TV Times They Are A-Changing

I’ve been in the television news business going on 14 years. It’s hard to believe that because it seemed like just yesterday as a college graduate I pestered the Human Resources Coordinator at WKYC for a part-time job on the news assignment desk at the old building at 1403 East Sixth Street in Cleveland. It was one of Bob Tayek’s last duties as Managing Editor to hire two desk assistants. Pat Kilkenney and I got the nod to fill the positions at “the desk”.

We didn’t have computers with Windows. We did have BASYS, a newsroom computing system that NBC bought for all of its “O & O’s” (owned and operated stations) back in the 1990’s. You had your choice of colors for monitors, blue on black or amber on black. There were no flashy graphics, just text. Don’t worry about a mouse, there wasn’t one. No Internet at all. If you wanted a fact, you had to look it up in the “factsheets” section of the computer or call someone on the phone. Yes, I’m talking about just 14 years ago.

We talked via a two-way radio for basic communication with the reporters and crews in the field. We were lucky to have an encrypted signal so our competition couldn’t listen to what we were saying or where crews were going. Forget about cell phones, some people had them but they weren’t mobile. They were car phones at this point because they certainly weren’t something you wanted to carry with you. Most people mainly carried their pagers and if you were lucky, you had one that was alpha-numeric . This was the advent of the technology age for television newsrooms. Of course, technology was running rampant in the production departments but the news departments were still awaiting what Microsoft and the Internet would bring to newsgathering.

Now, it’s almost impossible to keep up with the technology. At WDIV in Detroit, each newscast producer has two monitors so they can see the rundown (the schedule of what’s happening during each newscast), the news wires and the Internet. They also have the ability to edit video from their desktops. When I was there, it was beneficial to have that ability. Sometimes it was simply helping out editors who were crashing a package (a reporter’s story) or just because you knew the video and wanted to make sure you got the shots you wanted.

Gone are the days of storing big and bulky video cassettes, they are bigger than VHS in some cases. Now many stations are transferring that video over to DVD’s. They are easy to catalog, take up so much less space and you don’t have to worry time taken its toll on them. At WEWS, we’re even close to doing away with DVC Pro tapes. They aren’t that big at all but the next generation has almost arrived. Soon our photographers will shoot on cameras with internal hard drives. After coming back from a story, they’ll copy over the video much like you would a file on your home computer. That video will be accessible from any other computer and multiple users can use it at the same time.

Reporters and photographers will have their own laptops that they’ll be able to access the newsroom software, currently iNews, from the field. No more calling a producer and dictating a script by cell phone. Now, they can type their script directly into the rundown just like they were at the station. Photographers can take their video in the field and ingest it into their laptop, edit it, then send it back to the station for the newscast. I know there’s been the prediction of one man bands but I still think you need two people to do this correctly.

Coming soon, the Internet’s effect on newsgathering and producing newscasts.

Todd’s listening to: The Smiths – How Soon Is Now