The 23-station group is moving to improve efficiency and quality by centralizing major graphics production and deploying Chyron’s AXIS, a system that empowers just about everybody in the newsroom to produce everyday graphics.
Since taking on the top job at Gannett Broadcasting just over a year ago, David Lougee has been working to improve efficiency while improving quality across the 23-station group.
Never an easy trick.
But Lougee hopes he can pull it off this fall by centralizing major graphics production at KUSA Denver in the Gannett Graphics Group (G3) and deploying Chyron’s AXIS, a system that empowers just about everybody in the newsroom to produce everyday graphics.
“Now we don’t have to replicate the same stuff 19 times,” says Lougee. “The result is a lot higher output — and better graphics, especially for our smaller stations and for fringe newscasts which now have access to a talent pool beyond their previous budget or personnel.”
And, of course, the initiative will reduce costs.
Half of G3’s staff of 10 full-time artist-designers will be new hires, and the other half will be relocated from other Gannett stations. But 30 other positions will be eliminated company-wide — all of them from graphics.
Obviating the need for so many graphic specialists is Chyron’s AXIS, a Web-based graphics platform that simplifies the creation of news graphics, charts, maps and animation.
“The focus is on ease-of-use,” says Todd Martin, Chyron’s VP of AXIS Operations. “It lets producers, reporters, even production assistants, create high-quality graphics for their newscast or Web site. And because AXIS is Web-based, they can work from any computer — at their desk or on their laptop, at home or straight from a live shot.”
Employees will create these graphics from a shared database of templates specially designed for Gannett by Pyburn Films, which invented the AXIS system.
In fact, Gannett was already working with Pyburn President Randy Pyburn when Chyron purchased the AXIS technology last January.
Pyburn remains a consultant to Chyron and Gannett, and Pyburn Films has designed the new graphic look soon to debut at all 23 Gannett stations.
That common visual design is key to maximizing efficiency, because stations will now share each other’s news graphics over the AXIS servers.
Previously a big national story would often trigger the creation of unique, but functionally identical news graphics by every Gannett art department.
In addition to a shared, searchable database of graphics from all Gannett stations, the AXIS system can also connect to the huge Associated Press image database, mapping data from Microsoft MapPoint and NASA, financial data from Thomson Reuters, and other resources.
Station news personnel will use AXIS to generate the bulk of their daily graphics, charts and maps. More complex projects (such as show opens, news series and promo animation, or graphic re-enactments in lieu of video) will now be created by G3.
Overseeing the production of that unique content is 24-year Gannett veteran Asa Darrow, director of production at KUSA and now project manager for G3.
“The goal has been to give stations as much autonomy as possible while reducing workload,” Darrow says. “AXIS allows you to modify existing graphics, even complicated animation, with local imagery.”
In addition to news, G3 will also create graphics for each Gannett station’s creative services department. As an example, Darrow points to the 11 Gannett stations that support the annual Race for the Cure for breast cancer.
“Instead of 11 different promos with limited budgets, it makes more sense to produce one really beautiful promo that can be customized with local talent, scenery and text.”
In that instance, stations send their local video and text to G3, which will assemble a customized version for each station and deliver them electronically.
Each Gannett creative services employee will be trained to use a standardized software “toolkit,” enabling them to customize promos for syndicated shows and anything else on their air.
Ironically, all this local customization depends upon each Gannett station adhering to the unified graphic look, custom-designed by AXIS-inventor Pyburn Films, which is best known for its identity packages and promotions for networks and stations, most notably WNBC’s classic We’re 4 New York campaign.
“Technology and efficiency aside, what I care most about is the look and it’s value to the network or station’s success,” Pyburn says.
“Gannett could easily have repurposed one of their existing graphics packages but Dave Lougee wanted a fresh design that improves the look of all their stations,” Pyburn adds.
That new on-air look will share a common typeface and general configuration. But to provide a greater degree of creative freedom, Pyburn Films will deliver all graphic elements in two color palettes — one favoring red tones, the other blue.
Both versions will be tested on the air in the near future on two Gannett stations which Lougee declined to name, although previous reports have mentioned KUSA Denver and WLTX Columbia, S.C.
Each AXIS system graphic is stored as a “composite” of three active “graphic zones,” each of which can be customized by any authorized employee.
For example, a morning news producer can find a presidential debate graphic, import it into “creator mode” and substitute and reposition the main image, change the headline or modify the graphic background.
Similarly, an over-the-shoulder graphic could be adapted to serve as the basis for a full-screen chart or list of bullet points.
To see a demonstration of the AXIS system in operation, click here.
To ensure that all Gannett stations get their fair share of original custom-designed graphics, G3’s Darrow will institute a monthly point system, based partly on such factors as market size, lead time and urgency of local news.
On rare occasions, he says, “we may have so much breaking news in so many markets that we can’t handle all the requests. If so, we’ll prioritize production based solely on news judgments.”
Chryon emphasizes that the AXIS system does not require Chyron hardware to function. As a Web-based service, AXIS is platform-agnostic and is compatible with all major graphics creation and playback systems. The Gannett stations employ Avid’s DEKO.
The AXIS software cannot be purchased. It’s a subscription service with sliding fees ranging between “a few hundred” to “several thousand dollars per month” — depending on the number of features ordered, market size and whether the station is part of a group-wide deal, according Chyron’s Martin.
According to Darrow, the G3 production center runs chiefly on high-end Apple Macintosh computers.
Workflow and content delivery is managed by Apple’s Final Cut Server software, the system pioneered by CBS’s Los Angeles duopoly, KCBS and KCAL.
Martin is confident that Gannett’s transition to a centralized graphics operation will not merely be cost effective, but also smooth. “Gannett is using AXIS to eliminate the repetitive ‘factory work’ of local graphics production.”
Pyburn agrees. “Everyday graphics can be generated using AXIS. But there will always be a need for original design. There may be fewer designers at a TV station, but they’ll be focusing on the really creative work.”
Contributing Editor Arthur Greenwald frequently writes about technology and new media for TVNewsCheck, where he also writes the weekly Market Share column every Monday. He can be reached at mailto:[email protected].