Making the leap to a digital newsroom requires plenty of patience and planning, but it also takes a bit of faith.
Add WSMV Nashville, Tenn., and Chief Engineer Mike Nichols to the list of the recently converted. “Five years ago, I would have been hesitant to make this transition,” he says. “But now the technology is definitely ready.”
The station is part of the Meredith TV-station group, which has already had two stations, KPTV Portland, Ore., and KPHO Phoenix, go end-to-end digital in the newsroom. WSMV has just finished its move.
At its core, conversion to a digital newsroom means leaving tape-based systems and editing systems and moving to video servers for storage of the raw video and audio and to nonlinear editing systems for editing those files. Once the material is in file format, the editor can access the video without having to fast-forward and rewind.
WSMV, which shoots its stories in the field in Panasonic's DVCPRO videotape format (and also is experimenting with the electronics company's P2 solid-state tapeless format) integrated a number of Avid products into the workflow. Avid's Unity server is the hub, storing news content for editing. Its NewsCutter Adrenaline FX nonlinear editing systems, NewsCutter XP with Avid Mojo nonlinear editing systems, and AirSPACE and Xdeck digital servers are also on hand.
While much of the glamour in moving to digital involves giving reporters the ability to edit their own packages and more easily integrate flashy effects and graphics, Nichols says the less sexy benefits can be just as helpful.
For example, remember that scene in Broadcast News when Joan Cusack frantically races for a videotape?
A version of that scene happened regularly at WSMV, where, Nichols notes, “our news department is on another floor from the on-air playout area. We looked at all kinds of ideas to get videotapes from the news room to the playout area, including building a dumbwaiter. We decided on staying with a runner to take the tape up to playout. But now, when a story is edited and on the Unity server, we can simply move that file down to the playout servers.”
SHORT LEARNING CURVE
The learning curve in changing from physically shuttling around videotapes to transferring video files was relatively short.
“The directors are ecstatic that they can play out to air from a server, and the chief editors, who send the stories to the server, are also ecstatic,” says Nichols. “We still do some tape backups for story packages.”
The reporters sometimes do the cuts for a story but are still learning how to edit properly. They do have access to any of the clips on the server and, with content dumped onto it via microwave or DVCPRO tape, all of the necessary material for writing a script and putting a package together is available.
“Basically, the server lets more people have access to the content more quickly,” says Nichols.
“AN EASIER TIME”
The efficiencies show up all over the station. The team that handles the Web can pull up an Avid editing system, grab the required content and lower the resolution so that it's suitable for the Internet. Says Nichols, “Graphics people looking for headshots also have an easier time.”
It is the experiments with the tapeless P2 format that really hint at the future of the digital newsroom. Nichols marvels. “The clips come in ready to be edited.” It's a new world, and he likes a lot of it. He's not committed, but now he's looking at DVD archiving systems.
There's more to come, as WSMV staffers get more comfortable with the new digital mode. “The key to transitioning to digital,” Nichols says, “ is to just keep your eye on what you want the system to do.”