How does a renowned global news organization that normally occupies scores of office locations around the world – including a brand new state-of-the-art newsroom in London’s Canary Wharf – shift operations overnight to a virtual environment, while reporting a story that spurs record demand for its news?
- As the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic progressed, Reuters News, with 200 locations in 166 countries, was conducting a real-time, real-life experiment in distributed working, transforming the world’s largest multimedia news organization into an almost entirely virtual newsroom.
- Usage increased across the board as Refintiv’s clients consumed news in their preferred format: retrievals of real-time streaming headlines via our News Monitor app [NEWS] rose 50 percent on the year; usage of Reuters curated stories via our Top News app [TOPNEWS] jumped 25 percent.
- Keep track of the key market moving headlines, charts, data, market impact analysis and more via our Coronavirus app and Macro-Vitals app, both available in Eikon.
Reuters and COVID-19
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak was a big global story for Reuters well before it was upending markets and shutting down the world economy. But for most journalists outside China, it was still just that: a story, not a way of life. The realization that this would engulf everyone, and force Reuters to change the way it works practically overnight, struck in earnest in the last week of February, as investors across the globe began shifting from merrily piling on risk to a rush for safety. The weeks after that were a frenzy of activity: Italy and other countries beset by a spiraling death toll; a global market collapse of unprecedented speed; policymakers using every tool in the box to stave off economic calamity.
Behind the scenes, Reuters News, with 200 locations in 166 countries, was conducting a real-time, real-life experiment in distributed working, transforming the world’s largest multimedia news organization into an almost entirely virtual newsroom made up of thousands of individual, at-home bureaus in order to maintain the flow of news around the world. It was done without missing a beat: in fact Reuters produced 50 percent more stories in March than for the average month last year.
Refinitiv clients clearly appreciated the effort. News readership has surged, setting new records. Usage increased across the board as clients consumed news in their preferred format: retrievals of real-time streaming headlines via our News Monitor app [NEWS] rose 50 percent on the year; usage of Reuters curated stories via our Top News app [TOPNEWS] jumped 25 percent. Reuters also curated news and graphics content in our new coronavirus [CORONA] and Macro Vitals [MACROV] apps that highlight the social and economic impact of the pandemic and act as gateways to all COVID-19 related news and data.
COVID-19: Macro Vitals app
Breaking news, multiple updates, market reports, economic polls, analysis, insight, graphics, special reports, commentary, fact boxes and explainers – readership for the entire news file is up substantially. Overall, Reuters story retrievals by Refinitiv financial clients in March rose 35 percent from a year ago to the highest ever and usage was almost a fifth higher than the next-best month on record.
Where Reuters leads, others follow
Reuters has beaten competitors to report many key economic milestones: from the Fed reinstating its funding facility to counter the coronavirus impact in mid-March, resulting in a tightening of FX swap spreads, to the ECB launching a 750 billion euro emergency bond purchase scheme in a bid to stop the pandemic from shredding the euro zone’s economy. As central banks from China to Norway cut rates and governments poured funds into economies, Reuters was often ahead. Equally competitive on company news, Reuters led, for example as corporate giant Exxon made spending cuts, news that sent U.S. stocks to a 17-year low. Most recently, Reuters broke news of the unraveling of the $4.2 billion Boeing-Embraer deal as air travel comes to a near stand-still.
The first priority for Reuters was ensuring 2,500 journalists remained safe, no matter what they were doing or where. Photographers and videographers in particular are in the field day after day, putting themselves at risk to deliver news coverage to the world. For most reporters, this has meant working from home, many doing so for the first time ever.
With speed at the heart of everything Reuters does, it was essential that journalists were prepared for the additional challenges of working remotely. The results speak for themselves: a winning record on everything from central bank rate cuts to hackers targeting WHO to Tokyo planning for Olympic delay. Reuters did this by taking every possible precaution when it comes to breaking news: bandwidth upgrades and secondary connections for those with WiFi connectivity issues; for those in the strategic bureau in Bangalore, India, at the mercy of potential power outages, the purchase of scores of backup batteries; for anyone, anywhere covering economic data of significance, a second team always at the ready in case of a disruption.
Zooming with sources
One of the biggest challenges Reuters faced in keeping news humming was literally the hum: the sounds of a working newsroom hub. The whoop of celebration on breaking a story, the shouted request for an editor, the murmurs between journalists working out how to best craft the story – all are aspects of journalistic work that require real-time person to person interaction. Attempting to replicate that in text messages or emails was never going to cut it. So Reuters created virtual squawk boxes, via Microsoft Teams, that allow bureaus and speed teams to retain that real-time connectivity with always-open lines throughout the day. Naturally, to begin with, this involved a lot of “can someone please mute”.
Like the rest of the world, social media connections and contact-building for journalists, for the time being have moved entirely to digital means, with Zoom end-of-day drinks part of the social interaction now common among colleagues, friends and family.
Reuters own technology has been an enormously important part of the story. The new coronavirus was emerging just as Reuters completed a major upgrade to its Fastwire speed system, allowing it to better organize and consolidate coverage of breaking news in a way that it can now do so quickly and easily from anywhere in the world. It’s automation platform was also recently re-engineered, helping it stay ahead of the competition on key U.S. economic data – such as record jobless numbers – as government agencies moved all their releases online. And Reuters’ entire infrastructure has just been shifted to the cloud.
Staying connected is a challenge for any big, spread-out organization, but for Reuters this has been an opportunity to better leverage its unique global presence, working seamlessly across borders and time zones.
A journalist in China took charge of collecting and organizing national data from around the world powering Reuters’ COVID Tracker; reporters in U.S. and South Korea worked together to provide a detailed analysis of how South Korea’s coronavirus response was so much more effective than western Europe or the United States.
As this shocking story evolves, as lockdowns start to ease, interest is shifting to what the new normal will look like. What is the cost, how will debts be repaid? Will there be a corporate credit crisis? Or a sovereign debt crisis? What shape will economic recovery take: V, U, W or L? Should markets expect deflation or inflation? Will airlines or retail ever be the same again? Which industries will thrive. Which will go to the wall? What are the long-term changes for society, the way we do business, the way we go about our daily lives? Can I avoid London underground and keep working from home please? Closeted at home, back in the office or out in the field – no-one is better equipped to report for us on this once-in-a-century story than Reuters.
Our new COVID-19: Macro Vitals app provides a comprehensive set of data, news, charts and insight recording the economic impact of the coronavirus pandemic.
Understand global government and central bank response to the crisis by delving into an unparalleled data repository. Type in ‘MACROV’ in Eikon to access this app. Again, contact us for a free trial of Eikon.