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Newsroom automation

Newsroom processes have always been carefully thought-out. The need to hit deadlines requires attention to a set of work assignments and priorities that have been set to ensure the final success of a group effort.

iNEWS, Avid’s newsroom computer system, allows users to access scripts, wires and databases in the newsroom or in the field via LAN and WAN connectivity.

Before computers, multipart forms were used, and wire copy was sometimes cut with a pair of scissors and taped together to “edit” the text. Teleprompter copy ran on a conveyor belt under a camera to get the text in front of the journalist on camera. The orchestration of all of this without errors was fun to watch and quite a challenge to do while managing the craft of journalism. It was sometimes hard to spot the sneaker net delivery of the next story, or the deft editing of the rundown by shuffling stories on the control room desk.

The salient underlying workflow is still the stuff of media newsrooms. Words and pictures still must be collected, collated, edited and presented. A well-crafted newsroom automation system is less “automation” than it is the embodiment of the workflow required to achieve a well thought-out and produced newscast. The computer software does not cut the pictures or edit the text. It simplifies the mechanical tasks and manages the flow of information within the newsroom.

For newsroom software to succeed, it must allow professionals the freedom to do their jobs. Modern systems can be customized to achieve personalization for each station. Before workflow can be automated, however, the software firm must help you set goals that are realistic and achieveable with their product. For the most part, modern newsroom automation systems are broadly applicable and extensible to include future upgrades to control devices, integrate desktop editing and browsing, and asset management and archive services. The Associated Press, Avid Technology, Dalet and EZNews provide such systems.

A major part of newsroom automation today is integrating the control of character generators, video servers and robotic camera systems into the seamless whole they can be. If the goal is to save costs by implementing a software solution, then one most logically would try to find a solution that manages hardware without additional labor cost involved.

Many systems do this using Media Object Server (MOS) technology. The MOS protocol allows developers to abstract hardware from the actions desired so that you don't need to know the lingua of the character generator, only that a lower third with specific text needs to be inserted at a specific point in the rundown. MOS is about much more than device control. It can also be the basis of communication with asset management, ingest and browse services, Web publishing, and other interfaces.

The goal of newsroom automation is to create a seamless whole from the pieces of the newsroom environment, where changes in one area propagate to the appropriate interface points without thinking. One might conceive of a system that allows a single individual to control the entire production from a technical script. Such systems exist and tie into newsroom automation systems, although there is considerable work to create the production script from the rundown imported into the system.

One could make the argument that the cost savings in labor are so persuasive that the potential risk with all eggs in one basket is moot. Many stations have implemented just such a system. A related wrinkle is to have middleware control the devices as a separate engine, communicating with the main rundown as needed.

Finally, when news is centralized, one might have segments of a program originating from a central site, while others continue to be produced at the local station. In such a case, the master rundown might have related segment rundowns that follow with the master program quite completely. Sinclair has made much news with NewsCentral, and the ability to use one newsroom automation system in a seamless whole would make such an initiative much more powerful.

John Luff is senior vice president of business development for AZCAR. To reach him,

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