A new day in news

It's a whole new world at New York's NY1 News Channel as the station staff begins the final push to get ready for a new home and a new approach to newsgathering and editing.

Of course, the same was said in 1992 when the station was launched with a new approach to newsgathering and editing. Back then, the use of news crews with only a single reporter, a Panasonic DVCPRO camera and related gear allowed the Time Warner news organization to cover the city with an acuity few other news organizations in the television medium have achieved.

This year, the change is possibly even more dramatic, as each reporter will have the tools necessary to edit a complete news package on his or her desktop.

The work involving the staff of 150 begins today, although the technical team and system integrator A.F. Associates have been busy since May in a test bed making sure the system will come together as planned. And, on Oct. 22, the network's staff will hit the air from its new 50,000-square-foot facility in Manhattan's Chelsea Market (also home to the Oxygen cable network and Major League Baseball).

The new home, which cost less than $30 million, including construction, is the same space that was used by HBO and Viacom to shoot the prison drama Oz, giving a whole new spin to complaints of being chained to a desk. In the space's defense, it does offer ample natural sunlight, much more than the typical newsroom environment.

"We were out of space the minute we moved into the old facility," says Steve Paulus, NY1 senior vice president and general manager. "So, instead of having 25,000 square feet, we have 45,000 square feet plus a mezzanine of 8,000 square feet. We have the room we never had before, and also the work environment is going to be a great place to work."

More important than the additional space are the additional opportunities reporters, editors, producers and nearly everyone else in the facility will be afforded with the new technology. "This is the truly integrated newsroom because, from that one desktop, you'll be able to do everything you need to do as a journalist," says Harlan Neugeboren, senior director, technology and engineering, Time Warner Cable local news group. "You can put graphics in, view video, do cuts-only video, even edit full video with the Pinnacle Vortex SX system."

Neugeboren and a group of engineers and programmers are putting the final touches on the system that will become a model for future Time Warner Cable 24-hour-news networks. After NY1 is up and running, it will be only two months until the next Time Warner Cable news network launches in Raleigh, N.C., before Christmas. Networks in Charlotte, N.C., and Syracuse and Albany, N.Y., as well as joint ventures with Belo in San Antonio and Houston, are also set to hit the air by May.

"We get to build a total serial-digital plant after nine years," says Paulus. "We were a bastardized half-analog, half-digital facility before that and would shoot on digital tape, then edit to analog Beta and then digitize into a server. And that doesn't make sense."

For the next month Paulus, Director of Operations Jeffrey Polikoff and the staff at NY1 will turn their attention to learning a new integrated system that will involve video servers, a newsroom system, nonlinear editing, and new graphics capabilities.

"The biggest key is going to be that everything is digitized to servers as soon as it comes in, whether it's a feed or videotape," says Paulus. "We have a whole new area for media management. The people there will be responsible for getting material into servers and then tracking what is there, how long it stays there, who should see it and what should be done with it."

The way the newsroom will operate is something like this. The reporter heads into the field and shoots footage for a story. The footage is brought back into the station and ingested at a media station and placed on a Pinnacle server along with associated metadata (the metadata includes assignment notes, comments, related wire-reports, and other information).

While that process is taking place (for the time being, it will be done in real time, but plans call for it to be done at four times that speed in a couple of months) the reporter returns to his or her desk, grabs a cup of coffee or reads the paper. Once the content is on the server, the reporter accesses the content through the Omnibus control system and uses the Pinnacle Vortex news nonlinear editing system, Pinnacle Dekocast for character generation, the Vertigo system for graphics, and the AP ENPS newsroom system to put the story together.

Polikoff says the first thing the reporter will do is cut B-roll immediately for a voiceover. Then it's on to editing the full report. A reporter who isn't comfortable in creating the finished product can simply make a rough cut that one of the station's editors will finalize into on-air material.

One of the challenges in designing the facility was re-creating the same synergy NY1 had in its old facility. The newsroom, anchors and assignment desks are all still in close proximity to each other, but the new facility takes that to a larger scale.

"We're drawing all the editorial people into one core except for sports," he says. Even those involved with editorial for the Web site will be pulled into the core. There will be two main producer areas with producers and writers working, as well as the Web department and the political unit located within shouting distance of the studio (which, for Oz
fans, is in the Oz

Everyone at NY1 will have a lot of adapting to do in the next few weeks, from the new editing and graphics systems to the AP ENPS newsroom system. But, from an operational standpoint, Paulus believes the AP ENPS system will create new efficiencies.

