For modern newsrooms, the workflow is the message

Newsrooms today operate under enormous pressure. They feel pressure from management to hold down costs, as well as reduce staffing and production expenditures, while often at the same time producing more content for more programs and for multiple distribution platforms. They also feel pressure from their competition: a need to get the news on the air or on the Web quickly, instantaneously in some cases, or risk seeing a competing news organization report a story first.

To cope with these pressures, more news organizations are embracing newly-developed workflow solutions. These workflow technologies promise dramatic reductions in costs and increases in productivity by automating routine tasks and by eliminating or vastly reducing the role of videotape in newsroom production processes. Newsroom media is instead acquired, reviewed, edited, archived and aired in file formats.

There are many advantages to this new file-based paradigm. One is that it makes the newsroom a more collaborative environment. Media assets can be accessed simultaneously by several people, who can then work together in crafting a story. Under the old system, news production was a strictly linear process with access to media limited to whoever had the source videotape. One of the chief beneficiaries of this change is journalists. Reporters can now edit stories at their desktops. While that is no substitute for a skilled editor, journalists are no longer dependent on access to an editing suite to begin to shape their stories.

In news production today, picture often precedes text. In the past, the opposite was almost always true: A story was written, and video was added later. Newsrooms now receive news feeds via satellite, or from reporters posting video to FTP sites, or from the public via Twitter and YouTube. And the imperative is often to get stories on the air fast. In a traditional workflow, that can be difficult. The news feed has to be recorded, dubs have to be made, the story has to be edited and so on. In a new workflow, all this can be done in minutes. For example, a reporter covering a news conference can be preparing a highlight reel even as the event is ongoing, and the story can be ready for air as soon as the press conference is over.

Or consider the case of obituaries. In the past, it has been common practice for news organizations to prepare retrospectives of prominent personalities so as not to be caught flat-footed should a celebrity meet with an untimely accident. With the new workflows, that is no longer necessary as obituaries can be produced on the fly. Not only are media archives stored in digital format immediately accessible, they can include metadata that can be used to quickly search and identify needed assets. Simply type in “Michael Jackson,” and off you go. Pull clips from the 1970s, 1980s and 1990s, cut it together, add voice-over, and you are ready for air.

Newsrooms that continue to rely on tape-based workflows often have trouble repurposing content for the Web and other distribution platforms. The problem can be especially vexing for organizations that keep their broadcast and Web departments separate. In such instances, it's not unheard of for Web staff to record their own station's broadcast signal to repurpose as Web content because they have no direct connection to the broadcast side. Again, the new workflows eliminate this problem by providing direct, simultaneous access to media assets to everyone in the organization. Additionally, routine and redundant processes such as reformatting content for the Web or mobile platforms can be automated, relieving staff of these mundane chores.

Similarly, the new workflows make it easy to update or amend news stories. That can be especially valuable for late night or early morning newscasts as fresh content can be produced with a relatively small master control room staff. With a searchable system, content can be quickly amended and some steps, such as titling and graphics, can be automated, yielding fresh content with a minimum of fuss.

The logic behind the new workflows is only going to grow more compelling. Video content plays a greater role in news programming than ever before, a trend that is sure to continue. Delivery platforms will become more diverse and more tightly integrated. Workflows developed 20 years ago will simply not be able to meet the needs of tomorrow's media-centric newsroom. New automated, file-based workflows are the obvious solution, a fact that smart news organizations have already figured out.

Jan Weigner is managing director for Cinegy.