The Virtual Newsroom: How Today’s Editors Are Telling Tomorrow’s Stories

5 min read
Luke Henna
Luke Henna, Sr. Enterprise Account Executive
May 20, 2016
The Virtual Newsroom: How Today’s Editors Are Telling Tomorrow’s Stories
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Newsrooms—from the movies, with typewriters and cigarettes, and even from the not-so-distant past, with stock scrollers and WiFi—are disappearing. It isn’t even news anymore.

Tampa, FL recently lost the daily Tampa Tribune, and earlier this year, the entirety of Al Jazeera America shuttered its operations. Newsrooms, closed.

But we’re not here to spin a sad story of the day media was laid to rest: in fact, today’s newsrooms are very much alive and thriving. New technology, new access to on-demand talent and resources, and new kinds of audiences are bringing a whole new world of opportunity to a landscape that once appeared desolate.

Here’s a glance at today’s nimble, virtual newsroom—from Google Hangouts to podcasts to smartphone audiences.

The coffee shop is the new conference table

With communications tools and collaboration software like Basecamp, Slack, Skype, and Google Hangouts, today’s writers can spend less time in an office and more time out in the field—without sacrificing the ability to stay in sync.

This talent works differently. They’re independent, passionate, and they might just be on the other side of the country. And they’re the storytellers we need.

As writer and journalist Sandra Oshiro transitioned out of an editorial position at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies in 2014, she laid it all out: technology means reporting at greater speeds, and larger volumes. It also means Hangouts instead of staff meetings. The form is new, but the idea isn’t—foreign bureaus are simply being replaced by coffee shops. Editors can call freelancers just as easily as staff on payroll. Digital news jobs are growing, and talent is stepping up to fill the gigs; no office needed.

Podcasting is rising steadily

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And it has very little to do with technology. Podcasters have figured out what audiences have been trying to tell us all along: if you have real content to share, and it matters to them, they will find it. Podcasts keep ticking upward, as evidenced this month with the fan frenzy over the closing of NPR’s Serial, Season 2. What Marie Claire calls “the podcast that got you hooked on podcasts” is based on a very simple idea: one story, told week by week. And what hosts Ira Glass, Sarah Koenig, and their team delivered was the basis of classic journalism—a curious reporter, a good story, and a dogged search for the truth.

This one idea—which was primarily recorded in a home studio, from the start—landed a Peabody Award and a dedicated fanbase, all on a minimal budget, with minimal equipment and maximum talent. No printing presses, no weekly conference-room meetings, and nothing wasted.

According to Forbes, everyone will have a podcast in the future—find the talent, and the next Peabody just might be yours.

Smartphone users spend more time on longer stories

Audiences have caught on to the content world, just as they did to advertising—they recognize filler, and they don’t want it anymore. The volume game of replacing user value with sheer scale and quantity is over, and the Pew Center recently proved it: smartphone users dedicated more than twice the engaged time to a long-form article than shorter content—even with the same number of visitors.

The study analyzed mobile users and their relationship with the news, digging deep into over 117 million interactions from 30 news websites last year. Granted, 123 seconds on an article may not be the morning newspaper and coffee of our editing forefathers, but it speaks to an audience who wants more than memes: they want real stories, real journalism, and real engagement—delivered to their phones.

While crafting this kind of content may no longer require a brick and mortar newsroom, it does require that level of research, dedication, and talent. As big names like David Pogue, Bill Keller, and Ezra Klein all seek out startups and new projects, it’s clear that today’s talent is very much on-demand and in the field, just waiting to be tapped.

Direct to inbox—no bicycle needed

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Even though fewer glossy magazines are posted from today’s newsrooms, it doesn’t mean readers aren’t checking the mail.

Personalized updates and content subscriptions are just as important now as ever. Lena Dunham’s Lenny Letter proves it, amassing 400,000 subscribers in less than six months, with content flowing from the email-based newsletter and back into mainstream journalism. Big publishers and media brands from The New York Times to MTV push articles straight to social media newsfeeds, allowing likers and subscribers to open their browser of choice and find the exact content they want, exactly when it’s relevant.

The Washington Post recently hopped on the inbox bandwagon, too, pushing stories you might want directly to your email. The new delivery methods call for a whole new string of digital “newsies”—email service, content optimization, and freelance specialists deliver content directly to inboxes, no bicycles required.

Great writers, great freelancers, great content

You’ve heard it from Fast Company and The Harvard Business Review: today’s freelance talent is exactly that—talent. They value independence, they don’t need you to buy them a desk, and they’re driven by passion. They dig deep for the sake of a project’s final quality and their own personal investment; they’re more than bloggers and word spinners. They’re contract workers with purpose, and a gig with your newsroom is part of their career, too.

Xeni Jardin is a founder at BoingBoing, a board member at the Freedom of the Press Foundation, and a national advocate for breast cancer awareness. Brian Lam went from Wired to Gizmodo to his independent Wirecutter. These journalists have set a bar for independent, high quality work—and freelancers are just waiting to build on it, telling the stories of tomorrow.

At WorkMarket, we want this talent to shine—that’s why skill tests, portfolio vetting, and every opportunity to showcase bright and motivated creative professionals is more than a priority—it’s built into our platform. Targeted, qualified talent makes newsrooms hum. It’s not an app or a gimmick; it’s real storytellers who live to tell stories. And isn’t that what building a newsroom is all about, anyway?