News Editing's Magic Bullets

Dedicated newsroom editors use the phrase "crash and burn" as their bravado sobriquet, recognizing that work flow under deadline is their highest concern. As a result, manufacturers of nonlinear newsroom edit systems have intentionally streamlined their user interfaces to prevent technological complexity from interfering with the necessity to get the stories out, and get them out on time.
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Dedicated newsroom editors use the phrase "crash and burn" as their bravado sobriquet, recognizing that work flow under deadline is their highest concern. As a result, manufacturers of nonlinear newsroom edit systems have intentionally streamlined their user interfaces to prevent technological complexity from interfering with the necessity to get the stories out, and get them out on time.

Yet increasingly these rapier-quick systems have been given some unique superpowered features that access impressively high-end functionalities often with the push of a single button. Acknowledging that all these edit systems are part of larger computerized newsroom operations, here is a look at the most intriguing of the "magic bullets" being molded by some of the major newsroom editing players.

LEITCH

Editing video directly from tape to the timeline has been available for several years, but Andy Warman, product manager for newsroom technologies at Leitch, explains how one of the features of Leitch's NEWSFlash-II newsroom NLE with its new Version 1.5 software can be crucial as the editor's clock is ticking down to airtime. If last-minute footage has to be added to an already-edited story, a "Preview" mode tells the system to back up to the pre-roll point of the previous shot, play forward over the new "in" point, and switch to a preview of the incoming material. Seeing the tail of the previous take along with the new cut lets the editor evaluate the inserted shot in context. Once approved, the new material is ingested onto the disk and inserted onto the timeline.

"You just position the playback deck at the head of the incoming shot and the system registers that timecode location as the start of the new edit," Warman explains. "We believe this gives the editor more of a tape-to-tape feel, thanks to the multiple background codecs our system has running."

Those multiple codecs also let DV footage coexist with MPEG-2 material on the same timeline, a boon to editors facing a multi-format newsroom.

NEWSFlash-II gives you the option of two modes of operation. The first, called "Timeline Services, " simply creates edits that point back to the original source material on the newsroom's central server, complete with transitions. This speeds up playout, thanks to bypassing the need to render an edited package into its own unique file on the server. If a separate file is needed, however, NEWSFlash-II's "Process Files" mode actually conforms the media based on the editor's EDL. "This is not 'rendering,'" Warman explains. "We call it 'flattening' the files because the process only copies the pieces of the source material actually needed for the story."

Perhaps Leitch's snazziest "magic bullet" for its newsroom editors is a feature called "Long GOP." Upon output, the operator can convert a complete story into a data-minimizing long GOP ("Group of Pictures") for more efficient transmission. Simply give the flattened file on the server the proper "Edit ID" and the timeline renders out in the designated lower bit-rate format.

THOMSON GRASS VALLEY

The new Grass Valley NewsEdit LT laptop news editor from the digital news production division of Thomson Grass Valley is an extension of its existing desktop NewsEdit NLE designed for DV editing in the field. NewsEdit LT is offered as a turnkey system on a Dell laptop so that Thomson can provide its own uniquely color-coded keyboard that makes it look exactly like the desktop NewsEdit model. "This lets editors jump back and forth from the studio version to the remote 'LT' offering, " Roland Boucher, director of product marketing for news products, tells us, "increasing its familiarity and eliminating the learning curve when cutting on-location."

Designed initially to replace the record deck in a two-machine edit suite, NewsEdit LT speeds up the news editing process by offering true park-and-play operation. If you want, you can turn off the user interface monitor completely, park the source deck on a given shot and lay down an edit by simply hitting the red "record" button. Then turn the GUI back on and you'll have access to all the advanced editing functions needed to polish the story for air.

Another step toward simplification is NewsEdit LT's single edit window configuration. A row of icons across the bottom of the screen mirrors the editing keys on the keyboard. Clicking on any one of them accesses various toolsets, and the window changes to display the possibilities available for the desired operation.

Thanks to the dual software codecs in the current Version 4.0 software, NewsEdit LT can provide real-time effects anywhere in the world. It can even access an optional 2D DVE.

These codecs also let you see the previous and subsequent shots in context when laying new material directly to the timeline.

"Our NewsBrowse Web browsing tool lets editors in the field access media archives stored in the station over the Internet," Boucher says. "That way these shot selections will be already determined by the time they get back to their home base."

AVID TECHNOLOGY

Building on the largest installed base of news editing systems, Avid has recently given its NewsCutter family Version 3.0 software, holding a whole magazine of "magic bullets" for the men and women behind the newsroom's guns. This includes NewsCutter Effects with real-time effects/transitions, NewsCutter XP, a single-stream system with an IEEE 1394 interface, and its laptop version NewsCutter XP Mobile.

Re-editing a story into alternative configurations has become more than the buzzword of "repurposing" to news editors. Newsrooms have dubbed their most common incarnation a "VO" that is basically an illustrated narration, or "Voice Over" with pictures. Now Avid has given us an "Auto VO" function that eliminates from an edited story the existing Voice Over and all soundbites, leaving just the cover video against which a reporter can record his or her new track. "With one click of a button," describes David Schleifer, director of Avid broadcast, "'Auto VO' automatically strips out the designated audio tracks and creates a new visual package that is ready for air. This is one way we are helping newscutters deal with the specifics of making editing faster in the newsroom environment."

Another feature geared toward a similar goal is "Alternate Edit," which lets the editor, for example, specify a variety of opening stand-ups from a reporter and designate each of them to lead off a given story for different airtimes.

Recognizing that the Web offers whole new dimensions for utilizing news stories, Avid has also given Version 3.0 software "Post to Web," which publishes a Web page directly from NewsCutter containing a story's text and links to its associated audio, video and stills.

But Avid is taking Internet interaction to yet another level with its MetaSync technology. MetaSync adds data tracks to the timeline so metadata can be directly associated with each audio or video event. If the data is transparent, such as HTML, it can be displayed back on the editor's screen in real time. If the data is opaque or proprietary, MetaSync will provide triggers to do things such as activate functionalities on third-party systems in the viewers' homes by sending information over an inaudible audio subcarrier.

The applications of MetaSync have broad implications, everything from providing multiple language closed captioning to commanding toys at home to respond to activity on the screen. You could conceivably have the morning news shows trigger your coffee maker, if all the MetaSync communication interfaces were set up properly. Any file type or process that can be represented in XML can be imported into the MetaSync track on Avid's news editors.

"The number of partners in our MetaSync Developers Program is growing all the time," Schleifer tells us. "With our NewsCutter systems, we feel that we have provided the tools for editing pictures and sound on a workstation very successfully. Now our focus is on the overall newsroom work flow and the layers of infrastructure behind it."