News directors hear about it when reporters don't like the way their stories are edited. But, with changes in the newsroom environment, the reporters increasingly have the tools to craft their own stories from start to finish, even down to the graphics used.
The upside is that reporters, who best know the story, get a chance to craft it. The downside is that not every reporter is an editor, or wants to be. But, with fewer hands touching a news story, fewer employees are required, and that's good for the bottom line.
"Some of the journalists don't want to have that control," says Ian Fletcher, technical director for Omnibus Systems, which has a new editing tool on the market, "but others are finding that the younger blood in the newsroom is demanding more creative control."
Newsroom systems are at the center of the change. The two leaders in the field are Associated Press's Electronic News Production System (ENPS) and Avid's iNews. Each one puts a wealth of information and capability at the fingertips of anyone in the newsroom. And every year, as the devices get more sophisticated, they are tied into more newsroom editing, graphics and publishing tools.
Video-server technology is also being more closely integrated with these tools. At one time, reporters had to use to two videotape decks to put stories together. That took time as editors had to rewind and fast-forward to find footage.
Today, with new nonlinear editing systems and video servers, reporters can access clips instantly, write scripts and do research all at the same desktop computer. In a way, it's similar to the ease of using a today's TiVo versus yesterday's VCR.
Such functionality helps create a newsroom without borders.
Ideally, newsroom automation begins with content arriving via a variety of transmission methods. Automation can make it easier to record incoming feeds onto video servers and make it more readily available to producers, journalists and editors. "That area should be automated as much as possible," says Fletcher. "Feeds should be automatically placed onto video servers, complete with file names and other information." Storytelling becomes even easier when a news operation has a system that creates low-resolution copies of the content that can be accessed from any desktop in the newsroom.
AP's ENPS meshes the receiving of video content—the process is called ingest—with the assignment desk. Says Mike Palmer, director of broadcast digital distribution systems and strategy, "The people at the assignment desk can create the equivalent of a reservation on the ingest station." That reservation, which includes such data as who is shooting what and where and when, waits for the content to return from the field. Once the content comes in, it's automatically dumped into the waiting ingest department. It's like that party of four showed up at 7:30 and the table was waiting for them.
"It's not about reducing headcount but increasing efficiency," Palmer says. "It lets people in the newsroom know the status of incoming feeds."
Automating incoming feeds isn't always about saving time. Feeds coming in via satellite still have to be recorded in real time, so the benefit is in making it easier for users to share content: no need for tape dubs or recording a feed twice.
"Once content gets into a server system like Avid Unity, it's available to everyone," says David Schleifer, director of Avid Broadcast and Workgroups. The news and promo departments can begin working in parallel on the same footage.
One of the goals is to simply get news to air more quickly. But Schleifer says the benefits of the new technology include vastly improved archival search-and-retrieval capabilities. That makes stories better.
Once content is placed into a server system, personnel can work on the story package as well as the promotions, bumpers and teasers related to the story all at the same time. "It makes the workflows parallel rather than serial," says Schleifer. And that does speed things up.
But tech companies don't expect the process of placing a story to ever be fully automated. Palmer says the number of unexpected feeds that can come in to the receive station means it will always be a good idea to have personnel monitoring the area where stories are ingested. But some automation will make ingest more efficient.
"A satellite feed still has to come in at real time, but, if you ingest it automatically, then you may not have to record the feed twice or make a dub of the tape," Schleifer explains.
TELLING BETTER STORIES
Tech manufacturers think adding nonlinear editing capabilities to the reporter's toolset is one of the best ways to improve storytelling.
Reporters should have the best ideas of what shots capture the essence of their story. So enabling reporters to edit produces more accurate and more compelling story packages. They can use a simple nonlinear editing package to assemble the clips, type in the proper spelling of people's names and then send the rough package to an editor for polishing. Before nonlinear editing, the reporter and editor had to huddle with the videotape recorders to craft the story from the start.
The demand for nonlinear editing tools has even attracted automation supplier Omnibus into the business. Its Headline Editor doesn't match the features of nonlinear editors from Avid or Pinnacle, but Omnibus says its desktop version and a field version allow edit decision lists to be created directly from the broadcast server. "We think it's a really friendly editing system for journalists," says Fletcher.
Also helping reporters believe in newsroom automation is the ENPS "Follow Me" feature. Introduced earlier this year, it uses the newsroom system to automatically send messages from the assignment desk to the phone or PDA that station personnel have with them in the field.
"It's an automated way of communicating planning and running-order information whether the reporter is logged into the newsroom system or not," says Palmer. "They can also respond to the message."
Buying into nonlinear editing takes proof. "A lot of times [news executives] have to see the technology in action first." Once they do, many become believers.
GETTING IT ON-AIR
While some vendors like ENPS and Avid are adding automation features, other companies are marketing fully dedicated automation technology. Typically, these systems make it easier for the technical director and producer to get the news to viewers' living rooms.
Some dedicated tools and systems bring newsroom devices under a single control. An example is the PVTV lineup from Thomson Grass Valley. The company acquired Parkervision earlier this year and has now built the Integrated Production Solutions group around the PVTV master-control–automation system. According to group Director Alex Holtz, its products will draw on the rest of the Thomson Grass Valley product line but will also continue to be compatible with third-party systems.
Over the years, the Parkervision PVTV lineup has met the needs of broadcasters that want to have one or two people running master control. The PVTV system puts equipment control at their fingertips, handling 16 to 45 video inputs with seven to 16 device-control ports (the number of internal mix-effect keyers also varies).
"The large-market stations are looking for a higher return on investment," says Holtz, "while smaller and mid-market stations look at it as a way to be more competitive."
He thinks PVTV's featured "clip-status alert system" is important because it allows the director or producer to keep track of a story's progress before it gets to air: "They have all the information at their fingertips."
ALL THE BASES
Vendors conceive of automation in different ways. Omnibus Systems, for example, takes a facility-wide approach that offers wide implementation flexibility, but it requires customers to have a clear sense of what they want out of the system.
Says Fletcher, "We don't like selling systems to stations that haven't thoroughly thought what kind of efficiencies they want or what type of savings they want to realize."
Omnibus automation can cover an entire plant, from handling incoming feeds to making content available throughout the newsroom and ultimately helping content play to air.
Avid also helps automate those areas and sometimes starts stations out with a vanilla version of automation, to which more-complex functionality can be added later.
Automation also can help in the control room during play to air. With the right automation system, a two-person crew can get the disparate graphic, story and promo elements to air—and handle breaking news and cut-ins.
Sundance Digital's NewsLink allows a station to air a newscast with only a producer and a technical director behind the scenes. Toolsets include Auto Placeholder ID creation, AutoArchive and AutoPurge, as well as options for automating ingest and managing content. The system lets managers choose the right level of automation on a show-by-show basis using existing production gear, says Vice President, Newsroom Automation, Fred Schultz: "It enhances, rather than compromises, production flexibility.
"Our system," he adds, "is the only one that will let the customer elect how much gear they bring under the automation umbrella. Cameras, audio, production switchers, graphics: It can all be controlled."
And that's what automation is all about.