Changes in video editing

The last decade has been a time of radical change in the broadcast industry. Nowhere is that more evident than in the video editing field.

Not only has there been a revolutionary change from tape to nonlinear editing, but even more significant has been the changing role of people within the industry. Now more editing is being carried out by journalists and production staff rather than the traditionally trained craft editors.

At first sight, this may seem an attractive proposition for broadcast companies, pushing the task of editing out to more people on cheaper and simpler systems, removing many of the roadblocks in the broadcast workflow.

For networks facing financial pressures, it can be an irresistible option. In the UK, the ITV network switched to a digital news production system with journalists carrying out 90 percent of the editing. ITV calculates that this, along with other changes in workflow enabled by new technology, saves the network €60 million a year and reduced headcount by 400. In addition, the switch improved output quality and increased viewing figures.

However, a switch like this requires time, preparation and new ways of working in order to be truly effective. In the case of ITV, this involved many months of workflow design, staff training and testing to produce a system that was fast and reliable enough to keep up with breaking news — despite losing the expertise of craft editors for those items requiring extra polish.

For broadcast companies considering the move to desktop editing for news and production, there are a number of key issues to consider. For example, are you going to work in low or high resolution? Are the journalists going to produce only a rough cut or the complete package for air? Will journalists also be adding captions, titles and graphics at the desktop? Will material be quality checked by craft editors before transmission? What level of preparation and training will journalists be given in editing?

It is also important to understand that there are two distinct areas to consider. The first is relatively easy. It involves selecting appropriate technology for your station. There are a wide range of editing tools available, from simple, low-resolution browsing to fully featured desktop systems with a complete range of effects and facilities. The second area to consider is far more difficult to quantify. Broadcasters must consider the willingness and enthusiasm of production staff to learn a new range of skills and take responsibility for creating on-air material.

Migrating staff skills

Managing the change is at least as important — if not more important — than the choice and deployment of new technology. As one major European broadcaster said at a conference recently, introducing major new systems is only 10 percent about technology and 90 percent about people.

With that in mind, the first stage in any major desktop editing project is really understanding what you are trying to achieve. Is the main objective cost savings? Is it trying to improve the quality of the storytelling? Is it trying to speed up the throughput of news to meet the challenge of 24-hour broadcasting? Is it trying to make media more widely available for multipurposing for Web publishing or mobile phones? All of these are valid reasons for adopting new methods, but they might require different approaches to make them work effectively.

If all you want to do is make a simple form of media available for repurposing, then a low-resolution, browser-based system may be enough. If you want completed items with voice-over and captions, then a fully featured, high-resolution desktop editing system will be essential.

Whichever way you go, it is vital to include your staff in the discussions and the development of the workflows. If you want them to break away from the traditional roles and become true “techno journalists” who get the story and write the words, as well as add pictures, audio, captions and 3-D graphics, they have to understand why it will benefit both themselves and the company.

There will be doubts on both sides of the line, among the technical staff and the journalists. These doubts need to be answered to get a positive buy-in to the new ideas.

Journalists may think that asking them to edit is simply a way of cutting jobs. But, in fact, there are many good editorial reasons for taking this step. The experience of the many stations already relying on journalist editing backs this up.

Learning more about editing helps journalists use pictures more effectively in their stories. When journalists perform the editing themselves, it makes them very conscious of what shots they need to make a story. This helps them learn to write and construct stories more effectively. In addition, the sense of ownership and pride journalists develop in taking responsibility for the project also raises standards.

Meeting deadlines

Another important benefit is the faster turnaround desktop editing allows. The traditional three-hour wait for an edit bay to become free is replaced by journalists starting working as soon as they arrive in the newsroom, or even while still out in the field if laptop editors are available.

Desktop editing makes it easier for them to meet their deadlines on traditional broadcast stations and provides 24-hour news stations with a more consistent throughput of stories to keep the on-air material refreshed. In an age where multipurposing has become even more important, it makes media available more quickly for mobile phones and other services.

But, for this to become an effective workflow, it is vital that broadcasters provide the staff with training. Companies should not cut corners when it comes to training. There is no point in spending money on expensive technology to produce high-quality images if the staff isn't comfortable and confident using it.

There can be a major issue in releasing staff for training while remaining on-air with a full broadcast schedule. So, a great deal of thought and planning needs to go into drawing up the training program and tying it into the timetable of the new system being installed. And, of course, there is the benefit that new journalists coming out of college today are already trained in video editing, so there is a large pool of available staff.

For broadcast engineers, this presents a new challenge in providing the tools to allow this workflow to operate effectively. What equipment is needed on the desktop that will combine a level of sophistication in output with simplicity of interface?

Initially, journalists had to learn to use the same traditional editing tools as their craft editing colleagues. Now that the importance of this new workflow has been recognized, a new range of tools has been developed, bringing together newsroom computer systems (NRCS) and simple editing interfaces on a single desktop. This also gives access to a full range of archive clips and graphics. (See Figure 1.)

Leveraging newsroom integration

There are three principal ways in which broadcasters can leverage this integration:

  1. Eliminate the traditional timeline, allowing journalists to simply combine words and pictures on a page. They can also browse video material directly on the newsroom computer workstations.
  2. Allow the NRCS database to link the show's script with the edited video story, graphics and stills, providing journalists with the whole package.
  3. Let journalists search for video and text material by keyword and view completed stories, incoming news feeds, archived material or any available video source.

While this opens up new horizons of creativity for the journalists, it also creates new challenges for the technical staff. Is the network capable of handling this torrent of information and passing it around the whole station? Is there a central storage and indexing system that can deal with the constant demand for and recycling of material? Are the requirements of the desktop systems understood, and how will an informed choice between the competing suppliers be made?

Workflow analysis

To make an effective system, it is necessary to take a step back from the existing configuration. Don't just try to replicate the same workflow with different people. Carry out a real workflow analysis to understand what you want from the new process.

Again, there are key questions to be answered from ingest to playout. How will you bring in media? Will tapes be digitized at the desktop by journalists as part of the editing process, or will you have a central ingest area to monitor technical standards? How many hours of storage will your system need? Will storage be mirrored to protect assets? How will you organize the security of your assets to determine who can see what and who has permission to move or delete material? Whose responsibility is it to manage the media in that central system? Who sends finished items to playback? Is that a responsibility of the journalist editor or is there a recognized approval process?

All of these are important workflow decisions that will dictate the design of any system you implement, and it is important to consider them from the start of the process.

Perhaps there are more questions than answers, but that is the key to successfully switching to a journalist-lead editing operation. If you understand that the issues and the need for changes in attitude is as important as the changes in equipment, you will bring a new level of enthusiasm and involvement to your news operation.

John Curzon is newsroom specialist for Avid Technology in Europe, the Middle East and Africa.