"The ENPS is a pretty robust system, and it has archive and search capabilities we never had before," he says. "Every component brings something pretty spectacular along with it."

With reporters handling editing tasks, one has to wonder whether the current editors at NY1 are concerned that their jobs will be obsolete. Paulus allays those fears and says that it will allow for repurposing some of those editors. And there will still be a need for editors in the facility as six full edit rooms will still be part of the blueprint.

"I don't think real editors that are cutting technically highly advanced video with a lot of effects will ever be replaced," adds Polikoff. "This is basic editing in news: cuts, dissolves, and laying in a key."

Explains Paulus, "I tell the reporters that, when they take notes on a piece of paper, they're making edits. But now, with the nonlinear system, the notes they're making are with keystrokes, and they're marking ins and outs. And instead of the editor having to sit there for an hour to edit, they can knock it off in 15 minutes."

Right now, the challenge is to get the station's personnel acclimated to not only a new environment but also a new way of doing news. The staff has been split in half, with one part reporting to the new facility and the other remaining at the current facility on 42nd St. and 8th Ave. to work with free-lancers to keep the news on the air.

"We're planning a week of training on the Pinnacle Vortex nonlinear editors," adds Polikoff. "But we had Harlan's 8-year-old editing on it within an hour or two, so it isn't that complicated."

Paulus is confident the staff will catch on to the new technology fairly quickly, although he admits that it will take some time to learn keystroke shortcuts and other subtleties of the newsroom system. But the prospect of working in a facility with 25 channels of Pinnacle video servers (with 300 hours of RAID and 300 hours of near-line storage) that can allow 25 workstations to access material amazes him.

"It's a true nonlinear system so, when a feed comes in from the field, the promo department can be looking at it, the political department can be looking at it, everybody can be looking at it and working with it at the same time," he says. "That's going to be pretty exciting."

Neugeboren says the use of a SQL database on the backend provides that access, a level of integration that has never been done in the U.S. The integration challenge is what Neugeboren is working on with his team and approximately 30 programmers. The goal is to get inside the separate components and software to make sure all devices can talk and work with each other at the necessary level of efficiency and reliability. Most important is that they can exchange the necessary metadata.

Much of that integration work revolves around the Media Object Server communications protocol (or MOS) used by the AP ENPS newsroom system. The MOS protocol allows newsroom computer systems and media object servers to exchange information using a standard protocol. Those media objects can include character- generator objects, audio, still-store items and video.

One of the issues being worked out at the Time Warner Cable/NY1 News test facility is that the MOS system creates a separate gateway to the server for each type of object. For example, a CG object goes through a CG gateway, a video object goes through a video-clip gateway.

The problem from a control standpoint, according to Neugeboren, is that no one system can know where everything is. To facilitate the control of those objects, programmers have created a program that will "wrap" the MOS items in a wrapper that tells the system all MOS items are coming from a single source: the Omnibus system.

"Devices like Vertigo and Pinnacle are sending MOS messages from their Actix X applications, and their Omnibus is wrapping them and sending them across the gateway," says Neugeboren. "This gives Omnibus the ability to manage all the objects being created from separate systems. And that is key to being able to manage the assets of a facility as large as NY1."

With all the talk of servers and nonlinear editing in the newsroom, there's no doubt that the facility is one of the first to make serious strides towards being tapeless. But there are no plans for disk-based systems in the field, because reporters still prefer the light weight of the Panasonic camera systems.

"Eventually, it'll be a tapeless society," says Polikoff. "But, for us now, this offers more accountability on where the tape is going. We're putting the tapes into a secure space for a month in case something goes wrong with the server."

Some equipment will make the transition to the new facility. For example, Thomson Saturn master-control switchers and Thomson LDK100 cameras with Fujinon lenses will be used.

Four studios will also be in the facility, a net gain of two studios over the old facility.

"It'll give us more flexibility, and we also think we could generate some outside revenue because we've had a lot of people come to us looking to rent studio space," says Paulus. "And our expense level is so much lower that we're probably one of the more cost-efficient facilities in New York."