Has COVID-19 changed the news industry’s course for the better?

Younger workers desire flexibility and remote work options, and the coronavirus pandemic may just have given the news industry the push it needed to be able to attract them, says Jennifer Bertetto, President and CEO of Pittsburgh-based publisher Trib Total Media.

by Simone Flueckiger | October 6, 2020

“If the pandemic hadn’t hit us all, I’m not sure our industry would have been quick enough to adapt to these changes with our working environment,” she says.

“I think we will emerge from the pandemic as leaner companies and companies with much more agile and technologically advanced staff.”

At this year’s virtual Newsroom Summit conference, taking place 20-21 October, Bertetto will share how Trib Total Media adjusted daily operations and business strategies during COVID-19, and discuss what impact the pandemic might have on how newsrooms operate in the future.

In this preconference interview, she gives us a brief look at how things have been working and some lessons they’ve learned so far.

WAN-IFRA: How has coronavirus impacted editorial operations at Trib Total Media?

Jennifer Bertetto: Overnight, we went from being a staff that worked entirely in the office and the field to 100% remote. We needed to find a new way to accomplish all of our day-to-day work.

While navigating the challenges that come along with working remotely, at the same moment, our website traffic and hunger for information from our readers were never higher.

Except for seven weeks in late spring and early summer, we have remained 100% remote.

We have replaced the in-person conversations that happen as part of a newsroom’s fabric with Microsoft Teams Video calls.

Have you launched any new products or services in response to the pandemic? If so, which have proved particularly successful?

For 11 weeks, like many other news organisations, we made our e-edition free to anyone.  The free trial led to several hundred new paid subscribers when the program ended.

We also expanded our Neighborhood News Networks. Before the pandemic, we had local sites for eight neighborhoods in our footprint. Today, we have 32 hyper-local sites. These sites have become relatively popular, as we allow user-generated content to be posted.

We also developed relationships with school districts, community groups, churches, etc. to make them “trusted contributors,” meaning they can post news and information to the sites as well straight to the web.

What have been some of the main challenges and lessons learned for Trib Total Media during the past several months?

Sometimes, the best solutions are the most obvious ones.

Keeping the staff motivated and engaged while working remotely can be a challenge.  However, we have instituted engagement software across our company to help our employees manage their time more effectively.

We have learned that video calls are far more critical than phone calls, and virtual face-to-face contact has been vital in keeping our employees engaged in their work and with our company.

We have also learned where there is a will, there is a way. When we were forced to move to a 100% remote operation, even though we had never done it before, everyone learned the technology they needed to do their jobs well.

In your opinion, how might the pandemic affect the news industry in the long run in terms of newsroom organisation and management? 

In some ways, I think the pandemic has forced us, as an industry, to make modifications to our work, which were necessary anyway to attract younger employees. Many younger employees desire flexible work schedules and remote work.

I think we will emerge from the pandemic as leaner companies and companies with much more agile and technologically advanced staff.

All of these changes needed to happen for our long-term success as an industry, and to be honest, I am not sure we would have modified our work quickly enough to remain relevant without COVID-19 changing our course.

Share via
Copy link