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I recently talked with a number of stations that are transitioning to tapeless video acquisition in their news departments. The removable hard drive, optical disc and memory card technologies these stations are moving to are very different. In each case, the change is monumental.

And each of these news operations is making a gradual transition--rolling out a few cameras, edit stations and peripheral equipment like edit vans. This seems eminently smart for several reasons. The first is that a newscast is mission-critical. Just ask anyone from the newsroom. (I kid around. News is mission-critical to a station.)

The other reason is that there isn't a lot of knowledge about tapeless workflow because it's new. If in spite of the best-laid plans, the edit workflow you establish isn't really very efficient. It's much easier to rip out just a couple of edit suites and start over.


The happiest people making this transition are those who are already editing with nonlinear equipment. They've figured out what's on the server and where it's located.

The folks at one station told me that going tapeless was the easy part; nonlinear editing was the challenge. You can write "Governor's Press Conference" on the label on a videotape cassette; when the material is in the server, however, there has to be enough indexing information for you to find it among all the bits and bytes.

All this leads up to a cardinal rule of mine that takes off from Newton's first law--a body in motion tends to remain in motion until acted upon by an outside force.

From that I have derived, the way something is done on the first day is the way it's likely going to be done for a long time.

And this fits with migrating to tapeless acquisition, because once you've established a good workflow, you're likely to keep it. Establish a bad one and it's my experience that it is tough to change.

Establishing a good workflow depends on a pair of factors--good planning and discipline.

I have a very logistically oriented mind. You can acquaint me with a process and I'll be able to tell you that this and this and this will happen next. That is, if I know enough about the technology. I'm not a "way-technological" person, so I have to rely on others for that.


All of this is a way of saying that if I were in charge of a changeover to tapeless acquisition, there would be a lot of meetings.

These don't always have to be in a conference room. You're not trying to implement a conference, you're trying to implement a workflow in a newsroom. Why not meet in the newsroom and walk through the process? (Joan Cusack might not have had to duck the file cabinet drawer in "Broadcast News" if they'd planned their workflow by meeting in the newsroom.)

There's another important factor to remember about tapeless acquisition media. It's not cheap. Where a DV tape is kind of a commodity, optical discs, removable hard drives and memory cards are expensive.

Every news operation I spoke with is instituting policies to check the media out to the photographer and log it through its path back to edit playback machines or ingest stations. Querying the pioneers on how they handled their media is really worth thinking through.

A great engineer I used to work with had a saying: "Plan your work, and work your plan." This is where discipline comes in--to carry out the plan you've cooked up.

Remember, early-on, where I said I thought phasing in tapeless acquisition slowly was a good idea? One reason is that you can pair the people who are most likely to succeed with the new equipment first.

That's exactly what NY1 did when that news network migrated to the Panasonic P2 cameras. They use reporter/ photographer one-man-band crews in the field, so when they rolled out the first set of P2 camcorders, they gave them to their most technologically savvy camera people. That way, they weren't adapting their system to those who had the least interest in shooting in the first place.

Another of the news operations I talked with had an engineer who was particularly interested in the tapeless acquisition project. He wanted to get it right from the beginning, because he knew the engineers would be responsible for fixing it later. It's too early to know if he's right about that, but I suspect he is.

I think tapeless acquisition is going to be as huge a change in workflow as back in the day, when we went from 16mm film to videotape in news.

With film, it took so long to thread the film-chain that the news department had to have almost all the news stories edited and spliced together in a long reel before the newscast started. Using tape allowed pieces to be edited just before being played to air--a huge workflow change.

Tapeless means nonlinear access to the media, possibly by several workstations, as soon as it enters the editing system. That should be a huge advantage to newscast producers, especially those who are serving several outlets at once.

But it's going to take some practice.