Newsroom design is more than happenstance

Mar 3, 2003  •  Post A Comment

HLW International calls its concept the “Newsroom of the Future.” Don’t let the name fool you.
The 118-year-old architecture firm has fashioned a blueprint for a new-age newsroom that’s less about high-tech gadgetry and space-age techno-tools and more about flexibility and workflow.
While server technology that allows centralized information sharing makes the newsroom of the future possible, the concept revolves around the use of space rather than the use of technology, said John Gering, managing partner for HLW International in New York.
The newsroom of the future will need a flexible environment that accommodates change, will integrate technology and will be cost-competitive, he said. The firm has designed broadcast facilities for Fox News Channel, NBC’s New York owned-and-operated station WNBC-TV and NY1, among others, that incorporate elements of this futuristic design concept. In addition, the firm is currently designing and building a new facility for ESPN in Bristol, Conn. Largely modeled on the firm’s notion of a newsroom of the future, the facility is slated to go live in 2004.
Design evolution
The HLW concept evolved from the broadcast television newsroom, which grew up in the mid-20th century around the simple image of a desk and chair for the anchor. As news became more global in the 1970s, studio design focused on the control board and editing facilities for remote feeds. Now, the growth of media conglomerates with multiple news outlets and digital television, has made the next generation concept possible, Mr. Gering said. The newsroom of the future has at its heart a centralized hub with an easily accessible news or assignment desk. “Many newsrooms have an editorial desk hooked against a wall vs. having it in the center of the newsroom, so the physical location becomes like a magnet,” Mr. Gering said. “What we’ve been looking at in the newsroom environment is to get people to come in from the boundaries to the center and conduct their business.”
WNBC has, for instance, a round desk in the center of its newsroom, with ingest and playback right next to it, said Joe Berini, director of the broadcast and entertainment group at HLW. The various show units are situated like spokes, he said.
When NY1 moved into its new facility a year ago, HLW based the design on the new hub idea. The sixth floor, which houses the newsroom and the studio, is designed like an “L.” Where the two lines of the Lintersect is the assignment desk, said Joe Truncale, director of operations and engineering at NY1. The assignment desk is then both practically and physically the hub of the news operation. The desk’s location next to master control and ingest allows assignment editors to lean back and talk to folks in those areas.
“The assignment desk can say to ingest, `We have a satellite feed coming in. Can you start to record?”’ Mr. Truncale said.
Along the two lines of the L are edit bays, reporter desks, management offices, producer pods and the control room. The open studio, which has only two walls, is located in the center of the L. This openness encourages communication and allows producers to simply turn around to talk to the anchors. The layout enables NY1 to show on-air the activity in the newsroom during teases.
“There are no real offices on the floor, and it’s a better way to communicate because you don’t need to go to someone’s office. All main important communication is in one central area,” Mr. Truncale said.
Flexibility is also a key element in the newsroom of the future. That’s something that is found in Fox News Channel’s newsroom in New York designed by HLW. The newsroom contains a large U-shaped desk that allows about 15 journalists to sit along the outside.
When the facility was built, HLW also outfitted the inside of the desk with the capability to accommodate 15 additional computer terminals and chairs so that the capacity could be doubled with computers back to back during breaking news events and situations where the network needs to beef up its resources temporarily.
“We design desks that hide equipment and cabling underneath when terminals aren’t in use,” said Mr. Gering.
Such flexibility is also evident in the work HLW is doing for the new ESPN studio, which will most closely approximate the firm’s futuristic vision. The network’s cable, radio and Internet editorial operations will be consolidated into one building. “They are all in different buildings now, so they are duplicating technology, cabling, equipment. Now they are bringing everyone together to produce,” Mr. Gering said.
Pooling resources allows the different divisions to invest once in the best technology that can be shared rather than duplicate equipment purchases. While ESPN is still in the process of making planning and equipment decisions, the digital facility will include three production-size control rooms, four edit-control rooms and three studios, each measuring between 3,400 and 9,200 square feet. It will also include an “ingest theater” as the central hub, where about 50 people will view and tag with metadata the more than 200 hours of content that come in every day, according to an ESPN spokesperson.
The hub can expand to accommodate 80 and will house producers, editors and the assignment desk, Mr. Gering said.
Above the central news desk, TV monitors will hang from the ceiling. The room’s configuration is largely octagonal with more desks, terminals and workspaces along the perimeter.
Ultimately, the television newsroom of the future will work best for giant media conglomerates with multiple news outlets that want to consolidate all of their editorial operations, he added.