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Thursday, 21 June 2012 09:44

Digital Technology Brings New Editing Possibilities

Written by  Gordon Meyer
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After nearly 20 years of cutting news footage for the Los Angeles independent station KCAL-TV, News Editor Tom Novak has pretty much seen it all, including the changes of the station’s ownership from Disney to Young Broadcasting to current owner CBS (which has maintained the station’s independent status). As one of five editors working on the multiple evening news broadcasts, Novak notes that two of the biggest changes involve the way raw footage is captured and the increasingly rapid turnaround time made possible by digital technology.


When Novak started working in the newsroom in the mid-1990s, his footage came from a mere handful of sources and were pretty much always in the same format, whether it was a wire service feed or something shot by the station’s in-house camera crews. “Now the general public is shooting and bringing us stuff on DVCPRO, MiniDV and footage from their phones, which we need to make look fluid so we can incorporate it into the news,” Novak explains. “With all the new technology, there are a lot of different formats we need to work with and piece together.” 

At the start of Novak’s career, the standard procedure was for news writers to provide the editors with scripts. “We’d be handed a script and time the shots to the script based on how many seconds each shot was supposed to run,” he says. Under that system, Novak and his fellow editors had a lot of creative input as to how those shots were cut together. Now, since both the news writers and editors have simultaneous access to the raw footage through a server system, the writers usually specify not only the running time of each segment, but also the specific footage they want to use. Today, Novak says he no longer even touches tape while pulling everything off the server.

Although Novak uses an Apple Final Cut Pro editing system at home for his personal and freelance work, KCAL-TV is equipped with the Grass Valley Aurora high-speed non-linear editing system for Microsoft Windows 7 and Windows XP because it’s “built for news and is really fast.” Novak notes that systems like Final Cut or Avid are still better for projects that require multiple simultaneous effects, as more complex visuals will render faster with Final Cut or Avid, while the Aurora system is a speed demon that’s optimized for a newsroom environment’s often simple, streamlined visuals and editing. The Aurora’s speed is critical when there’s a breaking news story. “There are moments when a reporter will feed a story for the 10 p.m. newscast as late as 9:56, and we’ll have to drop in a video or add a sound bite in less than three minutes,” Novak explains. In spite of that kind of pressure, Novak loves what he does: “As long as stations like KCAL use news editors, I’ll be doing it.”

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