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What's New in the Newsroom

As stations look to produce additional newscasts for new media without increasing staff, flexible production tools are more valuable than ever. Vendors are continually improving newsroom computer systems and nonlinear editing gear to fully realize the potential of file-based workflows. They are also refining automation software that allows stations to produce newscasts with just a skeleton crew. In an increasingly competitive media landscape, it makes sense for stations to invest in more news product.

“It's the one thing the other distribution channels can't duplicate,” says Ed Casaccia, news workflow manager, digital news production, for Thomson Grass Valley.

News production is undergoing major developments. Smaller-market stations are moving toward “shrink-wrapped editing software,” says Casaccia, that runs on standard laptops. Half of Grass Valley's nonlinear-editing sales are laptop systems, which is often a function of stations' needing to edit video in the field and microwave it back in geographically spread-out markets.

At the high end, big-market stations are progressing rapidly toward high-def production for local news. “It used to be 'Someday,'” Casaccia says. “Now it's 'How soon can I get this for them?'”

In an effort to streamline workflow, stations are increasingly moving from tape-based acquisition, ingest and editing systems to tapeless production. Grass Valley is addressing this with its Infinity disk-based camera system, NewsEdit and Canopus nonlinear editors, and broad array of server and digital disk recorder products.

Newsroom computer systems—which are used by producers to manage scripts, rundowns, assignments and teleprompters—are also steadily being adapted to control the file-based workflow of the modern newscast. Grass Valley's servers and editing products interface with newsroom computer systems through the Media Object Server (MOS) communications protocol, with Avid's iNews and Associated Press' ENPS (Electronic News Production System) systems representing the lion's share of the market.

MOS has become an essential interface for newsroom products. One of its strongest backers is AP, whose ENPS is used in more than 500 newsrooms worldwide. “The call-letter–station markets are finally making a big push into video servers now,” says Mike Palmer, director of broadcast digital distribution systems and strategy for AP Broadcast, “and really automating the newsroom.”

The request AP gets the most from ENPS customers is that both the ingest system at the station and newsgathering in the field be tied directly to the assignment desk. That means ensuring an accurate flow of metadata, the information describing the administrative details of a news segment, from the newsroom to the field.

That is usually accomplished through a microwave or wireless broadband connection, such as AP's SNAPfeed service, which provides store-and-forward connectivity through Sprint's and Verizon's EVDO (Evolution Data Optimized) networks.

There has typically been a gap between the assignment desk and the rest of station. “The assignment person would get the facts and would have good rich metadata,” Palmer explains. “But in all those workflows, that information went on the floor. So when the video came back and editors began editing the piece, there was no metadata with it, and someone would have to type in a description of the story.”

Reporters and camera operators generally don't have that sort of time. And since the assignment desk is already generating such information, says Palmer, “why throw it on the floor when you can tie it into the rest of the workflow?” AP is working with such vendors as Grass Valley to enable the metadata to be communicated directly to the field or to the stations' ingest point.

Avid Technology is streamlining the workflow among its nonlinear editors, newsroom computer systems, graphics products, and content-storage and -playout servers. It's an effort to “erase walls that exist between different components” throughout the station, says Dave Schleifer, VP of Avid broadcast and workgroups.

That thinking went into Avid's new Interplay asset-management system, software that integrates with Avid's Media Composer, NewsCutter, iNews Instinct and Symphony Nitris systems. It's also designed to work with non-production areas, including IT, legal and billing systems. Avid is addressing the popularity of laptop editing systems, such as Apple's Final Cut Pro, with a software-only version of its NewsCutter XP editor that sells for $4,995. The company also continues to improve integration between its editors and new digital acquisition formats, such as Sony's optical XDCAM format and Panasonic's solid-state P2.

In April, Fox O&O WNYW New York shifted from Betacam tape-based editors to an Avid file-based news-production system and married it with Panasonic P2 field acquisition gear. WNYW had used Avid editors before, but not in a fully interconnected manner. Converting to P2 concurrently, the station underwent a significant change in its workflow. Most significant was moving to P2's memory cards and “not having media you can actually carry around in your hand,” says Al Shjarback, VP of engineering and operations for WNYW. “[You] need to be a lot smarter in managing your media.”

One solution is to do more editing in the field and relay the file to the studio via microwave. Each of WNYW's ENG trucks is equipped with a laptop loaded with NewsCutter XP software for that purpose. Shjarback would also like to have an alternative connection, such as wireless broadband, in the future.

The Avid content servers, which have 1,200 hours of online storage and link to a large StorageTek data-tape archive, have proved advantageous by allowing multiple departments instantaneous access to video. “Everybody from the graphics department and creative services down to news can be looking, handling and using video at the same time,” says Shjarback.

Automation software that can control studio cameras and other devices integral to a live newscast allows stations to launch additional newscasts without spending extra money on staff or equipment, such as live trucks.

The pioneer in this area was ParkerVision. The company sold systems to more than 60 stations before being acquired by Thomson Grass Valley in 2004. Grass Valley has worked to integrate the ParkerVision software with its own Kayak switcher and digital video effects (DVE) system, creating an automation package called Ignite. Customers include ABC owned-and-operated KABC Los Angeles, Meredith Broadcasting's WSHM Springfield, Mass., and a number of Media General outlets. Systems start around $250,000 and can scale to more than $1 million.

“We're integrated with a greater range of third-party equipment, through MOS integration and Active X integration with graphics products,” says Scott Matics, product manager, integrated production systems, for Grass Valley. “We can expand what we're able to do in the control room.”

Since some stations want more manual control, Grass Valley has created a panel that allows a director to control audio by pushing a button instead of moving a mouse. Grass Valley is also offering an integrated robotic-camera system based on its LDK studio cameras, although it continues to support other robotic-camera brands, such as Vinten and Radamec.

Another player in device automation is Ross Video, whose OverDrive Production Control System is employed by Barrington Broadcasting and Clear Channel, among others. OverDrive is based on Ross' Synergy production switchers and enables touch-screen control of video servers, tape decks, audio mixers, robotic cameras, routers and graphics devices.

A large amount of optional manual control is built in to address the needs of different staffs from newscast to newscast. It also has a MOS newsroom interface with an ActiveX plug-in to integrate directly into popular newsroom systems, allowing production elements—switcher effects, DVE effects, audio mixes—to be placed directly into the rundown.

OverDrive software ranges from $25,000 to around $100,000. The software is proving popular with smaller stations launching additional newscasts. “If you have a 5 or 6:30 a.m. morning show, how do you crew that?” asks Ross Video Product Manager Brad Rochon. “If you have an eight- or nine-person crew come in and then have the same for the noon and evening show, it inflates your labor cost.”

OverDrive's first customer was Clear Channel's KGPE Fresno, Calif., which uses a Synergy 3 switcher connected to an ENPS system. The station was looking to replace its ParkerVision system and began working with Ross on OverDrive in early 2004. It uses the system to produce five hours of news a day.

One of OverDrive's selling points is the amount of manual control it affords. “It gives you the benefits of automation [and] being able to punch a show manually and have manual audio control,” says KGPE Assistant Chief Engineer Kenneth Nightingale. “We didn't have fine control over audio before; we still maintain an audio operator, so we have a fine human touch with our audio levels.”