Collaborations Now Essential For Survival, News Leaders Say

Executives from Scripps News, Gray Television, NBCUniversal Local and ProPublica told a NewsTECHForum panel last week that their cross-group collaborations, as well as with organizations outside their own, have become critical to delivering on their news mission and their viability.

In June 2023, Scripps announced that 25 of the company’s TV stations had begun airing national-focused content produced first for Scripps News. A few months later, Scripps expanded that initiative to 43 stations.

Content sharing works the other way at Scripps, too, with Scripps News also airing local stories with the potential for national interest. Local political reporters are working with journalists on the national beat, and Scripps is facilitating similar relationships between investigative reporters across the station group as well.

“What we have to do … is to work with the internal partners and external partners to create the best product for our viewer,” said Kate O’Brian, president of Scripps News, at TVNewsCheck’s NewsTechForum. “The most important glue that makes it stick is to have dedicated teams who are responsible for sharing the information with each other, sitting over the whole and communicating.”

In times of slim margins and expanding channels, efficiency is the primary key to content production, with collaboration like that on display at Scripps — so widespread and integrated into the culture — optimizing it.

Scripps is not the only station group adopting a hyper-collaborative approach between personnel across its entire network.

During the panel “Building the Architecture of More Collaborative Content Creation,” moderator and TVNewsCheck Editor Michael Depp highlighted similar efforts in other station groups. At NBCUniversal Local, multiple Telemundo newsrooms help build regional FAST channel programming in the Northeast, Florida and Texas, while Gray’s investigative reporters across the country work together to build programming for InvestigateTV, a national reporting initiative and show.


“Knowing that we wanted to produce more live original newscasts on a daily basis without completely taxing the teams, we came up with the idea of leveraging the multiple markets,” said Meredith McGinn, EVP of diginets and original production at NBCUniversal Local. “One market will run the control room and anchor the show; another market will build the second block, and other markets the third block, and other markets the fourth block. And what we’re seeing now on these Telemundo, regional FAST channels: those newscasts are the most engaged shows of the day.”

Lee Zurik, VP of investigations at Gray, said his company’s mission of getting ambitious, enterprising reportage to viewers by any means necessary was hatched in response to consumer demand.

“We know by the research that there is an appetite for this, and we need to do this to be good watchdogs in our community,” Zurik said. “We really looked at a way to leverage what we have as a company, so we added this national investigative unit that does investigations across the country, and we share them with all of our stations.”

Cross-station collaboration of this magnitude would not be possible without recent advancements in technology. McGinn cited the now ubiquity of Slack and Microsoft Teams, two platforms that newsrooms have become more familiar with since the pandemic made in-person collaboration dangerous, cutting down the “email clutter” as well as the need for daily all-hands meetings, without compromising communication flow. “It’s enabled us to go from teams of three or five people in the market to hundreds across the division,” McGinn added.

There are other reliable tools boosting newsroom collaboration that are much more sophisticated than that pair, too. Companies like Dalet have developed a series of tools in this space, utilizing cloud and AI tech to make collaboration more seamless, across virtual newsrooms.

“It used to be in the newsroom, there was a sort of very rigid division of labor: you’re editing content, you do just that; on the editorial side, you work with scripts,” said Stephane Guez, co-founder and principal of Dalet. “Today, it makes no sense. If you’re going to produce for all sorts of different digital platforms, everybody is going to want to be much more involved in all aspects of the news making. What we as a company are trying to do — in terms of what type of news production systems we are building — it’s really to make it possible, to make this collaboration more effective between people in different roles, between stations, between different groups in different teams.”

Even collaboration across entities that could be considered competitors is happening. Decision makers at the digital news outfit ProPublica are taking a high-tide-raises-all-boats approach, working with Gray and Scripps on investigative stories for their TV stations this past year.

“We write 10,000-word stories for…what I like to call what I like to call ‘the tote bag audience,’ the New Yorker audience, and we hit them quite well,” said Kengo Tsutsumi, partnerships editor at ProPublica. But partnering with the likes of Gray and Scripps gives ProPublica a chance to reach an even broader audience, particularly those in Middle America, he said.

In his remarks on the panel, Tsutsumi provided behind-the-scenes details on the collaboration between ProPublica and Gray that generated a special report about blocked train crossings in Indiana. It includes footage of young children who are forced to climb over, under and between stopped train cars that could move again at any time while on their way to school.

ProPublica reporters discovered the problem, but it was the production of video footage exhibiting the danger the kids were encountering daily that made a TV-publisher partnership obvious and necessary for the story to be served best. It also led to an interview with U.S. Secretary of Transportation Pete Buttigieg, and Zurik said legislators are reportedly taking action to create safer passage for children in affected communities because of the story’s reach.

“ProPublica, we would have never done something like that, something so punk rock,” Tsutsumi said, referring to the guerilla filmmaking executed by Gray. “But of course, it ends up back in our 10,000-word print story [and] it changed it into something that was a better print, digital product. We use their footage and so everyone in the newsroom could see this is what happens if you expand and collaborate.”

In closing, Depp asked the panel, “Do we have to be more collaborative now in order to survive and be relevant to news consumers in this upcoming year?”

“Absolutely,” O’Brian said. “If we’re not collaborating with each other, if we’re not utilizing the IP, utilizing all the know-how across all the different parts of our organization, then we’re wasting it.”

“It’s not necessary, it’s essential,” Zurik said. “With technology, it is easier now to collaborate than ever before. It’s essential to our mission as journalists and quite frankly, it’s essential for us, for survival in the industry.”

Read more coverage of NewsTECHForum 2023 here.

Watch this session and all the NewsTECHForum 2023 videos here.

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