Slack in the Newsroom
TL;DR: Slack has proved to be an amazing open, real-time communication and collaboration tool for a college newsroom.
This post dives into the communication between a twenty-person editorial board in and beyond the newsroom. The Ithacan is Ithaca College’s award-winning, student-run newspaper and online news outlet. I’m currently a junior in the Emerging Media major at the Roy H. Park School of Communications at Ithaca College. As the webmaster for The Ithacan, my responsibilities include web design, web development, and app development.
Throughout my first two years with the paper, I always wished communication between editors was more streamlined. Fellow editors would text me a question, email the whole editorial board an article, or Facebook message me a website request. Communication was hard to keep track of and often direct, causing information to be shared on a more need-to-know basis. Email definitely started to feel like an outdated method of communication within the newsroom.
One morning, I was up early to go for a run, and I noticed smoke across town near the Cornell campus. When I got back to my room, I texted our online news editor to see if he knew what was up. I quickly learned from Twitter that there was a fire at The Chapter House, a popular bar in Ithaca, and that it was still an active scene. There was no easy way to let everyone know what was going on—as it was still early in the morning — so the online news editor and I decided to go cover the fire.
Apart from individual phone calls or a group email, we had no way to notify the whole board immediately. Most college students don’t get notifications for emails, and they also don’t appreciate phone calls waking them up when it’s not extremely urgent. Even though we managed to get a story up that morning, some members of the board didn’t know there was even a fire in town — or that we had covered it — until later that afternoon. We needed a communication method to keep everyone in the loop, but without the excessive notifications of email and group texts.
Last spring, I decided to make an attempt at solving this communication problem.
During the last few weeks of the semester, I got the entire editorial board on Slack. It took a lot of time to get it set up right, but once everyone was on board, it was definitely worth it.
Slack provides channels that not only make it easy to separate topics, but also enable anyone to view topics that they may not be as heavily involved in.
Our newsroom is broken into channels on Slack, like #news and #sports. We also have channels for other topics, such as #breaking news, #social-media, and #random. These channels allow for link sharing, breaking news coordination, and integrations.
Our editor-in-chief and advisor can use the #announcements channel to share important information with the entire board.
We use several integrations with Slack to enhance our experience. My goal is to make Slack our online newsroom and single place for all information, and integrations are a huge help.
Our Google Analytics Bot posts real-time and daily page view summaries to the #analytics channel. Another bot posts changes to Google Drive documents in the #drive channel. The IFTTT bot is very useful and posts RSS feed data from local news sources to the #feed channel, as well as calendar reminders and contact form emails to other channels.
Lastly, the Twitter Bot keeps track of every time @IthacanOnline is mentioned on Twitter, so the whole board can see our social interactions. Additionally, a custom bot within our custom WordPress website posts to Slack when new stories are published online. Slack bots bring the newspaper’s data into one place, making it easier to consume.
Direct Messages on Slack also replace the need for text and Facebook messaging between editorial board members and keep personal, newsroom-related discussions inside Slack. This helps make Slack our centralized communication platform and ensures everyone can keep track of their work-related messages.
The built-in features and integrations have turned Slack into The Ithacan’s communication and data hub. Since we started using Slack, I have received almost zero emails from the editorial board and our adviser.
To make Slack work in our newsroom, it was important that everyone was onboarded at the same time and that everyone got help setting up their profile and notification settings. All editors get push notifications for the channel of their section, at-mentions, and direct messages. Everyone also gets push notifications for posts in #breaking and #announcements to ensure that people are well informed and connected to the newsroom at all times. Slack’s custom notification settings allow our editors to get notifications for things that are important, while not causing notification fatigue like email and group texts sometimes do.
During the last week of the semester, the annual “Kendall Day” block party on a street just off the Ithaca College campus took place. That Saturday morning, rumors were that the police were blocking the entrance to the street. Because all of our editors were set up with Slack, we were able to share rumors, facts, photos, interviews, and collaborate on a story in real-time. We successfully covered “Kendall Day” and updated our article frequently throughout the day. That day served as proof that Slack has great potential to be the solution to our communication problem.
I’m always looking for new ways to integrate services into our Slack newsroom. Recently, I’ve been exploring better Google Drive integration and adding a Hubot to perform custom scriptable actions within Slack.
Hopefully this coming year will prove that The Ithacan’s newsroom has moved beyond email and into the open and real-time collaboration that Slack provides.