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KTBS Embraces File-Based Future

KTBS, the independently owned ABC station in Shreveport, La. (DMA No. 82), is moving this week to file-based newsgathering using Sony solid-state camcorders and Avid editing and content storage systems. At the same time, KTBS is adopting a new workflow that places up to a dozen Multi Media Journalists (MMJs)—who report, shoot and edit stories—in the field and divides newsroom personnel back at the station into “content managers” and “content producers.”

“We’re currently training on the cameras and the new Avid software,” says KTBS News Director Randy Bain. “The whole newsroom is abuzz, with producers learning how to edit.”

The goal is to produce more original news features for the 6½ hours of news that air daily across KTBS and KPXJ, the CW affiliate it runs as a duopoly; its 24-hour digital news subchannel, which repurposes those newscasts; and its Website.

“As we were expanding our local programming, we had a higher demand for story count in our newscasts,” Bain says. “Repetition became our enemy. So, we needed less repetition, and we also needed to feed the Internet. All those demands were really putting a stress on the newsroom. So, we had to retool the newsroom.”

The revamped newsroom is part of KTBS’ overall conversion to high-defi nition, explains station manager George Sirven; the conversion began five years ago and has already seen the station upgrade its master control facilities to be able to ingest and play out HD syndicated shows and commercials. While KTBS has aired its news in standard-def widescreen for several years, this fall it will move to HD newscasts by installing a new Grass Valley high-definition switcher and Ignite automated production system.

The overhaul of the newsroom also reflects the tough economic times that KTBS and other local stations have weathered over the past few years. As KTBS began buying its first pieces of HD production gear in early 2009, the “bottom fell out” of the advertising market, Sirven says, and the station had to trim 15%-20% of its news staff. So, it started to look at how new technology could help it “improve the quality and quantity of the product with less staff,” Sirven says.

After examining its options with the help of Avid and consultant Audience Research & Development, KTBS came up with a plan going into last spring’s NAB show.

“We were looking at the equipment needed to make that happen, and the mindset needed internally to reengineer the news staff,” Sirven says. “What we’re doing is taking the traditional reporter, photographer and editor, and turning it into a one-man band, where one individual does their own shooting, reporting and editing, either out in the field or here at the station. We made sure to give each one of these people the equipment to make it easy to do that.”

KTBS has been acquiring footage in the field using standard-definition Sony Betacam SX tape-based camcorders and doing the bulk of its editing in tape-to-tape fashion with Sony SX decks, with a couple of Avid Newscutters occasionally used to create more polished packages.

Now KTBS is moving firmly to the file-based world by purchasing solid-state XDCAM EX cameras from Sony and a tapeless newsroom system from Avid. For newsgathering, the station will use eight Sony compact PWM-EX3 camcorders, which have a ½-inch lens and list for $9,900. It will also use four larger PMW-350K camcorders, which have a 2/3-inch lens and list for $22,000, and which will be employed for covering Mardi Gras parades and other large events. Both Sony models record video on Sony’s SxS solid-state memory cards, and Bain is also exploring using an adapter to record on less-expensive standard SD memory cards.

Editing will be performed on a mix of Avid Media Composer and NewsCutter editing systems, supported by an Avid ISIS shared storage system. KTBS is also using Avid’s iNews newsroom computer system and Interplay production asset management software.

The bulk of the MMJs will use Media Composer software loaded on Dell workstation-class laptops that also include Verizon wireless aircards to give broadband connectivity from the field. That will allow the MMJs to edit a package and then send it via FTP back to the station.

As Bain puts it: “We want them to be highly mobile, with the ability to shoot in the field, create content and send it back to the station, and not be tethered to the station anymore.”

KTBS will also have three NewsCutter workstations at the station, and is outfitting its four live trucks (two microwave, one combo ENG/SNG, one full-blown satellite truck) with laptops loaded with NewsCutter software and Mojo DX hardware accelerator units that will allow video to be fed from the laptop directly into a microwave or satellite link. With a market that spans 100 miles north to south and covers parts of four adjoining states---northwest Louisiana, southwest Arkansas, southeast Oklahoma and northeast Texas-the station makes heavy use of its live trucks and Bain doesn't expect that to stop with the introduction of MMJs.

That said, KTBS already successfully used Skype to bring back live shots from its Super Bowl coverage in Miami last winter and Bain has been impressed with early testing of the Verizon aircards in the Shreveport market. Of course, MMJs will also have the option of using Wi-Fi connections, where available, to FTP content back to the studio.

"A big part of our strategy is figuring out where all the Starbucks are, and other places with good free or relatively cheap broadband, so my journalists get to do what they do best, which is being out in the field," says Bain. "One of the things I've talked to our operations manager about is that we are really going to have to map those out and come up with a bandwidth strategy. That way when a reporter calls us with a problem, once they tell us where they are geographically located, we can tell them where to go."

At family-owned KTBS, the average tenure of the staff is "pretty long," says Sirven. Interestingly, long-term news personnel have been quicker to embrace the MMJ approach than some of the newer employees.

"Change is not easy for anyone, and there's a lot of fear of the unknown," Sirven admits. "But as we're going through the education process, more and more have started to embrace it. There's a group that said we still need to learn a little more about it, and they're coming around slowly. Others said it's not for me, it's changed too much from my early days, and I don't know if I want to continue. It's been a mixed bag. But some of those that were slower to embrace it are beginning to enjoy the technology and what they can do with it."