Technology Can Be Used To Free Up Resources
September 6, 2006
In my last article, I discussed some of the ways that stations can use to produce more content to feed the ever-increasing appetites of viewers.
All of us do things in newsrooms that tie up valuable resources which could otherwise be used for newsgathering.
This can be changed by looking at what we do in our newsrooms with the attitude: "is this the best way to do it or am I doing it because 'that's the way it's always been done.'"
If the answer is the latter, chances are that there's a more efficient way. The goal is to see if and how we can take existing resources and produce more content.
In most stations, people get closing information from schools and businesses in inclement weather. Although some of the systems are automated, they still involve human intervention. In Albany N.Y., all the TV stations got together and formed a consortium to collect closing information.
They used software that one of the stations had written and it fed a SQL database. The stations took turns manning the phones for those who couldn't use the voice system or Web site. The community appreciated it because they could call one number instead of multiple stations.
While this may seem like a small issue, it is one that goes to my point of looking at everything that you do and coming up with a way to do it more efficiently. In this case, it freed up valuable assignment desk resources that could devote more of their time to news gathering.
During most breaking news, especially stories that involve natural disasters such as hurricanes or storms, there are inevitably a number of phone numbers, agency names and Web addresses that need to be conveyed to the viewers.
In many cases this involves the report, producer or assignment editor speaking to the agency and getting all of their information.
Some of that information makes its way into the assignment desk queue, while some winds up on a piece of paper that gets handed to a graphic artist. Sometimes mistakes are made in the numbers when they are transferred from one person to another. But there is a better way to do it.
If all this information was entered into the assignment grid, there would be one source for the information. A special column or field could be made that tags this information.
ENPS has the ability to export information from the assignment grid via XML. It also can create tags for this information so when it's entered, it's classified. With a simple XML parsing program, you could feed this information into a graphics template. Chyron, Pinnacle, Vertigo and Vizrt all have applications that parse XML and populate templates. This XML can also be useD to feed a Web site.
This is another example of how workflow and technology can be used to reduce or eliminate tasks that involve human interaction. These resources can then be re-deployed for other uses such as gathering more stories.
I've written about this topic before but it amazes me to see how many newsrooms operate without an automated way of naming stories, especially in the edit room. When I was involved in planning the launch of NY1, we looked at every task in the newsroom and the potential for mistakes and process improvement.
Story or slug naming was at the top of the list. We wanted to create a process where the producer or assignment desk could create a slug and that slug could be used, without re-typing, in an edit room or in our feeds room.
We came up with a process using our DOS-based newsroom system. In Newsmaker, editors could open a window with a list of slug names and then associate edited stories with that slug name. That was in 1992 and we were still editing on tape.
When my team built the next generation of Time Warner news channels, we worked with ENPS to extend the MOS protocol to allow us to create empty record clips for VOs, SOTs, packages, incoming feeds and field tapes.
OmniBus, our automation vendor and Pinnacle, our editing vendor implemented the MOS protocol to allow us to see a list of available story names in editing and feed record.
The benefit of naming the incoming feeds was that the other data entered in the assignment grid could be used as metadata for the incoming feeds.
Many of the suggestions I mentioned above fall under the category of "It's Possible," one of my mottos.
It means that if you approach each task with this attitude, you may find new ways to do things, and in the process improve the efficiency of your newsrooms and hopefully be able to produce more news with the same staff.
As the number of potential platforms to view or distribute increase, we all need to re-assess our operations and workflows. "That's the way we've always done it," and "it works, why I need to change it" are not acceptable anymore...