Nieman Foundation at Harvard
What’s up with all the news photos that make beaches look like Covid hotspots?
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March 27, 2017, 7:01 p.m.
Reporting & Production

“Whenever you get the new generation, you get new language, and whenever you get new language you get people saying it’s not news because ‘you’re not doing it the way I did,'” said Mika Rahkonen, head of development at Finland’s national public broadcaster Yle.

In January 2015, the broadcaster launched Kioski, which has evolved into a social video service that covers news and current affairs for younger audiences and publishes across Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and WhatsApp. (Kioski also runs as a Thursday evening program on Finnish TV.) For this project, buy-in from a development department within Yle concerned specifically with facilitating the creation of news products was crucial, protecting the editorial team tasked with coming up with a “youth product” from any resistance to the product’s new voice.

Buy-in from the wider newsroom was one critical factor in Kioski’s success, according to a new Reuters Institute report that profiles eight digital news projects across six countries in Europe. The report’s authors interviewed editors and managers responsible for shepherding projects ranging from news video offerings to news apps and highlighted four (perhaps obvious) requirements to getting a digital project from a legacy organization off the ground:

— Strong and public support from senior leadership
— buy-in from the wider newsroom
— The creation of cross-functional teams with the autonomy, skills, and resources to lead and deliver on projects
— An audience-centric approach

The report also identified three “facilitating factors” for these digital projects:

— Having a development department specifically for news
— Being able to bring in new talent
— Working with external partners

Most of these large newsrooms had similar goals in trying to launch projects: They wanted to attract younger audiences, increasingly on mobile, with a tailored distributed publishing strategy.

The BBC, for instance, introduced Videos of the Day, a vertical video product, into its main news app last November, in response to the reality that BBC News gets more than 60 percent of its online traffic via mobile. Uniting different teams from a giant organization was important:

BBC mobile editor Nathalie Malinarich describes the core challenge as not necessarily being to develop new ideas, but to get buy-in for them from the organization: ‘It’s not necessarily easy to get buy-in from the organization, and I think it’s partly to do with the fact that different parts of the organization are responsible for their own little bits so you can’t always do it within your own team.’ She concludes that this was relatively easy for the vertical video project, helped by the fact that the project was initiated by the director of news and current affairs.

The BBC also has a variety of people with strategy roles as well as its own BBC News Labs, working at the edge of news, research and development, and news, product and systems. The BBC tries to foster ideas for new pilots not only top-down, but also within their teams. For example, so-called ‘Digital Away Days; are organized, explains Ramaa Sharma, editor, digital pilots and skills, BBC News, to give journalists an overview of the current challenges and changes.

German public TV broadcaster ZDF launched its new participatory news program heute+ to fit better with viewers’ social media consumption habits. Nudging colleagues to begin to shape the types of stories they were producing to fit the heute+ format was a challenge:

At German ZDF, a small team was set up for heute+ consisting of journalists who had worked for the news bulletin heute nacht that heute+ replaced and members from the working groups that developed the concept of heute+. However, as several interviewees explain, a bigger challenge was to motivate and teach correspondents in the different regional studios and abroad to produce news pieces in the new format needed for heute+. Elmar Theveßen of ZDF related that they toured the regional studios before the implementation, in order to motivate and show the colleagues there how to produce news pieces in the new format. Templates had been distributed before the launch to facilitate the production.

The report also profiles Telewizja Polska in Poland, RAI in Italy, ARD in Germany, and France Télévisions and Radio France in France. You can read the full report about their unique challenges — and the solutions they settled on — here.

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