Today at Berkeley Lab

Today at Berkeley Lab Retires; the Elements Era Begins

TABL makes way for Elements, Lab’s new employee news platform, beginning Jan. 22

Nearly 16 years after its debut on Feb. 3, 2003, the Lab’s online newsletter Today at Berkeley Lab – known as TABL – has retired to make way for Elements, the Lab’s new employee news platform. Elements makes Lab news and announcements available via employees’ desktops at elements.lbl.gov and their Lab email addresses, as well as a new, optional smartphone app.

Elements launches Tuesday, Jan. 22; Friday, Jan. 18 was the last day of TABL publication.

“Communications technologies and news consumers’ expectations have shifted dramatically in the last few decades,” said Lab Chief Communications Officer John German. “Elements takes advantage of the best features of digital communications technologies that have emerged over the last 10 years, and it allows people to receive Lab news in more places, just like they get their news about the world.”

The new platform allows the Lab to communicate with groups within the Lab more directly, so that individuals receive the news that is most relevant to them – which reduces the overall volume of information people receive, he said.

Elements also allows employees to more easily spread the word – via social media or messaging apps – about the Lab’s mission, scientific breakthroughs, and community outreach activities, for example.

An evolution from print to digital

Front page of the Radiation Laboratory Bulletin, Vol. 1, No. 1, May 1953. Click image to enlarge.

Elements is the latest in a long history of employee newsletters at Berkeley Lab. The first formal newsletter, the monthly Radiation Laboratory Bulletin, debuted in 1953, with printed copies distributed across two campuses: the main Berkeley “Hill” site and a new Livermore branch (which later became Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory).

Even in that first issue of the Rad Lab Bulletin, nontechnical articles describing the Lab’s scientific achievements populated the pages alongside announcements of open houses, employee art shows, obituaries, and blood drives, much like the content throughout the years in TABL.

Front page of The Magnet, Vol. 1, No. 1, Nov. 1957. Click image to enlarge.

In 1957, a new monthly newsletter called The Magnet was introduced, which Lab founder and namesake Ernest O. Lawrence said would “present an effective internal news coverage of the Laboratory” so that its growing staff across the two campuses would “have a means of learning about one another’s programs” and sharing with their “families the achievements, activities, and future plans of the Laboratory.” (The Magnet continued publication semi-monthly until 1976, and was followed by various print newsletters, magazines, and event calendars. A complete timeline of Berkeley Lab newsletters is available at history.lbl.gov.)

As the Lab continued to change and grow, so did the demands of keeping everyone on the Hill informed. The turn of the century brought another evolution, as daily emails and the growing dominance of web communications changed the way we worked.

Inaugural edition of TABL, Feb. 3, 2003. Click image to enlarge.

To meet that demand, the editors in what was then Berkeley Lab’s Public Affairs Department introduced a new employee communications tool on Feb. 3, 2003: a daily email newsletter called Today at Berkeley Lab.

“From 1993 to 2016, we saw radical changes in the way we communicated the Lab’s work to the outside and to our employees,” said Pam Patterson, who served as senior editor of the Lab’s print publications, including Currents, The View, and the award-winning Research Review. “We watched press releases go from lunchtime folding sessions of printed releases, to fax, to email, to web. The advantage of the growth and dominance of the web was obvious: The ability to instantly update news, photos, and videos allowed us to reach a massively wider audience than before in a matter of minutes.”

“For those of us of who had been used to print, communicating news online was a new frontier,” said Lyn Hunter, who joined the Lab in August 2003. “Although it took some time to adapt, as an editor, going electronic meant you no longer had to edit hand-submitted articles on a Selectric typewriter, lay out and edit proofs by hand, send proofs to the printer, and physically mail hard copies.”

As the Lab’s news editors adapted to electronic communication, so did its employees.

“I had mixed feelings at first,” said John Stoner, who worked in the Lab’s Archives and Records Office for more than 20 years and recently returned after retiring in 2016 to work on the Berkeley Lab History site, history.lbl.gov. “When it comes to archiving an electronic newsletter, there currently isn’t a comprehensive approach to archiving digital records at Berkeley Lab; but on the other hand, everyone with a Lab email address gets the same news at the same time, so when it comes to a question of access, electronic always wins.”

