Technology

KTBS Embraces File-Based Future

Overhauls news workflow amid HD upgrade 8/23/2010 12:01:00 AM Eastern

KTBS, the independently owned ABC
station in Shreveport, La. (DMA No.
82), is moving this week to file-based
newsgathering using Sony solid-state camcorders
and Avid editing and content storage systems. At
the same time, KTBS is adopting a new workflow
that places up to a dozen Multi Media Journalists
(MMJs)—who report, shoot
and edit stories—in the field and
divides newsroom personnel back
at the station into “content managers”
and “content producers.”

“We’re currently training on the
cameras and the new Avid software,”
says KTBS News Director
Randy Bain. “The whole newsroom
is abuzz, with producers
learning how to edit.”

The goal is to produce more
original news features for the 6½
hours of news that air daily across
KTBS and KPXJ, the CW affiliate
it runs as a duopoly; its 24-hour
digital news subchannel, which
repurposes those newscasts; and
its Website.

“As we were expanding our
local programming, we had a higher demand
for story count in our newscasts,” Bain says.
“Repetition became our enemy. So, we needed
less repetition, and we also needed to feed the
Internet. All those demands were really putting
a stress on the newsroom. So, we had to retool
the newsroom.”

The revamped newsroom is part of KTBS’
overall conversion to high-defi nition, explains
station manager George Sirven; the conversion
began five years ago and has already seen the
station upgrade its master control facilities to be
able to ingest and play out HD syndicated shows
and commercials. While KTBS has aired its news
in standard-def widescreen for several years, this
fall it will move to HD newscasts by installing a
new Grass Valley high-definition switcher and
Ignite automated production system.

The overhaul of the newsroom also reflects
the tough economic times that KTBS and other
local stations have weathered over the past few
years. As KTBS began buying its first pieces of
HD production gear in early 2009, the “bottom
fell out” of the advertising market, Sirven
says, and the station had to trim 15%-20% of
its news staff. So, it started to look at how new
technology could help it “improve the quality
and quantity of the product with less staff,”
Sirven says.

After examining its options with the help of
Avid and consultant Audience Research & Development,
KTBS came up with a plan going
into last spring’s NAB show.

“We were looking at the equipment needed
to make that happen, and the mindset needed internally to reengineer the news staff,” Sirven
says. “What we’re doing is taking the traditional
reporter, photographer and editor, and
turning it into a one-man band, where one
individual does their own shooting, reporting
and editing, either out in the field or here at
the station. We made sure to give each one of
these people the equipment to make it easy
to do that.”

KTBS has been acquiring footage in the field
using standard-definition Sony Betacam SX
tape-based camcorders and doing the bulk of
its editing in tape-to-tape fashion with Sony
SX decks, with a couple of Avid Newscutters
occasionally used to create more polished
packages.

Now KTBS is moving firmly to the file-based
world by purchasing solid-state XDCAM EX
cameras from Sony and a tapeless newsroom
system from Avid. For newsgathering, the station
will use eight Sony compact PWM-EX3
camcorders, which have a ½-inch lens and list
for $9,900. It will also use four
larger PMW-350K camcorders,
which have a 2/3-inch lens and
list for $22,000, and which will be
employed for covering Mardi Gras
parades and other large events. Both
Sony models record video on Sony’s
SxS solid-state memory cards, and
Bain is also exploring using an
adapter to record on less-expensive
standard SD memory cards.

Editing will be performed on
a mix of Avid Media Composer
and NewsCutter editing systems,
supported by an Avid ISIS shared
storage system. KTBS is also using
Avid’s iNews newsroom computer
system and Interplay production
asset management software.

The bulk of the MMJs will use
Media Composer software loaded on Dell
workstation-class laptops that also include
Verizon wireless aircards to give broadband
connectivity from the field. That will allow the
MMJs to edit a package and then send it via
FTP back to the station.

As Bain puts it: “We want them to be highly
mobile, with the ability to shoot in the
field, create content and send it back to the
station, and not be tethered to the station
anymore.”

KTBS will also have three NewsCutter workstations at the
station, and is outfitting its four live trucks (two microwave, one combo
ENG/SNG, one full-blown satellite truck) with laptops loaded with NewsCutter
software and Mojo DX hardware accelerator units that will allow video to be fed
from the laptop directly into a microwave or satellite link. With a market that
spans 100 miles north to south and covers parts of four adjoining
states---northwest Louisiana, southwest Arkansas, southeast Oklahoma and
northeast Texas-the station makes heavy use of its live trucks and Bain
doesn't expect that to stop with the introduction of MMJs.

That said, KTBS already successfully used Skype to bring
back live shots from its Super Bowl coverage in Miami last winter and Bain has
been impressed with early testing of the Verizon aircards in the Shreveport
market. Of course, MMJs will also have the option of using Wi-Fi connections,
where available, to FTP content back to the studio.

"A big part of our strategy is figuring out where
all the Starbucks are, and other places with good free or relatively cheap
broadband, so my journalists get to do what they do best, which is being out in
the field," says Bain. "One of the things I've talked to our
operations manager about is that we are really going to have to map those out
and come up with a bandwidth strategy. That way when a reporter calls us with a
problem, once they tell us where they are geographically located, we can tell
them where to go."

At family-owned KTBS, the average tenure of the staff is
"pretty long," says Sirven. Interestingly, long-term news personnel
have been quicker to embrace the MMJ approach than some of the newer employees.

"Change is not easy for anyone, and there's a
lot of fear of the unknown," Sirven admits. "But as we're
going through the education process, more and more have started to embrace it.
There's a group that said we still need to learn a little more about it,
and they're coming around slowly. Others said it's not for me,
it's changed too much from my early days, and I don't know if I
want to continue. It's been a mixed bag. But some of those that were
slower to embrace it are beginning to enjoy the technology and what they can do
with it."

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