WAN-IFRA’s recent Indian Media Leaders eSummit saw a panel of eminent journalists come together to discuss the challenges of working in and running a newsroom during and after the pandemic.
With Debarati Guha, Director of Asia Programmes, Deutsche Welle, acting as chair, Kunal Pradhan, Managing Editor, Hindustan Times, Harsha Mathew, Chief Resident Editor & Director, Malayala Manorama Co Ltd, and Parikshit Bhardwaj, GM and Head – Content & Strategy, Jagran New Media, shared what changes and opportunities the Covid-19 pandemic has brought to their companies.
A return to the newsroom
The panellists touched upon the logistical challenges they faced during the height of the pandemic, from implementing remote working to coming up with a rotation system to minimise contact between staff while still ensuring the newsroom and production side would continue to run smoothly.
Now, however, all three panellists said close to 100 percent of staff are back in the office, although they still allow for flexibility when necessary, pointing out that a firm bond of trust has been established between management and employees during the pandemic years.
Further, they highlighted the importance of the physical newsroom as a vessel to boost collaboration and creativity.
“There is a creative energy that is very, very important in a newsroom, and it’s not a solo project, it’s a collaborative project,” said Kunal Pradhan, Managing Editor, Hindustan Times.
“I think the pandemic has taught us that we can make do with working from home but, by and large, I would not say it’s the ideal setup.”
A boom for digital and data-based stories
While the organisation of the newsroom may have returned to the way it was before the pandemic, Covid-19 has brought about significant changes in news format and content, some of which appear to be here to stay, as well as led to a boost in experimentation.
At the Hindustan Times, the city, nation, and world pages were abandoned in favour of a Covid-19 section, between 12 to 14 pages long, which concentrated on information about the effects of the pandemic on a regional, national and global level. Covering the pandemic also involved a shift towards more data-based reporting.
“We realised that it was very important for a large newsroom like ours to rely on our own data and not just follow data from other sources,” Pradhan said.
“We quickly created our own dashboard for which we collected data as it came out from bulletins from every state in India, and we had teams that were looking at specific countries to make sure we had a very good handle on how Covid was going.”
Experimentation, paid content, and solutions journalism
Harsha Mathew, Chief Resident Editor & Director, Malayala Manorama Co Ltd, touched upon the shift in consumption patterns they noticed among their audiences, with people wanting access to more digital news during the pandemic and becoming used to consuming short videos and podcasts.
This also led to many reporters coming out of their comfort zone and increasingly experimenting with these types of formats, while also pushing forward a digital-first mindset at the company as a whole.
“During the pandemic, we’ve seen people want credible news and we’ve also seen people willing to pay for news,” he said.
“So, we are moving to a premium model and we actually saw a good number of registrations as well because of the credibility factor.”
At Jargan New Media, some of the regular content was cut due to resources being assigned to Covid-19 reporting, but the company has now returned to pre-pandemic levels in terms of coverage, while also experimenting with new formats in video and text.
They also noticed audiences’ interest in stories with a positive angle, particularly amid the doom and gloom of pandemic news.
“While you don’t want to doctor the news, you need to be aware of what is changing and what the user is actually seeking,” said Parikshit Bhardwaj, GM and Head – Content & Strategy.
“Solutions journalism is one thing we should not be losing sight of.”