Remote Production Yields Many Upsides For News Storytelling, Workflows
After the COVID pandemic prompted rapid adoption of remote production activities, broadcasters are evaluating the tools they expect to continue using in a post-pandemic world.
Zoom, the cloud, robust production environments and a few other tools are helping storytelling and shaping remote production workflows, panelists said during the Remote Production and the Future of News Storytelling session of TVNewsCheck’s NewsTECHForum conference last week. Panelists also recalled how they covered events and operated remotely during the pandemic.
The Zoom remote meeting platform is seen as a time saver and is being used for meetings to keep reporting teams in the field as much as possible, Robin Whitmeyer, VP and news director at Fox-owned KDFW Dallas, said. “Reporters don’t waste time waiting for meetings.”
And when the meetings do happen, she said, they are more focused and productive now. One reason is that story pitches are submitted ahead of the meetings, “so we have a better handle on story pitches before we get into the meeting and talk about them.”
Also, with reporters and photographers not in the building, it can be easy to be disconnected, Whitmeyer said, but communicating through Zoom helps with that.
As such, she said, Zoom meetings will continue for the foreseeable future.
The pandemic also gave broadcasters a taste of the benefits that the cloud can offer.
“Before pandemic, people were throwing out all the reasons not to go to cloud,” Ray Thompson, director of marketing solutions for broadcast and media at Avid, said.
Before the pandemic, some broadcasters were “playing with” Avid’s Edit On Demand SaaS offering, he said, but “it turned into real production” when COVID led to social distancing requirements.
Now, Thompson said, media organizations are taking the lessons they learned about cloud workflows and applying that to how they’re going to run their operations.
Edit on Demand seems to be seen primarily for offline editing for news-style programming and documentaries, he said. “We’re not doing Marvel movies with Edit On Demand,” Thompson said.
He said the cloud offers flexibility. For example, he said, offline editing means a broadcaster could use resources that are really distributed instead of being restricted to employees who are in the building or the city.
In the future, he said, the expectation is that the cloud will be “ubiquitous so you don’t know as a user where your content lives. You’re just getting it. We’re not there yet.”
Having a production environment that supports remote work makes it possible for journalists and photographers to work more easily remotely, Whitmeyer said. “They can set up shop in their car.”
Before COVID, she said, photographers would often shoot video and leave holes in the stories that were to be filled in with archived media.
KDFW uses Bitcentral, and photographers are now getting that archived video and putting it in the story, she said.
“It gives photographers more ownership,” she said. “It’s been fun to watch these photographers take ownership and know their product is better because of what they’re doing.”
Other tools, such as smaller cameras, have also helped with storytelling during the pandemic.
People in the field are “adopting smaller cameras and things that make it easier to get into places and not intrude on them so much,” Whitmeyer said.
Recently a photographer took a small camera into a court appearance, then followed the accused out of the courtroom.
“We were the only one with video,” she said.
The pandemic prompted other changes, such as how broadcasters covered large events.
Andrea Owen, director of operations for the Washington bureau of ABC News, said the pandemic “pushed us in news coverage in a lot of ways.”
At the outset, of course, there was the rush to get correspondents and editors home kits so they could get on the air, Owen said. “We can do a lot of things differently than we imagined before.”
But the pandemic also prompted the need to change how they approached covering large events, such as the Democratic National Convention, she said. ABC provided pool coverage for both conventions.
“There were a lot of unknowns right up until the July DNC event” that was initially planned for Milwaukee but then held in Wilmington, she said. Staff for the “mission critical event” were tested daily for COVID.
ABC used phantom crews in both cities, and the crews were kept separate from the coverage crews but were read in daily to the event.
Newsday, on the other hand, didn’t have to pivot to remote workflows at the outset of the pandemic like other broadcasters did.
Bobby Cassidy, executive director of multimedia at Newsday, said Newsday had just begun construction on a studio before the pandemic started.
“We were forced out of the building,” he said.
That not only made construction easier, but it also made it easier for Newsday to put out content, he said. “We just launched the studio in the pandemic. We were excited about the possibilities.”
Streaming live news was a major milestone, he said.
“We grew up with the pandemic as our workflow,” Cassidy said. “We geared all of our decisions toward cloud-based production.”
Newsday is focusing more on live events and engaging interactive programming in its two studios, he said. Pandemic restrictions have limited audience numbers he said, but Newsday is “happy with the first couple of go-rounds and will continue” the events.
Owen said the ABC News Washington bureau just finished a large studio rebuild that takes into account social distancing.
“We now have a studio with large LED screens floor-to-ceiling that give unlimited production possibilities,” she said. The desks, on the other hand, are big to allow for social distancing, she said.
Moving into the future, Thompson said he expects to see more automation, technologies that leverage artificial intelligence and machine learning.
In short, he said, he expects tool sets that provide accessibility from anywhere “so journalists can get to content fast.”
For more stories on NewsTECHForum 2021, click here.