A lot has changed in the world over the past few weeks and local reporters have been out there keeping the public informed every step of the way. Unlike other moments of crisis, though, the COVID-19 pandemic has also changed the way they conduct their work. At the same time and very much like past inflection points for culture and society, the changes made by the news media now could very easily linger long after the current crisis itself.
How Newsrooms and Journalists are Changing the Way They Report
As new paradigms of social distancing, self-quarantine and remote work kicked in, many newsrooms followed suit. As one Little Rock reporter put it to us, “we’re trying to practice what we preach.” Studio guest appearances were cancelled and non-essential personnel packed up to work from home. That included sales staff and non-news focused personnel, but in many cases it included reporters as well.
Just as the rest of us were getting real comfortable with video web conferencing platforms and background distractions from children home from school for an extended period of time, reporters were adapting too. Some local reporters haven’t physically been into the newsroom for weeks now and conduct editorial meetings via video conference like the rest of us.
The transition is easier for some, like newspaper and radio reporters who are used to conducting interviews remotely when they have to, but the transition is more pronounced for local TV reporters where the medium often requires them to be out on the scene and working face-to-face. For some, that transition has meant keeping that polite social distance for interviews (opting for a shotgun microphone vs. a lavalier microphone that has to be physically attached to someone) and for others it has meant conducting video interviews online over Skype, Facetime, Zoom or other platforms.
Even network news outlets who had tentatively banned Skype and Facetime video interviews from their broadcasts over quality concerns make exceptions when it’s the only option to speak with a key individual. Even locally, though, we can now expect that those video conferencing interviews will no longer be an exception, but rather become the rule.
How Businesses Need to Adjust to Work With Reporters Virtually
There’s good and bad that comes with any change, but one thing for sure is that such a transition to more virtual reporting will mean more work for individuals and businesses being interviewed. Instead of relying on a TV reporter to come to you and setting up a great camera shot and handling audio settings, now the interview subject will have to take on a lot of that work. Rather than enjoying the ease of a high-quality radio or studio interview, you need to start thinking about how you can make your remote audio sound MUCH, MUCH better than a phone call so those reporters are inclined to keep calling back.
Someone being interviewed also needs to think about what they look like on camera in a whole new way. Standing up straight and making sure your tie isn’t lopsided won’t be enough. If you haven’t done a lot of remote video interviews, here are a few tips to make sure you look your best:
- Raise the camera on your laptop or smartphone until it is roughly even with your eyes. Otherwise viewers will be looking up your nose.
- Lighting matters. Webcams and smartphone cameras provide very low-quality video in low light. The solution is adding more light. Set up a couple of lamps on either side or better yet, set up the camera next to a window so you benefit from natural light.
- Think in sound. The microphones built into your computer or smartphone are omnidirectional and great for conferencing, but not ideal to isolate a single voice. It works if that’s all you have, but a dedicated microphone will make a big impact.
- Consider your background. Messy office? Straighten it up, turn the camera around or move somewhere else. That mess will distract viewers from what you’re saying.
You also need to think about B-roll, all that additional video a reporter records in order to transform your interview into a larger produced story. If you’re on your own, in some cases you need to consider how your team can provide that B-roll for the media.
And be sure to take this next note seriously because it comes from a lot of experience coordinating super high-quality Skype video interviews with international news media. The sources who can provide the highest quality video, audio and insight with the least amount of trouble are the ones reporters will call back time and time again.
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How These Media Changes Could Become the Norm Beyond COVID-19
As a culture, every time we change we learn something new. We also start to develop new habits. In this case, newsrooms are learning how they can better manage remote teams of reporters and other journalists while still delivering an outstanding news product. At the same time, reporters are exploring new ways to leverage video conferencing and streaming technologies (which have improved dramatically in just the last few years) to become more productive and expand the scope of what they can accomplish. Even after the world returns to some sense of normalcy, those lessons will linger and we’re all likely to see whole new ideas and styles of reporting emerge on the other side.