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Creating a News Career Without a Station

Eric Wotila is taking a nontraditional approach to one of the most traditional mainstays of television. He launched a local newscast on the Web that so impressed the local cable franchise that it was picked up for insertion.

TV Cadillac founder Eric Wotila, reporting from the field." border="1" /> TV Cadillac founder Eric Wotila, reporting from the field.Woti1a produces Local Edition, a four-minute news program focused on his community of Cadillac, Mich., and streamed on his Web site, TV Cadillac, launched last August.

“While I mostly cover softer, community-oriented news stories on the site, I cover my share of hard news as well,” he said. “In January, I covered campaign visits to our area by presidential candidates Mitt Romney and John McCain.”

Within a few months of launching, Wotila discovered that CNN Headline News allowed cable systems to cut in local news. His segments are scheduled to debut this month.

The news entrepreneur and DePaul University distance-learning student recently engaged in an exchange with Television Broadcast Editor in Chief, Deborah McAdams.


How did you get involved in creating local news?


I started out in local news when I was 12 or 13, At the time, my friends and I would videotape the “neighborhood news“ out of my bedroom, and then we“d go around and show our program to the neighbors. I had an iMac that I“d edit on, a couple DV cameras (a Canon ZR10 and ZR60), and a basic video switcher. We“d roll our newscast “live-to-tape“ on VHS. By 2004 I was producing a news show on our public access station.

From November 2004 until June 2005, I managed to get an internship at our local Fox affiliate (WFQX, Fox 33). I worked more as a freelance reporter than an intern—I was out in the field a few times a week, shooting and editing news stories for the News at Ten.

After the internship ended, I went back to the public access station... I really had no other outlet for my local news.

However, when I finally turned to the Internet, I realized I had much more flexibility there than I did at the public access station, not to mention a much wider audience. I launched TV Cadillac in August 2007, and it quickly evolved from there.

Eric Wotila in his TV Cadillac studio in Cadillac, Mich., where he does a local newscast that was picked up by Charter Communications." border="1" /> Eric Wotila in his TV Cadillac studio in Cadillac, Mich., where he does a local newscast that was picked up by Charter Communications.


What type of cameras do you use and how many do you have


I shoot in HDV using a Sony HDR-FXl. It“s worth mentioning that I“m currently the only news operation in the Traverse City/Cadillac market shooting in HD, though unfortunately, I“m not able to distribute in HD. I only have one camera right now. I do plan to buy a few more FXls within the next few months.


What type of production and postproduction gear do you have?


I have quite a range of gear, but my usual kit in the field consists of my trusty FX1, a Shure SM63LB handheld mic, an AT831b lav mic, a Sennheiser e2 wireless kit, and a Bescor on-camera light. I also keep a variety of cables and adapters with me.

In the studio, I have a 12-inch QTV LCD teleprompter, a Bogen-Manfrotto tripod and dolly, and cheap LCD-TV that I use as a preview monitor.

I use an AT831b for audio, and in terms of lighting... I have some Home Depot lights on the set. I have a Lowel kit that I occasionally use in the field, but I wanted something permanent for the news set and couldn“t afford another professional-grade lighting kit when I launched the newscast.

For post production, I use Final Cut Pro running on an eight-core 2.8 GHz Mac Pro decked out with 10 GB of RAM. I have about 3.5 TB of storage on the machine; I keep a lot of file footage easily accessible via external drives.

In addition to Final Cut, I frequently use Motion, which is how I created the graphics scheme for the newscast. I have a good selection of decks wired in to the computer via a Blackmagic Intensity Pro card (Beta SP, etc.), which is very handy when I need to grab an ad or PSA from an outside source.


Describe your studio set up and how the monitor is fed.


The biggest dilemma I faced when I launched TV Cadillac was how to put together the desk shots without a technical director.

The resource I really lack is manpower, and as I built the operation, I knew it wouldn“t be possible to call someone in every time I shot a newscast. The solution was, somewhat surprisingly, sitting in my applications folder. I use Apple“s Keynote program to drive both the onset monitor and the teleprompter.

I put together my graphics slides in Photoshop or in Motion. From there, I set up each graphic as a slide in Keynote. I use the Presenter Notes for my script. I set the font at a rather large size, and copy the script for each story onto the slide with the corresponding graphic.

I use a Contour ShuttlePro controller to scroll through the scripts while I“m taping, and at the end of each story the controller allows me to advance the slide. This setup runs off my old computer, a Power Mac G5, which I have wired directly into the plasma and the column of 17-inch CRTs on the other side of the set.

I tape the desk shots and edit the final newscast together in Final Cut Pro. Lack of manpower prevents me from rolling live-to-tape, but I hope to move toward that workflow in the future.


Is your studio in your home, or are you borrowing/renting space?


I rent an office in Cadillac“s historic Old City Hall building. I have about 830 square feet, divided into a few back offices and a 500-square-foot room. About two-thirds of the large room is used as the studio, the remainder of it serves as my office/edit suite.


How much did the endeavor cost you to start up?


It“s tough to say exactly how much it cost to launch TV Cadillac, mostly because much of the gear I use for it was purchased for my corporate/industrial work over the course of a few years. I spent surprisingly little at the time of launch-under $2,500. Most of that went toward building the set. I contracted a very talented local woodworker (Don Long) who was very generously willing to help me out.

I paid about $800 for the woodwork on the set, $650 for the 50-inch plasma (I caught an amazing deal on a clearance/floor model at ABC Warehouse), and $120 for the 87-by-58-inch backdrop through

All in all, the set clocked in at about $1,600 to $1,700.

Aside from the set, there weren“t too many start-up costs since I already had the camera and editing equipment.


What is your advertising arrangement with Charter?


We“re still finalizing our agreement. The plan is to pilot the newscast on CNN Headline News for about three months, giving Charter time to sell some advertising.


Have you communicated with any local broadcast TV stations in the area about contributing pieces?


I haven“t spent too much time talking to other stations about contributing, though the thought has occurred to me. So far, I“ve spent my time building an independent operation rather than contributing to other stations.