Jennifer Hardy tells us about her first-hand experience with Octopus!
Newsroom Super User, Freelance Journalist, Content Producer, Media Relations, Social Strategy, and Mentor
Jennifer has been a news producer since 1997, a manager since 2001, and a News Director since 2012 – all across the United States.
Every television station needs to upgrade to a new newsroom computer system eventually. Especially for those who are on the older, more antiquated systems of days gone by. There are generally two 800-pound gorillas as the dominant industry systems. So, when I heard “We are getting Octopus”, a million things ran through my head.
“What’s an Octopus?”
I immediately started looking up this new system I’d never heard of, and I thought I had heard of them all. I’d been a Super User on every NRCS I’ve ever used, so I know how to vet a new system and compare it to the other big dogs.
After a bit of researching, my head was spinning.
“The company is in Prague? How are we going to schedule training? There won’t be on-site training due to COVID!”
“Why aren’t we getting one of the systems everyone knows to be reliable and compatible?”
“Who else has used this in the United States? I have practical questions about set-up, training, launch, and execution and need a peer perspective!”
I’ve been a news producer since 1997, a manager since 2001, and a News Director since 2012. I know newsroom computer systems. I’ve been an admin on the “Big Ones” and know all the Super User powers.
I know how these systems coordinate with graphics systems and production technology. I’ve been involved in two total transitions to automation using two different automation systems.
I’m not the person you go to if you need coding or IP address help, but I’m the one who can add users, set abilities and restrictions, change/add rundowns, and make the system sing from a content production standpoint.
I am also the one who will make sure concerns and problems get addressed promptly.
When I was looking at an Octopus transition several months out, I needed to talk to others who used the system. The problem was, very few American companies used it in the way I needed to use it. Some of the languages we use in the United States don’t translate well to the team in Prague.
At the time, few people could speak about this system from use in the United States. I didn’t want the sales pitch. I wanted real-world examples of challenges, successes, and best practices.
Once I realized I wasn’t going to get what I was looking for, I vowed to be a person who could that person for other stations when they launched it. That’s part of the reason I’m writing this article.
Call me a nerd, but I love reading training manuals. Give me all the documentation you can to learn about it long before the first server was installed.
Work Hack: The bonus of the team being in Prague was I could send a list of questions at night, and with the 7-hour time zone change, I would have answers by the time I woke up. 6:00 a.m. in Central Time was 2:00 p.m. Prague time.
The Octopus team was great about answering my litany of questions that came from reading the manual or woke me up at night in a panic.
While some other systems train you from the very basic foundation level and get super users involved at ground level, Octopus takes a different approach. There is a very intensive form pre-install form you’ll fill out. One from the technical end of things and one from the content end.
You send that document back and they set up the foundation of the system for you, making it very clear there is plenty of room for flexibility and accommodation as the process goes on.
We had to do remote training due to COVID. We did two Super User/Administrator sessions before introducing the product to the full team. The Octopus team was open to however many training sessions we wanted and what working groups were included in those sessions. I highly recommend doing an overview for the whole staff, then breaking up training sessions by producers, reporters/anchors, technical, and editing.
Times of Crisis
With any NRCS install and launch, there are going to be times when the system gets wonky, either by user error or technical issue. The dreaded “call support” moment comes, and you don’t know if you’ll get a real human to answer.
First, there’s a button right on the screen where you can send a message instantly to Prague from your computer detailing what went wrong and they can go into the guts of the system to investigate. This was great as it didn’t hamper my workflow unless it was a work-altering issue.
For those support phone calls, Octopus always answered. Even when we were two hours from news time facing technical difficulties. When I didn’t have an engineer around, they made me feel comfortable helping out with the surveillance on the station end to help troubleshoot. They always attacked any problem with tenacity and resilience, even when the problem was originating in a connecting system. They never assigned blame, they just worked through the problem.
They followed up to make sure it was still working. They worked their troubleshooting around news schedules and weren’t pushy with anything unless the station was comfortable with it.
I can’t say at any point in the process I was missing one of the other big systems (I know, we all have our “favorites”). The basics are the same, the nuances are easy to figure out, and from a Super User perspective, I found this to be the most user-friendly of them all.
A big plus for me was the feedback they encouraged. I’m an idea person, so I was always asking “Can it do this?” or “Can we change that?” and while 80% of the time the answer was “Yes, and here’s how to do that”, the other 20% was “That’s an interesting/good idea, we’ll put that on the list.”
This company has been working with American newsrooms for two decades, but we still had a few nuances we needed to work through from a system developed overseas. I’m sure anyone who reads this had similar issues with the NRCS developed with a splash of British names and spellings.
For example, the system with Octopus was set up where a SOTVO needed two pieces of video instead of the traditional one that I’ve always used. I did not want to have to add more work for the editors or producers, or more fault lines if something went wrong with the video server. They were patient and understanding with the process, and willing to learn why this was important.
Even with the time zone change, I never had a hard time getting a meeting schedule to troubleshoot, review, or do additional training when needed. Nobody ever gave me a hefty sigh when I asked a question that might be redundant or something I had forgotten or was lost in my 20 pages of notes.
Once you wrap your head around “it’s a new product not a lot of people stateside have used”, you will find a lot of possibilities for crafting the system to the unique needs of your newsroom.
This isn’t a clunky thrown-together program made for budgets and not business. It’s built to make your newscasts better and more efficient. I trained the entire staff on the system in a few weeks and there were very few pressure points through the basic training. Most of them were just unlearning bad habits and learning new technology.
Anyone thinking of getting Octopus or who is in the early stages of planning Octopus is welcome to reach out to me for feedback or help. I am not an employee of Octopus, but I am a fan. I was compensated for this article; however, I was given no limitation in what I could or couldn’t write. You can contact me at email@example.com, free of charge.