The ultimate newsroom

Apr 8, 2002  •  Post A Comment

New products roll out, equipment breaks down and newsroom needs change. Those are challenges television station engineers and news executives face every day, but what if you could start over and build your ideal newsroom from the ground up?
That’s what Electronic Media asked TV station engineers, news executives and equipment manufacturers to do-dream up their ultimate TV newsroom, with cost being no object and the only limits being those of the mind.
This exercise in imagination wasn’t always easy, since broadcasters are concentrating at the moment on maximizing revenues by using equipment and people more efficiently. “It’s hard to escape reality,” said Ken Manley, director of engineering for KTVU-TV and KICU-TV in Oakland, Calif. “Fantasyland is wonderful, but the whole industry is focused on cost-effective procedures now.”
Still, he and others allowed their reveries to overtake reality for a moment and envisioned a technical wonderland within a TV station. Picking best of breed wasn’t the only factor in their choices. They also considered how the products interfaced with other systems and vendors, the products’ track records, support afforded by suppliers and whether products would still be in favor within a few years. Some of the products in the ideal newsroom don’t even exist yet.
If engineers and general managers could come to a consensus and offer a shopping list, it would surely include an Electronic News Production System from the Associated Press for the newsroom computer system, an Ikegami or Sony camera for the studio, a Quantel Paintbox for graphics and a Grass Valley Group server.
Beyond that, it’s up for grabs.
Newsroom computer system
This is the brain of the news department. It is the system that manages news gathering, planning and creation and handles wire copy, rundowns and scripts. Avid and the Associated Press are the two main players in this area, offering the iNews system (which evolved from NewStar) and ENPS, respectively.
Tribune Co., which operates 23 stations, currently relies on ENPS and would continue to do so in an ideal newsroom, said Ira Goldstone, the media company’s VP of engineering and technology in Los Angeles. “Its implementation of MOS gives a me a lot of flexibility in choosing a variety of vendors for other product areas,” he said. MOS refers to media object server, a communications protocol for newsroom computers and broadcast production equipment.
The National Geographic Channel, which built its newsroom just over a year ago and considers it as close to ideal as possible, also relies on ENPS. The use of the MOS protocol is a selling point, said Ben Kretchmar, director of technical operations, news, for the network, based in Washington. In addition, the AP is just a few blocks away from the National Geographic studios, which makes installation and support that much easier, he said.
Despite all the kudos for ENPS, iNews, which also supports the MOS protocol, is still a strong player in newsroom computer systems, said Jeffrey Polikoff, director of operations and engineering with NY1 News in New York. However, NY1 News has installed ENPS in its state-of-the-art newsroom.