Front page image of first issue of The View, Sept. 5, 2003. Click image to enlarge.

“I love print,” said Cait Youngquist, who worked with Patterson to lay out articles and images for The View as a graphic designer in the then-Technical Electronic Information Department and is now the Lab Brand Manager in IT’s Creative Services Office. “As a designer, I love putting newspapers together. And as a human, I love reading things on paper although I do subscribe to tons of email newsletters.”

A move in the right direction

By the time Hunter assumed editorship of TABL a few months after its inaugural edition, some employees were still resistant to getting daily news delivered to their email inbox. “It was definitely a culture change. The longtime employees were more accustomed to print,” she said.

But it didn’t take long for employees to see the advantages of daily electronic news over print. For Anytra Henderson, an administrative assistant in the Physics Division (and beginning Jan. 22, a project administrator for ALS-U), TABL informed her of new volunteer opportunities, and helped in promoting the annual Runaround footrace and Runaround T-shirt design contest, which she has coordinated every year since 2012. “I didn’t miss the paper,” she said. “With Currents, you had to wait every other week to get the next issue. With TABL, you can get and share information faster.”

TABL’s wide reach also helped program managers at the Lab communicate important policy or emergency management updates.

“We rely on TABL for both periodic reminders about some Lab policies and also for broad communications about new policies or important changes,” said Molly Stoufer, requirements program manager in the Lab’s Assurance and Integrity Office and the manager of the Lab’s Requirements and Policies Manual.

“I can’t imagine trying to promote emergency management or planned events such as the Great Shakeout in the days of printed newsletters,” said Tonya Petty, the Lab’s Emergency Manager. “It would have required printing and hanging posters in each building. Without TABL, there aren’t many ways at the Lab to reach everyone. I’m sad to see TABL go, but I’m excited for Elements.”

“I think that Elements is a move in the right direction,” Youngquist added. “That is how content is delivered now, and many of us are used to getting information through apps and websites. I’d guess that most undergrads have never known a world without the Internet.”

Elements: a new chapter in employee communications at Berkeley Lab

As they did with TABL, employees will still be able to submit content electronically via an online submissions database available here.

The optional Elements smartphone app works like other newspaper apps, such as The New York Times, Hunter added. As with TABL, Elements allows you to comment on articles, but unlike TABL, it allows you to easily share articles on your own social media accounts about the Lab’s scientific discoveries or K-12 outreach, for example, by tapping the share button.

But what if you don’t want to share on social media?

“Sharing on social media is an optional component of this tool,” Hunter said. “If you are not on social media or prefer not to connect your personal social media accounts, you can choose not to share at all or you can share other ways, via the messaging function on your smartphone or by email, for example.”

Another benefit to Elements according to Hunter is the news platform’s customizability. “Elements allows employees to choose the news you want and get the information you need,” she said.

For more information about Elements

You can download the mobile app now by searching for “Berkeley Lab Elements” in your app store, then sign in using your Lab credentials and follow the prompts for creating your account. Or sign up on the Elements website.

For more information about the Lab’s history

The IT Division’s history.lbl.gov has a comprehensive collection of the Lab’s printed employee newsletters dating back to 1953, among other historical documents. It also links to the Then & Now photo essay developed by Kelly Owen, Marilyn Chung, and Glenn Roberts of Strategic Communications, and Philippe Butler of the IT Division.

Want to learn more about Elements? Go here to watch an overview video, stop by an information session, or check out the Elements user guide here.

Questions or comments? Send to [email protected]

Fun facts:

  • Elements is based on an employee communications platform developed by Dynamic Signal, which counts UPS and the UC Berkeley Alumni Association among its clients.
  • The 31 in the Elements logo represents 1931, the year Ernest O. Lawrence founded the Radiation Laboratory, the predecessor to Berkeley Lab. The Elements logo was designed by Eduardo De Ugarte of the Creative Services Office, working with the Strategic Communications team.
  • Reaching employees and affiliates reliably every day requires the support of the Lab’s IT and HR teams, who together produce an updated contact list file each night with changes made to the Lab’s HRIS system the day before.
  • Behind the scenes, Elements editor and publisher Lyn Hunter manages Elements, with support and content from the Strategic Communications team. But Elements is a Lab-wide effort, with content originating all over the Lab.