A revolution in the television newsrooms

Videotape is about to hit the cutting-room floor at the BBC and ITN, says Niall McKay
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The BBC and ITN are about to introduce computer technology into the newsroom that will revolutionise the process of broadcast news. Over the next couple of years, they will replace videotape equipment with computer technology. The development will enable them to reduce staffing levels and put the technical task of reporting the news into the hands of journalists.

Until now, news has been recorded on to videotape, which is then edited or cut into a news report in a cutting room or editing suite by a technician. While the technician arranges the sequence of the pictures, the journalist writes the script and then records the soundtrack. The tape is then taken to the news editor, who approves the report and schedules it for broadcast. Finally, it is taken to the transmission room, loaded into a tape player and played at the given time.

However, new technology being demonstrated at the International Broadcast Conference in Amsterdam last month is set to change all this. A host of broadcast equipment manufacturers were courting most of the major European broadcasters and offering them digital newsroom systems.

As a result of new camera technology (from the computer-based video company Avid and the Japanese camera manufacturer Ikegami), broadcasters can now dispense with videotape altogether and record on to a special disk-based camera. The disk is taken back to the newsroom and downloaded instantly to a computer server. With the new Electronic News Gathering (ENG) systems, each journalist will have a multimedia PC and will call up the video footage from the server to his or her desktop. The journalist will then cut and paste the footage as one would with a word-processing document.

When the report is complete, the journalist will record the soundtrack on to the report and the finished product will be stored on the server, where the news editor will approve and schedule it. The report will be broadcast from the server, reducing a laborious process of several stages into a quick and simple job.

Anita Sinclair, technical director with the UK-based computer editing company Lightworks, believes the technology will revolutionise broadcasting. "Disk-based systems have no moving parts, are easier to maintain and cheaper," she said.

BBC and ITN technicians will not be so pleased. "This may not necessarily make them all redundant," says Roger Bolton, general secretary of Bectu, the union representing the technicians, "but there will be a serious need for training and new career paths in the next couple of years."

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