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Evolution of news workflows

flujos de trabajo noticias

As digital news production and distribution arrived more than 20 years ago, so did an important piece of the puzzle designed to approach the service of this agenda: the publication of the MOS protocol.

Michael Goldman*

When it comes to news production workflows and collaboration, the streaming industry has long sought methods to work remotely more smoothly while also trying to keep up with the need to efficiently send content to an increasing number of radically different consumer viewing platforms.

In the opinion of industry veteran Andy Wormser, director of support and project management for the ENPS and Playbook of the Associated Press (AP), the sudden and devastating arrival of the Covid-19 pandemic has had a great impact on those activities: the search for solutions has accelerated and intensified.

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"When I was news director, we had regular conversations about 'let's keep our teams on the field as much as we can,'" Wormser recalls. "For some time now, there's been a push to make everything more cloud-based, more digital, in terms of editing and other things, while keeping teams in the field for faster production. But before the pandemic, there were limits to the places we, as an industry, thought we could go. We didn't think we could push all the editing in the field, or pressure our producers and directors to work regularly from home. It just wasn't feasible. And then the pandemic came along and everyone had to go home immediately, while the demand for news was huge.

"So that changed the way the industry looked at the question of how to work remotely. Now, the answer simply can't be "no." The question now is, "How can we?" how can we allow teams to work entirely remotely, alongside our producers and broadcast directors? A huge effort has quickly been made to adapt to that. Now, we can work completely remotely. This has changed the way we think about what the right mix of people is in the field and in the building."

At the same time, Wormser adds that the number of platforms broadcasters have to take their news to "has simply skyrocketed," further complicating things.

"Today, even in small markets, news broadcasters are on the air for several hours a day, and then you have to add the website, Facebook, Twitter, TikTok, Instagram and others," he says. "The problem has been that all of these competing channels have needed their own authorship solution for the same stories and other forms of media content. In other words, today, if I have a story to publish, I now need to create it in several different solutions. At the most basic level, I take text and combine it with some kind of medium, and then send it to all these different platforms. At AP, we've spent a lot of time in newsrooms, watching users. What we've seen is news people using all sorts of different tools, with multiple browser windows open at the same time. That just slows everything down in terms of finding information and being on top of the new elements that are coming."

Therefore, "the more we can find a single solution for content creation on different platforms, the more our storytelling will benefit, no matter what platform people are using to consume the content." Conceptually, the goal here is to "create content in one place and be able to publish it in many places," Wormser emphasizes.

As the production and distribution of digital news arrived more than 20 years ago, so did an important piece of the puzzle designed to approach the service of this agenda: the publication of the Media Object Server ( MOS) protocol. This development allowed computer writing systems (NCS) to communicate with a variety of production-related digital tools, such as video and audio servers, character generators, and more, using a common communication protocol.

"It was certainly an important standard development," says Wormser. "MOS was developed as a way for various writing systems to integrate with all sorts of other production devices without having to do custom development for each new version of those devices that came along. This gave us a more plug-and-play approach with vendor teams for newsrooms."

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However, Wormser adds that as technology advanced, a wide range of web browser-based tools for news content creators emerged in the form of low-cost or free applications. Many of these are consumer-type applications or prosumers for more people than just news professionals: software tools that developers routinely update every few months or so. As Wormser explained in a recent article in SMPTE Motion Imaging Journal, this development, while producing useful tools for the industry, resulted in "market fragmentation" for users, meaning that "workflows are also fragmented." Therefore, integrating these new tools into a news organization's unified content management system (CMS) can prove difficult and expensive.

Major news organizations like AP are constantly striving to improve integration processes, Wormser says. He notes that AP has been using and selling to customers around the world a sophisticated news production system called ENPS for more than two decades. ENPS is a system designed to integrate a wide range of tools, communicate efficiently throughout your organization, manage and combine multiple forms of media in one interface, and so on. More recently, AP added a unified planning solution to the mix: a solution called AP Playbook, which uses a single interface to allow news content creators to make assignments more organically for all platforms and formats, and seamlessly communicate that information across the organization.

"Playbook was our first foray into solutions that focus on cross-platform use from the beginning," he says. "It's a planning solution that's truly independent of the type of output. This allows us to more easily bring our diverse global teams together, and has saved enormous amounts of effort when trying to plan on a global scale. Now, everyone in the organization can see what's happening and then filter that data for what's most important to them."

digital However, more work needs to be done across the industry to achieve true modularity between writing systems and this plethora of new tools and software applications to achieve fundamentally optimized news workflows, he suggests.

