How South China Morning Post’s video team stays agile, covers COVID-19 working from home

By Mat Booth

South China Morning Post

Hong Kong

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The coronavirus pandemic is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. It has left thousands of people dead and will likely have infected millions of people around the world by the time it is over.

The South China Morning Post livestream of COVID-19 infections is particularly popular.
The South China Morning Post livestream of COVID-19 infections is particularly popular.

How does a video team for a news organisation effectively cover the pandemic and its effects, while being caught in its grips like everyone else, forcing everyone to work from home? In the midst of this difficult time, we’ve tried to meet the challenges head on.

Here’s how my team and I have approached this so far for the South China Morning Post in Hong Kong.

Setting up a new workflow

One of the biggest underlying technical challenges we’ve experienced in getting our job done is figuring out a remote video workflow. Unlike text — or even photos — video takes a huge amount of Internet bandwidth to deal with. Editing, compiling, and producing all the raw, high-quality footage is incredibly time and processor intensive. It takes a large amount of bandwidth to constantly move files around to get feedback or answer any questions on a video in progress. Just a few weeks ago, we were able to call a colleague over to our desk for a quick peek.

One of the tools we’ve utilised to work around this has been Frame.io. The service has allowed us to gather comments, annotations, and approvals on content in a very efficient manner.

Our commitment as a company to the mobile workplace has given us a head start in dealing with working from home. Everyone has laptops, can remotely connect to the master servers that contain our video archive, and can publish digital video to our CMS from anywhere.

There have been other physical challenges for the team, such as a lack of access to the epicenter Wuhan and limited access to mainland China in general. Safety considerations of operating in a potentially infectious environment are always foremost in our minds. Agency footage from CCTV, AFP, and Reuters has helped fill in the gaps.

Other challenges include staff coming under different travel restrictions or needing to self-quarantine for safety, forgoing access to our professional studio. We’ve also dealt with limited speeds while accessing our internal systems.

Working within our means to go beyond our limitations

Despite those challenges, we have stayed productive, creating a record 272 videos during the short month of February. The unique environment really fueled production of these videos. Weve been able to make use of the team’s agility and get creative.

The feedback we’ve seen so far from viewers has shown they appreciated the different types of quirky, informational, and how-to videos, such as how to correctly apply a face mask.

Some of our most popular videos have included live streams showing the latest numbers of confirmed cases, recoveries, and deaths. Viewers use these as kind of a public service to keep track of the figures being tallied.

We have also conducted a significant number of Skype interviews with international experts that have been well received. Roughly 95% of our video work in the last month or two has been coronavirus-related.

Video journalists are still heading out to do stories, but we have given them all masks, insisted on social distancing practices, and made sure they have been upfront with any potential interview subjects about recent travel histories and potential risks.

Prioritising people

While it’s easy to focus on the technical and physical challenges we’re all overcoming to work from home, it’s important not to neglect the humanity of your employees. We have been doing our best to make sure people take regular breaks, and when they’re done for the day, avoid asking them for tasks that can wait until tomorrow. We should always treat each other well, but it’s especially vital as this pandemic stretches on and this unconventional working set-up continues.

We’ve seen teammates care for each other, even in simple ways like dropping off critical cleaning supplies to others who lacked those items. Our team has also been getting together socially on Zoom calls outside of the working day.

If we remain agile and remember we’re all in this together, I’m confident we can continue to thrive as a remote video team.

About Mat Booth

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