Avoid the Free Newsroom Software Trap

If you work in a newsroom, you already know that more and more, journalists are using consumer-based tools to get work done.

From Tweetdeck to Google Docs to Evernote to Slack, all you need is an email address and you’re able to start using the latest and greatest software. And just as easily, you can share information with colleagues. The best part, it seems, is that these tools are often pitched as being, “Free!”

But there are hidden costs to a news organization when a “free” technology tool moves from an individual’s way of working to a workflow for an entire newsroom.

There are a few important things to consider before making the leap from worker to workflow with “free” technology. While they may sound cumbersome or overly bureaucratic, taking these steps when a new technology tool is first being used by entire newsroom can help prevent a lot of long-term issues.

  1. Single Sign On: All new tools seem like a good idea until you realize that people using it may leave the organization. If you really want to create a lasting process, think through how people are added and deleted from the tool. Key questions to answer: What is the process for new hires? What happens when someone leaves company? If you are able to work with IT teams to enable some kind of SSO system, that will help manage access issues in a streamlined manner.
  2. Security: You can do a lot of damage if you encourage the use of a technology tool that isn’t secure beyond your newsroom. Reach out to your technology team and have them do a vendor review. This may take time, but it is worth it in the long run.
  3. Support: In short, who will fix the tool when it’s broken? It’s always fun to test new technology but when it breaks, particularly in a newsroom, it can be incredibly frustrating. If you’re rolling out free software without any accountability around support, it’s only a matter of time until there is a real problem.
  4. Training: If the tool is good, it should be easy to use. But no matter how easy the interface, there are often features that are specific to an organization’s workflow. The specifics require training.

Clearly, many of these steps inevitably lead to conversations around cost and budget. That’s what makes “free” software so appealing. But the risk of not being thoughtful around the long-term is even more expensive.

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