When asked how he got into this business, E.W. Scripps VP of engineering Ray Thurber recalls being “a hopeless news junkie at a very young age” who soon became “fascinated with the technology that the newsrooms were using. Getting into engineering in support of the news department was something I always wanted to do.”
That love of both news and technology also goes a long way to explaining why Thurber is on B&C’s 2014 list of Technology Leadership Award winners.
Thurber joined WXYZ in 1982 and was named director of engineering at the Detroit station in 2002. Last year, he was promoted to the top engineering job for the Scripps stations.
Over the years, he was a key contributor to a number of important projects at the stations, including installation of automation systems, integrating the McGraw-Hill stations into the group and the Scripps Graphics Hub.
Throughout that time, Thurber has collaborated closely with the newsroom and has been a staunch advocate of the idea that technology needs to be seen as a means of improving the kind of news the station can deliver to viewers.
“I’m most proud of the collaboration that takes place between the entire engineering department and the newsroom,” Thurber quickly replies when asked to name some of his accomplishments. “That has allowed us to innovate and work together to find the best technologies for covering the news….The technology you put in the field has to enhance the storytelling capabilities of the news department and blend in with the task at hand. The biggest challenge is to make sure you’re not slowing the newsroom down and allowing the technology to get in the way.”
Close collaboration with the news department led to the introduction of a number of newer technologies, such as the introduction of Apple’s Mac laptops in the field in 2001 for editing and news production.
“That was very unusual at the time,” recalls Thurber. In addition to making the news teams more productive it also laid the groundwork for adopting other technologies, such as going HD in the field, streaming video and social media. “Once we started down the road towards being an all-Mac newsroom, it simplified a lot of other things,” he says.
Thurber also played an important role in the early adoption of the TVU backpacks, CatDV digital asset management systems, the Scripps Ignite project, and WXYZ becoming the first station to adopt the smaller, lighter JVC cameras, which would eventually play an important role in expanding their news production. “When we made that transition to JVC in 2002, Detroit was the only station to be doing that,” Thurber says. “So it was very gratifying to go back to NAB a few years later and see 400 dots on the JVC map where people were using the cameras.”