While Sony, Philips, Panasonic and Ikegami are all sound, most engineers would opt for either an Ikegami or a Sony camera. “They’re the best,” said Andrew Wilk, executive VP, programming, production and news for National Geographic Channel, referring to Ikegami.
Kelly Alford, VP of engineering for Seattle’s Ackerley Media Group, which owns 19 stations around the country, said you can’t go wrong with either brand. “I really like Ikegami. It makes a very cost-effective and high-quality studio camera. Sony is [also] very good,” he said.
“Sony, Philips, Ikegami-they all make beautiful products,” said Mr. Polikoff, adding that he has a great rapport with Phillips and would likely use that company’s products in his ideal newsroom.
Wallace Tidwell, director of engineering for WAWS-TV and WTEV-TV in Jacksonville, Fla., said the duopoly has used Sony extensively in the past. “If you have a problem you can get help, but you don’t need it as much as with others,” he said.
Grass Valley Group’s Profile XP Media Platform video server was the top pick.
“We’ve been happy with Profile,” said Mr. Manley, adding that Avid’s AirSPACE is also a good choice.
Grass Valley Group’s server is tried-and-true, Mr. Wilk said. National Geographic is currently using several Profiles.
Dependability and track record are the top reasons for picking Grass Valley Group, Mr. Tidwell said. “Very few people have anything bad to say about them,” he said.
While engineers are often prone to sticking with a vendor they like, that can be a mistake, said Mr. Polikoff, who professes to be manufacturer-agnostic. “I think it’s a game of leapfrog, because it changes every year. Two years ago it was Leitch. This year it’s Pinnacle, because they have the desktop capability I need, but next year it could be Leitch,” he said.
Mr. Alford offers a dissenting opinion. “I think servers in a news environment aren’t the panacea that a lot of news directors think they are, because you always have tape coming in the back door and don’t have time to get it on the server. With live breaking news, there’s not much benefit to a server. I would rather pay the tape operator to load tape,” he said.
Asset management systems and centralized storage
Most asset management systems available today don’t offer an ideal solution, engineers agreed. Mr. Alford described his vision for an asset management system. “I envision the ability for a reporter to sit at the workstation and look up an archived story based on several search criteria and be able to view a low-resolution version of that story on their desktop. In a perfect world [I would like] the ability to go into the field, shoot a story, record all the information, type in the metadata at the shoot and have that carry through to editing, playback and archiving. There are currently no end-to-end solutions for metadata in the cameras to the archive and seamlessly supporting that,” he said.
National Geographic uses Convera asset management and archiving, but in an ideal world would like such a system to interface directly with its centralized storage in Profile servers, Mr. Kretchmar said.
Avid’s Unity for News system does handle asset management and centralized storage, said Jim Frantzreb, senior product marketing manager with Avid. The system is better equipped to handle newscasts, because of its speed and ability to interface with other systems, rather than long-term storage or library needs, he said.
The area of asset management is still very fuzzy, said Matt Danilowicz, VP, business development, for ParkerVision. In addition to Avid, three other systems available today allow for centralized storage coupled with newsroom production, he said. Grass Valley Group offers a combination of products to create such a system; Quantel offers Clipbox; and Sony provides Sony NewsBase. Most are better suited for immediate storage rather than archival needs, he said.
“Clipbox and Sony would be top of list as being best of breed and being integrated with themselves. Grass Valley Group and Avid have better individual components,” he said.
Tribune uses Sony NewsBase, which combines a video server with asset management, in some of its stations. The stations that are interconnected with each other and with some of Tribune’s newspapers, as well as with associated Web sites, can move assets and share content through Sony NewsBase’s drag-and-drop interface, said Dave Underhill, VP,intergroup development, for Tribune. “We want to be interoperable and work as smartly as we can,” he said.
Having such a centralized system is becoming more critical as duopolies become more common, Mr. Danilowicz said. “I would sure be looking at my newsroom in such a way that it was easily expandable and allowed me to repurpose, because there’s a chance I could be part of a duopoly in the future,” he said.
Audio consoles
TV stations have a l
ot of strong choices for audio consoles. Mr. Goldstone likes boards from Euphonix, though the needs vary widely depending on the size of the market. National Geographic relies on equipment from AMS Neve. Wheatstone offers a good solution that isn’t too complex, Mr. Tidwell said. Mr. Manley likes Neve and Solid State Logic, which he said offers “capable and robust” consoles.
Nearly unanimous was the choice of engineers to purchase a Quantel Paintbox for their ultimate newsroom. The system is used in 1,300 TV stations around the world and is widely considered to be an industry standard. “We’ve been a Quantel house for some time. We’re happy with them,” Mr. Manley said.
Simplicity of use, speed and customization are the key features, Mr. Goldstone said. The only drawback is it doesn’t integrate easily with other systems, he said.
To automate the live production of a newscast, Mr. Alford said he would use ParkerVision’s system in all his stations.
Harris and Omnibus provide good solutions for newsroom automation, Mr. Polikoff said. A Harris system leverages Internet technology and standards architecture, which makes it appealing, Mr. Goldstone said.
And most of all, people
While technology can make a newsroom whiz, the most important tool in a newsroom is probably the toughest to find and the most low-tech-good people. “Technology isn’t worth anything if you don’t have people to run it,” Mr. Tidwell said. “I want dependability and I want people. I’m a big believer in people power.”
Mr. Polikoff agreed that a station needs good people to produce a quality product. “I don’t think we’ll ever have the ideal newsroom,” he said. “The ideal newsroom is when people come to work and they are very happy.”