the non-broadcast output? The CMS is the logical place for digital output and social media can be handled at a planning/story level or through a dashboard for an overview of output to chosen social networks. Some irony that NRCS vendors who made a virtue of off-the-shelf systems are now providing API development expertise either as a premium service or as a value-add in the form of specialist training to integrate the whole system. And that’s a good compromise which newsrooms are welcoming.
Many newsrooms now view the coverage planning stage in the workflow as the right place to deliver efficiency-savings, leaving production itself in specialist systems. Planning is now a critical discipline in effective story management. Fail to plan and you should plan to fail. This leads on to another area where we may all need to compromise – what we thought we understood by the word ‘storycentric’.
It’s natural to try and break down any organizational silos in which news teams work and as a global news provider the AP was one of the first to recognize that, but nobody wants to force journalists to work in a single production system. Perhaps the holy grail is that multiple versions of a story are accessible centrally, whether they are updates to a developing story or different treatments for a variety of output channels. This feels like a good compromise. Third-party systems, specialized by output type and integrated by MOS and API, should publish the story versions to the intended audiences.
Surely for any newsroom worth its salt there is a simple choice about AI. Either you’re pumping volumes of bot-generated verbiage out there or you’re plodding along with experienced and principled journalists. Unless the core of your story is researched and crafted by the skilled journalist with AI generating bite-sized versions for posts, and a summary version for different audiences, and prompting media appropriate to the content – all requiring editorial approval. This mature compromise invests in the principle of editorial control but liberates the reporter from the donkey work of constant re-versioning.
What about the environment in which the newsroom system runs – surely we don’t want to compromise there? Ten years ago, broadcast newsrooms were skeptical of the cloud. Broadcasting was special, managing the precious gateway into people’s living rooms should be treated with more respect than simple data management. It was all about control and there was a manifest loss of control if the systems and servers themselves were somewhere else. But the cloud environment has matured while owning and maintaining systems on-premises is increasingly unappealing. With SSO security technology, the gap has narrowed enough for most skeptics, and compromises have been deemed acceptable. There are still constraints: which cloud environment gives you GDPR compliance? And there is an opportunity: perhaps your DR plan is in the cloud. While some broadcast newsrooms have gone fully cloud, for others who feared cloud service latency it’s just a matter of time.
As they try to make sense of the competing arguments around new technology, not all newsrooms will reach the same conclusion. When the risk has reduced, the tech is more proven, the innovation more compelling, the workflow more complete, the ROI more acceptable…that’s a good compromise.
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