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How Superdesk Helps Remote Teams Thrive

At home with Superdesk
At home with Superdesk

When the coronavirus pandemic put the brakes on public life in Europe, journalists at NTB, the Norwegian news agency, had no choice but to work from home. Like many news organisations, NTB had little time to prepare for the sudden decentralisation of their newsroom, meaning that to keep their operation running smoothly, they were reliant on their current newsroom software.

But unlike other media outlets, NTB didn’t skip a beat. From the first moment of the newsroom’s quarantine, it was business as usual. Superdesk, our headless CMS for news organisations, is among the key reasons why.

With Superdesk, "we’ve had no major technical problems so far during this extended period of working remotely," said Magnus Aabech, an editor in NTB’s technology and development department.

“Our old CMS required Citrix when working remotely and was often very unstable, especially if the internet connection wasn’t great. With Superdesk, we have a much better and more stable system for working out of the office, whether reporters are covering a press conference, big sporting events (although not at the moment), or the whole newsroom is working from home.”

In fact, NTB actually produced 4% more pieces of content – 3,675 – during the last two weeks of March than during the same period in January. Jo Christian Oterhals, the news agency's data scientist, says "this shows we are just as productive working remotely as on-site."

As more and more newsrooms move to remote work to keep their operations running during the COVID-19 outbreak, they are increasingly reliant on cloud based and collaborative software to do their jobs. For a newsroom editor – and especially one working from their kitchen table – the most important variable in this new work-from-home era is how well their content management system functions with dispersed teams. 

Superdesk, our open-source headless CMS for news organisations, was created for this very challenge.

When we co-developed Superdesk with the Australian Associated Press (AAP) and NTB, one of the goals was to create software that would improve workflows and efficiency, whether a journalist was sitting five feet – or 5,000 kilometres – away from their editor. That philosophy has guided our development work ever since, and with each new update, Superdesk has evolved to be even more remote friendly.

Virtual collaboration

Superdesk is packed with tools and functionality that make it easy to work when staff are out of the office. Because the CMS workspace is accessed online via a web browser, users can log in from anywhere; all they need is an internet connection. But because Superdesk autosaves on a user’s machine every few seconds, journalists can keep working in the CMS even when their WiFi is spotty. As long as the browser window stays open, every keystroke will be recorded. 

Inline Comments feature
Inline Comments feature(Photo: Gregory Bruno)

Superdesk also features a number of editorial collaboration tools. For instance, inside the Editor pane, where writers and editors spend most of their time, users can comment on elements of a story and tag a colleague through the “Inline Comments” tool. This prompts a notification to appear on the recipient’s workspace. Editors can also use the more general “Comments” mode to flag and share a story in its entirety. These shared discussions help editors work on a news article in tandem with other members of staff who are not in the same room. 

Finally, similar to Google Docs, Superdesk’s Editor includes a “Suggestions Mode.” When this feature is enabled, any changes to the text are highlighted and must be accepted or rejected before publishing. This mode allows for collaborative editing, and also helps journalists keep track of edits to their work.

Planning Component

In a physical newsroom, a lot of planning happens with people sitting around a table to discuss stories, features, photos, and other story elements. Many traditional newsrooms still rely on pen and paper for planning their daily coverage. While this system might work when everyone is in the same room, it falls apart in a remote setting.

Planning Component
Planning Component(Photo: Gregory Bruno)

The Superdesk Planning Component was built to address this deficiency. Among its key features is the ability for editors to create a digital coverage plan and then send journalists tasks and "Assignments" directly to their Superdesk workspace. With the Planning Component, everyone can keep virtual tabs on the work as it is being completed. 

User Activity widget

For any old-school editor, going virtual can be disorienting. In the past, the best way to gauge a newsroom’s productivity was to look up from the computer screen and peer across the room. In a remote environment, keeping track of what staff and colleagues are doing is harder. 

"User Activity" view
"User Activity" view(Photo: Gregory Bruno)

That’s why we created the "User Activity" widget. Accessible via Superdesk’s Dashboard view, this tool enables editors to view any newsroom user’s activity in real-time, showing which stories have been created and locked, and when those content items are moved to another desk for editing.

A remote-friendly workflow

Perhaps the most important element of Superdesk’s decentralised capabilities is the workflow itself, where every step of the story-production process has been optimised to enable news teams to function remotely. For instance, with "Notifications," journalists are kept informed at every step of a story’s lifecycle with messages that appear in the avatar at the top right of their workspace.

Similarly, editors can flag and tag content using the "Mark for User" and "Mark for Desk" tools. With these features, assignment editors can send a single piece of content to a specific workspace and then monitor when or whether it is opened. Editors can then follow up with direct messages using the "Comments" feature.

In sum

As the scope of the COVID-19 outbreak continues to grow, news organisations have become vital resources for an information-hungry public. And like many industries, the news business is being forced to adapt to the new remote-working reality. But as demonstrated by the experience of clients like NTB – where the news agency’s 70 journalists have been working virtually without a hitch – Superdesk was built for moments just like these.

Is Superdesk right for your organisation? Schedule a free Superdesk and Superdesk Publisher demo today to find out.

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