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The invisible threat – by Wissam Ayoub, Sky News Arabia

How digital media and technology rose to the Covid-19 challenge

By Wissam Ayoub, Director of Operations at Sky News Arabia

When COVID-19 started spreading, the media and broadcast industry was hit with a multitude of dilemmas. Although covering global crises, such as wars and natural disasters, is commonplace for us, this time it was very different. The threat was invisible, and we were a part of it. We had a responsibility to protect colleagues as well as combat the rise of fake news and rumors on social media around the mysterious virus. People were staying home and demanding constant updates from credible news sources.

Paradoxically, the demand for news on linear and digital platforms was at a record high at a time when the industry had the rug pulled from under it. Events, such as major live sports tournaments, were being cancelled and long-term advertisers were pulling out leading to a slump in income for media companies.

The invisible enemy was well and truly amongst us and showed no sign of abating. We had to take stringent measures to ensure the virus didn’t enter our studios. It was imperative that we raised awareness about social distancing and hygiene rules related to COVID-19. We tested all our onsite staff and rolled out continuous testing to ensure the utmost safety. Transparency with our employees was key and they had constant updates via HR, CEO Comms, line manager briefings and virtual Townhall meetings.

Keeping colleagues protected was of paramount importance as we strived to cover breaking news while trying to ensure their safety. For us this was uncharted territory. We quickly had to enable staff that could work outside of the newsroom to work from home.

My employer, Sky News Arabia, reacted by enabling 70 per cent of staff to work from home and giving everyone accounts to access online meetings and video/audio tools to perform their duties temporarily from home. We held daily editorial and technical meetings. These virtual meetings, which included our full team, were held twice a day and I believe they played a major role in minimizing any disruption to our screens.

Numerous organizations have now found that virtual meetings are effective and cost-efficient and are considering incorporating them into their everyday work even when travel restrictions are lifted. They provide us with a valuable communications medium not just for internal and corporate meetings, but also, we didn’t have to bring people to the studio to go on air. Another major bonus is that guests are always on time.

Our regional and global bureaus help ensure up-to-date regional content is delivered but we have also tested our limits and come up with innovative solutions as well. We launched new programs in 24 hours that centered on providing COVID-19 facts to our viewers and enabled them to ask questions and get answers from experts in the field. Experienced teams pushed themselves to deliver even more content as the appetite for news soared and the situation changed daily. A lot of our colleagues have showed their dedication to the ‘new normal’ by working around the clock – something which has been highly valued and appreciated.

Raising staff morale and overcoming daily challenges has become commonplace. Every day has brought new challenges and throughout this period we’ve had to react quickly and have fast and efficient internal communications.

The crisis has shone a light on some of the areas that we can improve. When it hits, you may not be fully prepared, but you learn, implement and move on. Although this situation has been a challenge for everyone, we have found a new way of working that will undoubtedly help us emerge stronger as an industry. Broadcast and digital media has fulfilled its role and gone above and beyond to make an impact. It has proved itself to be invaluable.