News departments tap into high-tech

Jan 7, 2002  •  Post A Comment

When the former DeKalb County (Ga.) sheriff was in court recently for a bond hearing on charges that he orchestrated the murder of Sheriff-elect Derwin Brown, WSB-TV’s reporter inside the courtroom kept in constant touch with the newsroom using a two-way text-messaging pager.
“It made all the difference,” said Mike Dreaden, managing editor at ABC affiliate WSB, Atlanta. “This is a big story. If we’d had to wait for a break in the hearing to communicate with our reporter, it would have made planning much more difficult.”
The little two-way text-messaging pagers aren’t the only new high-tech devices helping newsrooms operate more efficiently. Tiny penlike scanners copy and store public documents for transfer into the computer system, eliminating the expense of copying and making the devices ideal for police blotters and court records.
Many reporters are using Palm Pilots and portable fold-up keyboards that cost less than $100. And portable digital notepads allow reporters to take handwritten notes, which are automatically scanned as they’re written.
Cellphones and digital two-way radios can transmit entire news stories and pictures from the field to the newsroom, a capability that allows WSB reporters to stay in the field most of the day.
Mr. Dreaden said the station has 11 live trucks. Reporters get their assignments in the morning, and most won’t return to the newsroom until the end of their day, filing their stories from a laptop in a microwave truck that is connected to a cellphone. It dials directly into WSB’s Avid computer system.
“It gives us a real advantage,” Mr. Dreaden said. “They don’t worry about rushing back. They don’t tie up someone in the newsroom with dictation, and it really helps the people who have to approve copy back in the newsroom.”
Many of these new technologies are also credited with saving newsrooms money.
KPIX-TV in San Francisco expects to save at least 40 percent on its cellphone bill by using Nextel.
“The bill is less and we’ve been able to add more users,” said KPIX News Operations Manager Don Ford.
Nextel’s iDen technology gives the San Francisco CBS newsroom two-way walkie-talkie capability as well as text messaging and cellphone service. Tethered to laptops, the Nextel phones can even transmit text to the newsroom.
“If I need to talk to everyone in the field at once, I can do that,” Mr. Ford said. “And if a reporter needs to make a phone call from the field, he can do that. And we save money.”
And time is indeed money, says Bill Burke, product manager for ENPS, the Associated Press electronic news production system.
“News-gathering innovations are important,” Mr. Burke said, “but for my money, the real revolution is coming in object-based news, which can be defined by saying all your media, regardless of what it is or where it’s living, will be moved around on one server and treated like a computer file.”
For example, he points to the interaction between Chicago’s WGN-TV and local cable news network CLTV, both owned by Tribune.
“They can navigate between the two systems essentially with a drag-and-drop command, moving material from one server to another, whether it’s a still or a whole story,” he said. “What would it take in the old days if you wanted videotape from a sister station? You’d have to call the other station, book a satellite window, get people to take the feed. The process would involve 10 people before it was all over with and tie up a couple of hours. Now it can be done in a couple of seconds.”