Changes and challenges in the new era of television news

The buzz word around newsrooms at the moment is "workflow". Karl Marx would probably have referred to it as "the means of production" and in many ways he would have been right. The fact is there is now a wholesale shift going on in how media is produced generally. Journalists, whether in print or TV, are now increasingly becoming key players in a one-stop shop where different kinds of media can be prepared and packaged. The challenge for all of us is to ensure the fine traditions of British journalism — revelatory, forthright, fearless, witty — are maintained while at the same time practitioners are able to work with confidence across the different stages of the production cycle.

This process involves everyone because all the different aspects of news production are converging. TV journalism has always involved a high degree of collaboration between the full gamut of practitioners: cameramen, producers, reporters, editors, graphics artists, studio crews — but the lines between many of their activities are increasingly blurred. To a great extent that has happened because both technology and the market have changed.

The driver of market change has been the customer — again aided by technology. The bottom line is that customers — viewers, readers, browsers — are now demanding their journalism served up in all sorts of ways.

Some people prefer bite-sized chunks on the mobile phone; others prefer to see the unedited press conference for themselves on a broadband site. The fragmentation of the market is playing havoc with revenue streams.

Add the fact that all media organisations are now scrambling to ensure they colonise these new marketplaces, and one can appreciate why all media companies are rethinking strategies about how their largest resource — staff — can be used successfully.

The need for flexible deployment of resources has never been greater, and the need to ensure the workforce are across the changing business environment has never been more pressing.

In commercial terms, there is both massive opportunity and unprecedented danger looming. Simply put, major news organisations are starting to eat each other's lunch. If a young office worker is browsing the Sun website video-news at 1.30pm, he or she is not watching the ITV Lunchtime News: and if ITV Local is persuading householders in Brighton to check out the property market on its broadband site, the local newspaper will, as intended, start to feel the pinch in its traditionally lucrative classifieds section.

The first time around, this new media gold rush was more Cornwall than Klondike, but it's now a reality and it's getting bigger every day. It is a boon for consumers, of course. You want to get a text alert on your mobile when you're at 33,000 feet? Why not?

Obviously, as someone responsible for maintaining the overall health of the business, I have to be very responsive to market forces, but this is a creative as well as a commercial brief. We are constructing highly efficient creative centres in which the production bottlenecks forced on us by divisions of labour are reduced. This frees up creative energy. It also frees up money. Fixed costs can be reduced by taking advantage of technology to simplify workflows; the economics of news production can adjust to the fragmentation of the consumer market; and we can also ensure there is still money available for the agenda-setting storytelling that still is at the heart of a highly creative industry.

The onus is on us — collectively — to ensure journalism can absorb practical TV production skills without abandoning the ability to probe and investigate. Journalists who have used effective desktop editing machinery say it is liberating: being able to voice and edit a package on their own edit machine means they are more in control of time than if one is waiting to be assigned a VT editor. But that does have an impact on overall numbers — and changes the role of specialists too. An editor can take the time to create a truly distinctive package instead of a succession of rapid turnaround pieces as is often now the norm.

As individuals start to absorb this expansion of their creative remits, new workplace configurations are being introduced. TV producers are editing and assembling graphics montages, reporters are telling their own stories with their own cameras, cameramen are developing enormous engineering skills in terms of sending picture back to home base from remote locations using lightweight delivery systems. It's not so much multiskilling as the managed development of skills across a range of disciplines, and gains in productivity flow from investment in both technology and training Just as many of our TV entertainment producers seem to be hitting their stride in Hollywood, there appears to be a significant flourishing of new, highly marketable product coming out of British centres of journalism. ITN is producing innovative news programmes, which demonstrate ambition and a sound grasp of the new market forces. When Mark Austin anchored from the Antarctic for ITV News's The Big Melt there was a team of four people (including Mark): an anchor, a correspondent, a cameraman and a technician. In that configuration, who did not produce?

Who wasn't a journalist? When I mentioned that to a team of executives at NBC television in New York you could see the collective jaw drop — but, faced by collapsing advertising revenues, they know they have to follow this type of innovative reorganisation of roles and were eager to talk about the change in news culture that can emerge.

To some extent it's a case of "plus ca change, plus c'est la meme chose". A great story is still a great story, but we can tell it in different ways and serve it up in different arenas.

We can use small cameras for immediacy, micro cameras for fly-on-the-wall effects, new transmitters for astounding live coverage… we can do so many more things, but in order to be able to thrive in the new market we need to use new technology to improve workflows to ease cost pressures, while always looking to enhance the creativity that draws eyeballs to the screen.

No comments to display

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *