Bureau With a View

CNN redesigns Washington newsroom to provide Capitol backdrop, plans move to nonlinear editing systems

CNN's Washington studio is the latest network news studio to literally tear down walls and let viewers see the outside world. The goal is to provide a backdrop (the Capitol) that is more dramatic than the back wall of a studio.

"We're using the view we've always had for maximum advantage," says Bureau Chief Katherine Kross. "It's a great view of the Capitol, and, while it's lovely for the people in the newsroom, it makes more sense if we share it with the viewers."

Giving viewers a look at the world beyond the studio walls has become standard practice in recent years. The changes to the studio were part of larger changes to CNN's bureau. More than 300 employees work on four floors, making it the news net's largest bureau.

Kross says a new design breaks the facility out of the typical "metropolitan newspaper model" of row upon row of desks and reflects television production's more collaborative workflow. "We're clustering like groups of people together in order to have a better communication flow."

Given the large number of people in the bureau and the large amount of content they turn out, creating an opportunity for better communication was paramount. "What we do here is like playing 3-D chess," she points out. "The newsgathering is the easy part."

CNN's networks are a hungry beast when it comes to news from Washington. As Kross explains, barring a really big story elsewhere, nearly all of CNN's networks turn to Washington first for stories. Coordinating live shots, cueing the ins and outs for four networks that each want something different, and creating different packages all add to the complexity.

The multimillion-dollar renovation is the first step in an overhaul that will eventually have the bureau operating with nonlinear editing systems. Right now, the bureau is still tape-based, requiring multiple VTRs for the creation of packages.

"Nonlinear will change the way we work," says Kross. "We designed this newsroom for analog knowing that nonlinear will eventually rule the day. So it's designed for nonlinear with a foot in the analog world."

The move to nonlinear won't be made until late 2004. Kross notes that it's one in a number of dominoes that the bureau is setting up and knocking down. Once the nonlinear systems are in place, they'll work in conjunction with an Avid iNews system as well as a proprietary newsroom system designed for the bureau.

"We found the technology was running us, and we had an assignment sheet that was like a phone book," says Kross. "I wanted to be able to pick up an assignment sheet and know what we're doing and when we're doing it."

She describes the newsroom system as an interactive assignment sheet. It tracks crews, costs and archives and will become the central organizing tool when the bureau goes nonlinear. "We have 10 different groups that have 10 different needs."

According to Kross, the system is expected to eventually be rolled out across CNN bureaus; the New York bureau is being trained on it now. The bureaus may tweak it a bit to better meet their needs, she adds, but the system will definitely be up to the task of meeting the demands in New York or Los Angeles.