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Going 'Hyper-local'

While the concept of video journalism isn't new, it hasn't really been viewed as a trend, either. But Michael Rosenblum thinks its future is now.

The CEO of Rosenblum TV in New York has worked with the concept since 1989, when he designed New York One, a 24-hour news channel in Gotham that's still going strong. "I was intrigued with it," he said, "because the concept was based on the video journalist [or VJ] carrying a camera."

Over time, the idea spread across the pond to Europe, where the BBC now operates its news programming off of the same model. Rosenblum's last collaboration with "The Beeb" (as its sometimes known in the U.K.) took place in 2003, when he built six "hyper-local" TV channels around Birmingham: each employs six reporters that rely on a camera and a laptop to edit.

"The idea is to get more cameras on the street while cutting costs. With technological advances having made hyper-local journalism easier," he said, "I approached Verizon during the rollout of FiOS four years ago."

That approach proved fruitful. Today, spurred by partnerships with the Newark Star-Ledger, North Jersey Media Group and RNN-TV, Verizon operates the recently launched hyper-local news operation on Long Island with Rosenblum, as well as two others in Northern New Jersey and Washington, D.C.


The setup for a hyper-local "station" is very basic, according to Rosenblum. For instance, his New York City offices at 54th and Park—which support the Long Island channel's (or node's) show, "Push-Pause" —house three Macs for editors who assemble the programs and send them via broadband back to Verizon for air.

Tom DiDonato (L) and Bill Schlosser shoot for for Push Pause This is extremely cost effective, he said. "We cut on Final Cut Pro 7 after we confer with our reporters via iChat [which allows the editors to see/talk to the reporters]. I sit in my living room in my bathrobe while I do this, but it may as well be in an edit room."

Rosenblum would not offer exact figures, but said the cost of running a hyperlocal news operation is roughly "5 percent" of what it costs a typical local news station. "This is so cost effective that you can do this anywhere," he said, "and it reinvigorates the whole notion of TV news—to the point that O&Os and affiliates have no option but to eventually adopt this business model.

"I don't know anyone else in the industry who works this way," he said. "We have no office, no furniture, no receptionist, no nothing. This really is where the Internet meets broadcasting. It's a win-win, all around."


While the laptops, Macs and the Final Cut Pro software and the broadband access are all a big part of why the concept is working, viewers watch content. That's why the JVC GY-HM 100U is crucial to the new equation.

"The JVC quality is exceptional and the camera is so lightweight," Rosenblum said, "that the VJ can be more aggressive. Since it weighs about what a brick does, they can run around all day."

Tom DiDonato is a VJ for the Northern New Jersey edition of "Push-Pause," which debuted in October. He also feels that the time for the concept has arrived.

"The VJs get to report, which is a new element in this method of newsgathering," said DiDonato, a one-time freelance medical correspondent for Reuters.

He recalled the old days: "We would cut 4-minute segments at Reuters, just as we are now," he said. "But the new element about this gig, besides the VJ setting up his own story, is getting appearance and location clearances from [interview subjects] who appear on camera. "That's a smaller issue that is usually handled by the assignment editor, but there is no assignment editor anymore."

Rosenblum has a theory about how to execute this concept, DiDonato said: "The VJ sits on each shot for 10 seconds and shoots it four different ways. That guarantees the VJ enough b-roll to create a full 4-minute story."


But, DiDonato noted, the Reuters content was for the Internet—that's why the JVC GY-HM100U is such a critical component of the concept today. "This is for broadcast, so you have to raise the level of quality. We can shoot in HD or SD and, for the size of the camera; [which he correlates to the size and weight "of a wet Nerf football"], I'm impressed by the images and audio it produces."

The VJs also employ wireless Sennheiser lavaliers for the interviews, which can be a challenge "because there is no place to put the receiver on the camera if you're using a light kit at the same time," DiDonato said, who adds that he works around that challenge "by clipping the receiver on to the handle" as beams emanate from LP Micro Litepanels mounted atop the JVC.

The VJs cut with the latest Final Cut Pro package, 7.1, on the MacBook Pro 15-inch 2.8 GHZ Core Duo laptop (with 320 GBs at 7200 RPM).

"The cool thing is that, once you shoot the video, you can drag the clips off of the Sandisk Extreme and on to an external hard drive, then drag that into the Final Cut Pro stage of the edit," he said, noting that he loves the native file recording. "So instead of having to digitize digital video tape, we just drag the clips from the camera into the computer."

From there, DiDonato said, an experienced Final Cut Pro editor "should not take more than three to four hours to cut a four-minute segment" before uploading to Pando for distribution to Rosenblum TV's production office, where the show is assembled.

"I've done about eight stories in three weeks, and, so far, the job reminds me of cramming for a final exam in college," he said. "This job allows for boundless creative expression, but takes 100 percent dedication and there's considerable pressure. It's not really for family-oriented journalists or reporters who freelance."

That said, the future for this new-ish concept of delivering news, traffic and weather looks promising. "We're new to this end of the business in general, so we take one step at a time," said Rich Young, a spokesperson for Verizon, "but we have had a tremendous response."

Rosenblum concurs and is ready for the next step. "With the cooperation of Verizon," he said, "we would like to open more news operations in other cities."