How did the South China Morning Post’s video team cover the Covid-19 pandemic while working from home?

May 21, 2020
SCMP Insights
The coronavirus pandemic is hopefully a once-in-a-lifetime crisis. How did a video team for a news organisation cover the outbreak and its effects, while being caught in its grip like everyone else, and having to work from home?

During this difficult time, my team and I at the South China Morning Post – who are now back working at their Hong Kong office – tried to meet the challenges head-on. Here’s how we tackled the problems.

Setting up a new workflow

One of the biggest underlying technical challenges we experienced in getting our job done was figuring out a remote video workflow. Unlike text, or even photos, dealing with video takes up a huge amount of internet bandwidth.

Editing, compiling, and producing all the raw, high quality footage is incredibly time- and processor-intensive. It takes a large amount of bandwidth to constantly move files around to get feedback or answer any questions on a video in progress, compared with previously just calling someone over to your desk for a quick peek.

One of the tools we used to work around this was Frame.io. Their service allowed us to gather comments, annotations and approvals on content in a very efficient and user friendly manner.

Our commitment as a company to the mobile workplace gave us a head start in being able to deal with working from home. Everyone has a laptop and can remotely connect to the master servers that contain our video archive, and publish our digital video to our content management system from anywhere.

There were other physical challenges for the team, such as a lack of access to the Chinese city of Wuhan – where the coronavirus pandemic was first detected – and limited access to mainland China in general.

Safety considerations about operating in a potentially infectious environment were always foremost in our minds. Agency footage from CCTV, AFP, and Reuters helped fill in the gaps.

Working within our means to go beyond our limitations

Despite those challenges, we were able to make use of the team’s agility and get creative.

The feedback that we’ve seen so far from viewers has shown they appreciated the different types of quirky, informational, and how-to videos, such as how to correctly apply a face mask.

Some of our most popular videos included live streams showing the latest numbers of confirmed cases, recoveries and deaths. Viewers used them as kind of a public service to keep track of the figures being tallied. We also did a significant number of Skype or Zoom interviews with international experts that were well received.

Video journalists were still heading out to do stories, but we gave them all masks, insisted on social distancing practices and made sure they were up front with any potential interview subjects about recent travel histories and potential risks. We also used directional microphones to capture audio instead of physically clipping mics onto our interview subjects to comply with social distancing regulations.

Prioritising people

While it’s easy to focus on the technical and physical challenges we faced while working from home, it was important not to neglect the humanity of our employees.

We did our best to make sure people took regular breaks and, when they were done for the day when working from home, avoided asking them to carry out tasks that could wait until tomorrow.

We should always treat each other well, but it was especially vital while the pandemic forced us to continue with our unconventional working set-up.

Yet by remaining agile – and remembering that we were all in it together – we were able to thrive as a remote video team.