I’ll bet that my neighbors who are taking walks or going for runs in our Chicago suburb wouldn’t believe that one of the local daily newspapers is being edited and produced right inside the house they’re passing.
My wife, Michelle, and I—we’re both nighttime multimedia copy editors for the same daily newspaper—have a mini-newsroom in here. We have three computers (I use two) and two iPads set up on a desk and a card table in our rumpus room, and our cell phones are now our office phones. Plus, we have a TV playing the news.
Thankfully, we are not our newspaper’s entire editing and production staff. About a dozen of our colleagues are working from their makeshift home offices. A couple of people work on their couches. Others work in their bedrooms. Some use the kitchen table. One editor uses a snack tray. Like, that’s his whole desk, a snack tray. One moves between the couch, the bedroom, and the kitchen table, depending on where her son needs to be at a given time.
It’s not any different from what remote workers are doing all over the world. We news people like to think that we’re different from the average office worker, especially with our romantic notion of “the newsroom.” In reality, the newsroom is just an office. Yes, newspaper designers prefer large monitors for page production, but it turns out that pages can be made even on a tiny laptop in a pinch. And editing can be done on a computer anytime, anywhere, even if you must hook into an office software system like we do. (We use Citrix.)
When we got the order to work from home in mid-March, the multimedia copy desk was largely ready. Many of us had experience working from home for various reasons—to avoid a long commute or a large snowstorm, or to squeeze in an appointment. We used to think the people with big responsibilities on a given night had to be in the office—that they must be able to meet and talk face to face with each other. Suddenly we had to test whether that, too, could be done from our homes—and it can. Again, like all remote workers, we found that videoconferencing isn’t perfect, but it’s workable.
Other newspapers around the country are doing it, too—even the biggest ones. Imagine the New York Times and Washington Post being produced from apartments and across state lines. It has been happening since this spring. And the staffs of design “hubs” are now scattered.
So now the question: Could we do this forever? Is “the newsroom” dead?
There are some flaws. The small laptop won’t fly. Nor will the snack tray. Can news organizations, particularly smaller ones, help fund the equipment and office needs of often low-paid editors? Plus, few people like to hide out in their homes 24/7; even introverts like to see people. (And not all editors are introverts.)
It’s 2020, the year of uncertainty. We will continue to adapt and see what happens, grateful that we work in a field where technology allows us this flexibility.
The Remote Newsroom was originally published in Tracking Changes (Summer 2020 edition). Members receive a PDF of the quarterly Tracking Changes newsletter by email.
Header photo by utsav-srestha on Unsplash.