Newsroom editing

In the context of a magazine focused on technology, it is important to remember that the purpose of editing is to order images and sound in a way that tells a story. When the technology becomes the focus, it is in the way of the craft. The highest order of intent for a news editing system designer — along with all technological innovation — is to make the innovation either invisible or so compelling that its visibility does not interfere with the reason that technology exists.

Early news editing systems

Some early electronic news editing systems were hardly successful in this critical respect. Nonlinear news editing systems were thinly disguised entertainment editing systems. A tie to the workflow of a newsroom was missing.

Many early systems also tried to impose the workflow of craft editing, which missed important distinctions. Principal among these was the emphasis on preview and trim capability over speed and efficiency. News editing is certainly similar to craft editing, but craft editing is seldom done in the context of short timelines. It provides less emphasis on artistic intent and on developing complex story lines.

As a result, early nonlinear news editing systems used the same “ingest then edit” paradigm that craft editing had developed in the same hardware. I remember asking one vendor if it was possible to lay shots directly to the timeline while ingesting. I received a terse reply that I did not understand how news is edited. Needless to say, I think I have been vindicated as systems have evolved.

Current news editing systems

Today, the most important aspects of the highly sophisticated news editing systems are quite different from craft editing. First, the systems are tightly connected to newsroom computer systems and their content development tools.

Second, the emphasis on technology has disappeared. Instead, the emphasis is again on content and the most efficient way to execute the editorial process. For instance, a key concept in the early development of nonlinear editing systems was that they were offline content decision making tools, which most often were followed up with online editing of the final piece. That suited the workflow of craft editing well, mimicking the film process where cuts are conformed on the original negative.

Today, that same paradigm has re-emerged in the news environment with the introduction of products that allow producers and journalists to rough cut their item and send the script, cut list and notes to a craft editor for final conforming and finishing. Now this can all be done in one seamless networked environment, without the sneakernet of writing down time code numbers for the cuts to the story and then carrying them to an editing room for completion.

The workflow improvement of the most modern tools is more than evolutionary, and it replicates the most comfortable ways for related professionals to work.

The technology

What can technology do to continue to improve the workflow and match the tools to the intended purpose? A useful way to explore this is to look carefully at the technology and what it can and cannot do today.

Moving related pieces of the news story around the station as it is finished is all done electronically. But some parts still require careful thought in implementation. For instance, the naming conventions for files is a critical element that ties the items together in ways we can interpret quickly and efficiently.

One manufacturer, Grass Valley, has suggested a framework to its customers. (See Figure 1.) Dates are prefaced by year so the list is sorted with the oldest or newest entries at the top. By using this coding scheme, the implementing technologist creates a system that is easily understood.

It might be equally possible to use a serial number to identify the file completely, with all of the related metadata in a lookup table and displayed in application interfaces. However, when confronted with the filename alone, there is no point of reference, rendering the naming useful only in the software domain.

Similarly, early time code editing systems forced users to constantly look at strings of numbers to complete their job. Later, nonlinear systems allowed users to work with pictures only, while the computer kept track of the numbers it needed.

Today, systems allow highly flexible interfaces, even using speech recognition technology to synthesize a script from a “sound on” file. The systems then let the professional, often a producer or journalist, rearrange the script and allow the edits to automatically track the edited script.

New pieces of workflow are possible, some of which were not practical when media was not networked. The legal department, or perhaps executive producer, can review sensitive items while the editing is in process and make informed judgments about whether material is appropriate to air.

“Basic fi lenaming (using a date-centric example) yymmdd_[media type]_[subject or story name]_[show name]hhmm

Examples of media type:

For raw elements:
SF (satellite feed)
TDV (tape DVCPRO), TB (tape Beta), etc.
ST (studio)
LF (live feed)

For cut elements:
V (VO)
P (package)
T (tease)

Story names: Abbreviate to conserve character spaces, but remain meaningful

Show names: Initialize names, e.g. NL for NewsLine, NN for News at Nine, EN for Eyewitness News, etc.”

Figure 1. Grass Valley's filenaming framework

Editing standards

Most editing systems use some elements of standard communication, MOS for instance. Some systems use file wrappers that are standardized by more than one manufacturer.

As systems get more complex, the systems that adopt common applications interfaces that other manufacturers can comply with will be successful. Unfortunately, the other class of successful products is likely to be those that adopt fully featured approaches that use their own best engineering ingenuity but remain closed to protect both their market share and the ability of the customers to get a large and bulletproof feature set.

Personally, I would opt for the former even though it might be more problematical to implement and support. I believe the majority of manufacturers will see their best interests served with open standards.

John Luff is senior vice president of business development for AZCAR.

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