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Both Sides Now

AP's Mike Palmer knows tech and understands journalism 4/21/2006 08:00:00 PM Eastern

When Associated Press Director of Broadcast Digital Distribution Systems and Strategy Mike Palmer was in high school in Irving, Texas, one of his friends drew a cartoon with the budding engineer in a room full of wires and holding a screwdriver.

That was because Palmer liked to tinker with gizmos.

More than 25 years later, at 43, he still does. Only, now he gets wider recognition for his technical prowess.

He's one of the recipients of a Broadcasting & Cable Technology Leadership Award, lauded largely because of innovations he has shepherded in his eight-year tenure at the AP, the last three years in his current post.

Palmer has been a key architect of the company's ENPS (Electronic News Production System) software and a driving force for MOS (Media Object Server), a protocol that facilitates machine-to-machine newsroom communications. MOS is used to link newsroom computer systems with broadcast production applications and equipment.

Palmer is not a typical engineer. In fact, he has a degree in mass communications (journalism) from the University of Southern Colorado and studied electrical engineering at Texas A&M. Prior to joining the AP in 1998, Palmer worked in local news and engineering operations in positions ranging from field photographer to news operations manager. He held management positions at Conus and USSB, both pioneers in the satellite industry.

This varied background serves Palmer well.“ I have made a career [bridging] the editorial and technical side. It's a left-brain right-brain kind of thing,” he says. “Editorial has a hard time understanding the technical issues and is not real good verbalizing what they want to do. And while engineers are very organized, the news is very free form.”

And the key? “Understanding what each side wants to do and what they want to achieve,” Palmer replies. “What you need to explain to them is what they don't know, about new tools you can put into their toolbox.”

Palmer finds that many missions inevitably involve how digital distribution systems and strategy can help customers best utilize the functions of ENPS and MOS.

“More often then not, the need that ENPS fulfills is as a conductor,” he says. “It is the focal point in the newsroom for editorial workflow. Whereas the technical work is accomplished by video servers and routing switches, ENPS is the central nervous system that coordinates what other pieces do. It doesn't move or record video files but communicates to the other 'organs' in the newsroom.”

Mike Palmer's work with the MOS protocol earned him AP's 2001 Oliver Gramling Award for Achievement.

At the fundamental level, MOS is a transport mechanism for metadata. It allows the video server or media server to be aware of a sequenced list of data that the newsroom computer is publishing.

“In a television news-production environment,” Palmer explains, “MOS enables users to be able to look at their newsroom computer system, be able to preview content, and sequence it for play.”

He is usually on the road a week per month, meeting with vendors in Japan, the UK and the U.S., working with these suppliers on compatibility issues involving their future ENPS products.

For most clients, Palmer says, his sales and operations staffs are able to make them aware of what is in the toolbox. “I come in when we talk to larger customers who, quite frankly, are more cutting-edge. At that point, we come in with our R&D staff.”

With so much on his plate, what does Palmer regard as his central role? “The most important part of my job is to make technology works for news by bridging the gap between the engineering department and editorial department.”

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