The ambitious merger of Allbritton Communications' WJLA-TV Washington and co-owned local cable news net NewsChannel 8, planned for August, will be facilitated by the addition of state-of-the-art technology that connects its hundreds of employees and dozens of functions.
The merged operation will move into a part of the twin towers in Arlington, Va., that used to house Gannett Co.—owner of WUSA(TV) Washington—and its national newspaper, USA Today. Cost of the move, equipment and training will be $15 million.
The TV news combo's nearly 200-person news staff will be the largest in the region. Layoffs due to typical combo "efficiencies" are expected, management acknowledges, but they are expected to be concentrated in administration and not in the newsroom, according to WJLA-TV General Manager Chris Pike, who will run the combined operation.
The combination will be facilitated largely by a 171-seat Associated Press Electronic News Production System (ENPS) that will tie operations together. With ENPS, says WJLA-TV News Director Steve Hammel, the various video sources—news wires from AP, CNN, ABC, etc.—will be available for viewing at all the operation's workstations, instead of at an edit station or a viewing station as is currently done. WJLA-TV currently produces five separate newscasts daily; NewsChannel 8 produces eight. AP says ENPS will give the news staff the ability to share content as well as to better tailor broadcasts to specific local audiences and, specifically, to enable NewsChannel 8 to produce its zoned news programs with specific local advertising."ENPS allows users not only to control the text like they do with normal newsroom systems," says AP ENPS Product Manager Bill Burke, "but also to control media by building playlists and getting status back from various video servers. It also facilitates moving material back and forth among co-sited or remote workgroups."
Mark Olingy, director of operations for WJLA, says the key to the ENPS is the use of MOS protocol, a cuing system for different devices tied into the newsroom system. That way, associated graphic, text, audio and video elements are connected.
"What we move around are pointers," says Burke. "If they have a server with the editing and playout for NewsChannel 8 and they want it over on the WJLA side, it's simply a drag-and-drop of that pointer from one place to another," instead of moving and storing copies of the element.
Currently, says Hammel, if multiple copies of video from whatever source are needed—for a tease, a promo, different newscasts—each copy is created separately. The new system will accommodate 11 users.
Content will be stored on two Leitch storage area networks (SANs). Acquisition will still be done in DVCPRO, with editing on 12 full-blown Leitch NewsFlash editing systems. Also, 30 other workstations will have access to low-res content, with 20 of them able to create conforming edit decision lists (EDLs). Two studios and two master-control rooms will be housed in the facility as well, with legacy Thomson Grass Valley LDK-20p and Hitachi cameras used, along with a Thomson Grass Valley 4000 and Ross production switcher.
WJLA-TV's newscasts have been ratings-challenged, but its 11 p.m. newscast received the market's highest grade from Project for Excellence in Journalism, one of only a handful of "A" grades given.