"For streaming workflows, we're already there," he says. "Our ENPS system is the main driver of newsroom organization and planning. But you can also connect a graphics device, video server, video editor or teleprompter. Thanks to the MOS Protocol, these types of elements are plug-and-play.

"Playbook will connect with the next AP creation solution. If your organization has its own authoring solution, you can link it to Playbook. If you have your own planning solution, you will be able to use our next authoring solution. That functionality is there. And it's an idea that builds very well on the world of apps. But the other aspect of modularity is that there are so many free model solutions out there today, so now you see a lot of writing technology growing from the ground up, rather than the other way around, which was the traditional approach."

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Wormser points to the example of instant communication tools in newsrooms. Of course, there are all sorts of options for that app. But the best way to integrate them into a creation tool and a larger workflow system isn't as clear, he says.

"A producer, digital editor, reporter or photographer is looking for a solution to something that bothers them," he explains. "They eventually find a useful messaging app like a free version of Slack, which can provide unlimited group chat channels within their system. Then they start using it to facilitate messaging. That's great, except now everyone has a separate tool for messaging. And there are many other tools like that, like Microsoft Teams. For various applications, there are literally hundreds or even thousands of individual applications that are used. So, the idea is that it wouldn't be as productive for us to try to recreate Slack or Microsoft Teams to put everyone back into a proprietary communication system. Instead, it would be more valuable for us to provide a bridge to work seamlessly with all those solutions. I want to be able to connect my communication tool, whether for messaging or other things, to other tools and use them all seamlessly. That's an important thing our industry is working on."

Then, Wormser adds, for other types of tasks, the industry is looking for tools that are essentially API middleware solutions to enable automation and content sharing. He points to tools like Zapier, a cloud-based platform designed to allow end users to integrate multiple web applications, and IFTT, a web-based subscription service designed to achieve similar integration, as examples. Both journalists and content creators around the world now routinely use both, and some others, Wormser emphasizes.

"If you were to try to get a developer to stitch together every new system you want to integrate through APIs, it would be like the hamster wheel," he says. "Therefore, the concept of API middleware is a great alternative. APIs are ubiquitous for all types of digital and communication uses. But in many cases, you need a developer at each end to put it all together. With these types of new products, I can connect my planning system to my communication tool and I can do it quite simply. I don't need a developer to do it. That takes some work away from the development team and moves it to a less technical scope, which therefore reduces the resources needed for integration."

For some forms of media development, particularly video quality, compression and formats, Wormser says the news industry is largely following and doing its best to incorporate the media industry's most important advancements in this regard. However, news broadcasting, in particular, has unique challenges regarding the organization and use of metadata, rights management, searchability, etc., as news, by its nature, requires the incorporation of various types of media from many different sources to weave together useful news reports. A lot of work has been done in recent years, according to Wormser, to address these challenges.

"How to capture and keep up with the video and text of all the metadata we've collected along the way is a big deal for our industry," he says. "SMPTE, for example, published last year, in partnership with the Media and Entertainment Services Alliance, MESA, the Language Metadata Table standard, LMT, designed to streamline the management of metadata media assets that can be used, according to MESA's website, 'operationally, rather than by application developers.' In addition, the International Telecommunication Press Council, IPTC, has provided us with a separate metadata hub for video management that further simplifies things."

Wormser expects the industry to develop more standards to make it easier to add new applications and software tools to the mix over time. "We see organizations trying to merge around a common standard for applications across platforms, both inside and outside the newsroom," he says. "This will allow people working on news in the field to enjoy an easier way to create stories in the field and complete their work more efficiently."

Among other developments, it also points to the increasing incorporation of artificial intelligence/intelligent computing technologies into news-oriented workflow systems, in such a way that automation increases while human decision-making remains at the forefront.

"We're certainly starting to see AI enter our industry," he says. "The AP itself uses AI to deliver a select number of automated stories about corporate earnings reports and some sports advancements, for example. And we're seeing others in the industry using artificial intelligence and machine learning, though I wouldn't say adoption is still widespread. From my perspective, where AI can help is allowing the journalist to tell better stories. That could mean suggesting content related to the story the journalist is working on, whether it's text, photo, video, graphic, or audio, that the journalist may not have time to find on their own. Where AI can find a home is by flagging content that may need an extra pair of eyes, or helping to manage the usage rights of a particular content. But we certainly need to retain human decision-making when it comes to ethical judgments, and that will certainly continue."

*Text written by Michael Goldman and published by SMPTE.

Richard Santa, RAVT
Author: Richard Santa, RAVT
Periodista de la Universidad de Antioquia (2010), con experiencia en temas sobre tecnología y economía. Editor de las revistas TVyVideo+Radio y AVI Latinoamérica. Coordinador académico de TecnoTelevisión&Radio.

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