The empty newsroom: Putting out The Age while in lockdown

Newsrooms are busy, loud places that thrive on collaboration under daily deadline pressure. So what happens when everyone is confined to their homes to prevent the spread of coronavirus?

For the first time in its 165-year history, a print edition of The Age was put together without a newsroom on Thursday, as the newspaper's staff worked remotely.

The Age’s newsroom was empty on Thursday as journalists, editors and production staff worked from home.Credit:Joe Armao

The Age's Docklands newsroom was quiet, after management asked about 200 reporters, editors, photographers, designers, sub-editors, administrative and production staff to do their jobs from home.

For most, it meant a new way of doing things. Rather than discussing and developing story ideas in person, journalists briefed their editors in the morning using online messaging tool Slack and mobile phone app WhatsApp.

Typically, senior staff in the Sydney and Melbourne newsrooms sit in conference rooms and hold a joint phone hook-up twice daily to discuss the day's news. Decisions are made about which stories to publish and which stories to spike. This time, everyone dialled in from wherever they were.

In makeshift home offices, reporters made phone calls and conducted interviews before filing stories on work laptops.

The Age newsroom was empty on Thursday to prevent spread of coronavirus.Credit:Joe Armao

Print deadlines were brought forward to ease the pressure on production staff, whose job it is to put the paper together each day.

Sub-editors, designers and senior editors who normally sit near each other were connected by Google hangouts, allowing them to discuss in real-time what needed doing without having to send a typed message.

Laying out a paper involves using at least four separate programs, some of which need a VPN (virtual private network) for access. Staff requiring an extra monitor for their work were given one to take home.

The Age front page as published 20 March, 2020.Credit:

"What we do is highly collaborative and involves a large group of people in a very high-pressure
environment," said production editor Wade Pearce, who has co-ordinated the effort. "Getting that to happen when we are spread out across the state is a real challenge."

The biggest test was the frantic two hours before deadline, when the paper is put to bed and sent to the printing press in Ballarat.

"At 5pm, you can almost hear the gears click over into top gear," he said. Despite the unique circumstances, he said the staff at The Age were adapting well. I get a strong sense that people in the newsroom are looking out for each other."

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