A Revolution in the Newsroom

File-based operations and modern communications speed stories to air
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Television news is fast evolving from a time when the newsroom had all day to prepare for the evening newscast. The landscape has changed, with viewers expecting to dip in and out of news as it happens. When a big story is breaking, the public can turn to the web and Twitter to catch up with the unfolding story. The smartphone brings video reports to viewers wherever they are. They no longer have to get home and watch the evening news to catch up on the day’s events. News is available when they want it, where they want it.

To keep pace with this relentless demand and to compete with other news outlets, it has become even more important for news providers to be first at the scene as the story is breaking, and then to get it to air double-fast. And that requires new technology.

A typical news story has three elements: the present, what is happening; the past, the context of the story; and the future, informed opinion on where the story could go.

The reporter needs rapid access to the news archive to create context for an unexpected event. In the past, the field reporter didn’t have access to the archivists or the tape archive. Instead, a journalist back at the station could add the context. Field reporters are beginning to see that modern technology can empower them to operate in the field with access to nearly all the resources they have back at base.

Modern communication networks are also transforming field operations, and as LTE and 4G services are rolled out, communications look set to improve. There is no longer the need to return to base to finish a story; the reporter can access the newsroom computer system (NRCS) remotelyby using a tablet or smartphone.

Tapeless Production

Newsrooms are migrating to tapeless production, if they haven’t gotten there already. The ability to ingest once, then immediately and concurrently access footage from any desktop in the newsroom, has transformed the pace of writing, cutting and airing a story.

Camera manufacturers have replaced their tape-based camcorder product lines with a wide range of next-generation camcorders suitable for ENG that record files to solid-state or optical media. Tapeless cameras and tapeless production go hand in hand.

More News, More Outlets, But Less Money

The demands on broadcasters have increased; they must produce more news for more devices, but often with a smaller budget. This has led to multi-skilling. The old split between honing a script and editing the pictures has disappeared. Reporters are now expected to write the story, cut the video and record the voiceover. Craft editing is reserved for special reports where a more sophisticated look is needed.

Tapeless operation in the newsroom goes a long way to providing the technology platform that can support multi-skilling. Out goes the edit bays and in comes the desktop workstation. Initially, the workstation could do little more than access the NRCS. Reporters now must be able to edit the video and quickly access the archive from their desk. Newsroom video platforms offer browsing and clip editing from a user interface unified with the NRCS—wedded to that integration with social media platforms for a 360 degree view of the evolving story.

Codecs

To bring real efficiency and speed workflows into the newsroom, the newsroom video platform needs to be agnostic to codecs. The traditional newsroom had to cope with one, or possibly two, tape formats. Since material was mainly ingested from tape decks and incoming feeds via SDI or even analog composite, the issue of codecs did not arise. The newsroom editing system could be considered a closed system with SDI in and out. Now material may come in from all manner of tapeless cameras: XDCAM, DVCPRO, as well as AVCHD and other files from DSLRs. Files can be simply copied across rather that ingested (which was usually in real time), making the process of ingesting material as fast as the copy operation.

This raises the issue of the editing codec. Should one be chosen—say, XDCAM HD 35Mb/s, for example—and all other material be transcoded at ingest? Or should material be edited natively, with the playout server supporting multiple codecs?

Incoming material may not be broadcast-quality; it may come from camera phones. It may be HD, or it may be SD. A transcode is just an impediment to the workflow, much like the ingest of tape, and it will add another delay into the workflow, small but finite.

Remote Access

The next step is to give reporters remote access to the NRCS and the ability to browse the archive from the field. Equipped with a laptop editor, BGAN terminal or bonded cellular link, the reporter can research, edit scripts and cut the story in the field, and even view rundowns to see where it sits in the newscast. The script can be changed right to the wire when events are quickly unfolding.

The need to feed news in multiple formats to different channels and devices has added to the complexity of delivery systems. The news studio is no longer the sole output of a station’s newscasts. The newsroom system must be integrated with third-party content delivery systems to feed social media platforms and the web. The newsroom must also interact with the public via social media, and be equipped to accept incoming material from citizen journalists. A big news event may create thousands of incoming clips shot by the public with their phones. All this must be sorted and checked as untrusted material, as opposed to trusted material from staff or news agencies.

Graphics

Prestige news operations lean heavily on graphics for the studio presentation—with data-driven graphics, virtual sets, touchscreen and video walls. Even small newsrooms can use virtual sets. All this adds to the complexity of interfacing the video playout with third-party systems. The MOS interface has become an ad hoc standard for messaging between newsroom applications and has good support from suppliers.

Re-equipping a newsroom for file-based production also represents an opportunity to look at the advantages of remote working, and to see what is needed to support multi-platform delivery in a cost-effective manner. The older newsroom may be comprised of an NRCS, a video editing system and graphics (linked via MOS). Now newsroom technology must orchestrate ingest, scripts, video and audio editing, graphics, DAM, archive and playout through a seamlessly integrated system. Only in this manner can new features such as IP delivery to multiple platforms and remote working be added without creating a costly and unwieldy system.

News operations are changing rapidly to keep pace with evolving needs from the public, which are driven by social media and the web. Newsroom systems should be flexible enough to accommodate these new demands in a cost-effective manner if the broadcaster is to remain competitive. This demands an open architecture, with easy integration to third-party vendors.

Live programming—news, sport and reality shows—is the specialty of television. For broadcasters to stay ahead of on-demand video platforms, they must improve news output, and the tapeless newsroom is at the heart of the newscast.

Related Reading: EVS – Live News. Fast