Armed with a “prosumer” camera and a laptop, video journalists shoot and edit their own stories and then can file from Starbucks.
Young Broadcasting’s video journalist initiative at KRON San Francisco is motivated by a simple goal—gather more news stories and video without increasing costs.
“San Francisco, like a lot of metropolitan areas, has a lot of news that’s very local—a lot of small areas that have their own identity who felt pretty underserved by the large metropolitan news broadcast, so that was a pretty significant part of the goal,” says Craig Porter, KRON director of engineering. “So for basically the same cost, we’ve got at least twice as many people on the streets.”
The video journalist operates solo. Armed with an inexpensive “prosumer” camera and laptop computer for editing, he shoots the video by himself. He can then assemble the story on the laptop and send it back to the station over whatever broadband Internet link he can find, which might be the “hot spot” at the Starbucks around the corner.
The move to VJs also involves a big change in the newsroom—a move from taped-based storage and editing to filed-based workflow. At the heart of the workflow is the BitCentral Precis News Production System, a tapeless archive. Stories from the field are dumped in the system, where producers can access them and prepare them for air.
KRON has gone from eight expensive news vans with two-person crews to 45 autonomous video journalists roaming the streets in a fleet of compact Pontiac Vibes.
“The cost to equip a VJ is between $15,000 and $20,000 and that includes his camera, the computer, the editing equipment and everything else that goes into it. A traditional ENG camera [alone] can be $40,000-plus,” says Young CFO James Morgan.
According to Porter, the file-based workflow at the station allows the station to reduce the number of “process people”—those involved in recording feeds, logging tapes, linear editing, tape playback and archiving tapes.
Being able to send stories over broadband links also saves time and money. Plus, reporters are no longer constrained by microwave coverage areas. The station still operates a few microwave vans for the live shoots.)
“Probably the biggest controversy is that it’s a very threatening change for our industry, and we really came up with two types of people at the station—ones that jumped in with both feet, and those that didn’t,” he says. “But KRON staff quickly learned the change isn’t so much in the technology as it is in your head.”
For acquisition, the station is using a variety of formats, including the new Sony HVR-Z1 HDV camera, a lightweight $5,000 HDV/Mini-DV camcorder that is considered a high-end prosumer camera. (The station isn’t using them in HDV mode, but rather in the 25 Mbps SD mode).
When the journalist is finished editing, he saves his work as an 8 Mbps Long-GOP MPEG-2 file—a file that is small enough to send over broadband links.
For editing, KRON went with Canopus’ Edius nonlinear editing software, in the field and in the newsroom.
“When I mention Canopus,” says Porter, “people say, ÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œwho?’ It was kind of an unusual product. We used it for a couple of reasons. One is that it worked very well with Long-GOP MPEG. It edited very cleanly and the users can dump any kind of video or audio into the timeline.”
Another reason is that it’s easy to learn, Porter says. “There seemed to be the assumption that non-linear editing systems were so difficult to use that they could only be used by specially skilled individuals,” he says. “However … anyone with interest and desire to edit could learn quickly and soon edit video as adeptly as they use word processors and spreadsheets.”
Training was done in two two-day courses, and, within a week, most of the reporters were doing all their own work. “In a lot of cases we found that reporters were already pretty savvy in terms of editing their pieces, and you really can’t tell for sure who will be successful at it and who will not,” Porter says.
But training is an ongoing challenge for the company.
“One of the things that’s been difficult for us is this continual training as new people come into the office. It’s pretty important to have somebody in your facility who’s dedicated to training and answering questions,” he says.
Every workstation at the station is now equipped with Edius, just as every computer in an office might have Word and Outlook. Even the public affairs and sales department have it so they can pick up video from the archives and edit their own content, Porter says.
The archives are managed by the BitCentral Precis system, which allows immediate access to all content stored on it since it went into operation last fall. Precis has been integrated with Edius as well as with Avid iNews, which manages the rundown going to air.
The whole system is so tightly integrated that it is technically possible to file a story from the field directly into the rundown going to air, but management has decided that a producer had better watch each segment first.
“The system captures all the script data and that data is embedded into the video as metadata,” Porter says. “That’s really a huge plus for us. It means that itÃƒÆ’Ã‚Â¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚Â¬Ãƒâ€¹Ã…â€œs easily searchable so you can actually search for phrases in the script of the story.”
The entire transition from installing a BitCentral Precis system to being fully operational with 45 VJs in the field took less than four months.
Today, because there is so much content being submitted, the station can be choosy about what it broadcasts, Porter says. About 30% of the stories filed never make it to air, he says.
The technology is changing the journalism, Porter says. VJs are focusing more on beats, and they have begun developing unique styles and voices.
For Porter, the next big challenge will be converting to HD. While the system is designed with HD in mind, submitting HD content, even over broadband, is still a challenge. “To be honest, the biggest struggle for me is figuring out how to get HD stuff in from the field,” Porter says.
Young has also deployed VJs at its station in Nashville, WKRN, and is considering them for its other eight network affiliated stations.