How the Times of London is making Slack its ‘hub for everything’

Chat software Slack, while doing its part to rid the world of unnecessary email, is increasingly being used in newsrooms as a publishing efficiency tool.

In the U.K., The Times was an early acolyte, joining in late 2013 while Slack was still in beta, and has gone from six people using 34 channels, to 160 registered users across 92 channels. (Slack itself now has 2.3 million daily active users, up from 1.7 million in October.)

“The adoption has been slow and steady,” said Matt Taylor, production editor, digital strategy and development at The Times. Taylor explains it was originally used for the six-person strategy and development team to more effectively communicate. But now the editorial team is getting involved, and it is finding new uses for Slack.

“It’s an iceberg product,” said James Sherrett, senior manager of accounts at Slack’s EMEA headquarters in Dublin. “People get that it is a communications platform; then, they get that you can use it for file sharing, then integrating it with apps. The further you go with it the more customized it becomes for your specific needs and those of your organization.”

According to The Times, using Slack has reduced meetings by 50 percent and increased transparency by 40 percent by having more conversations out in the open. The plan for the near future is to implement it company-wide: Parent company News Corp. is in talks with Slack to use it in its global offices.

But The Times specifically will rely more on Slack as the publisher moves away from a breaking-news model. Previously, the workflow of The Times was structured around one daily edition published in the morning. Now, it will update three times a day and people will have more regular deadlines, so effective communication and transparency of workflow are more important for everyone.

Slack has been successful in disseminating internal feedback across departments on the site redesign. The Times can, for example, respond quickly to queries about where certain bits of content are or when the new site will incorporate comments. Originally this feedback would have stayed in a Google Doc, which has problems with discoverability. People have been able to stay up to date across news desks, like sports and politics, on long-term projects like Brexit and the Rio Olympics too.

The homepage news desk, a team of eight people, uses Slack for story trawling, searching for stories on the Web that The Times may cover, and finding out which other outlets have covered the same stories so reporters have all the details of competitors.

For now, publishing straight from Slack remains an anomaly. “It is a bit of a hack,” said Taylor. “The real power is all internal, by opening up your communication and showing exactly what you’re doing.”

With the new site design comes a new CMS, set up for future integration with Slack, which has an open and well-documented APl. Knitting these together can make Slack the first point of content creation and information gathering.

“This could be posting a tweet to a channel that sparks a breaking-news discussion. You could then use a slash command in Slack like /newstory [slackarchivelink] to create a new article in your CMS that then posts back to Slack with ‘New Article created [link].’” The article can then be posted back to Slack channels as it goes through different work stages, like subbing, additions and publishing.

Currently, Taylor and his team are building more bots to further customize Slack, such as notifying when stories get published to The Times site, or when and who makes updates to stories. Internally, The Times’ cafeteria has a notoriously bad website, so Taylor’s team built a bot to scrape the info and post it to Slack so everyone knows what’s for lunch.

“This is in keeping with our spirit of making Slack the hub for everything,” he added.

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