During the past 10 years in radio and television, tape and bulky equipment have gone the way of the dinosaur. Here is a quick look at some of the most important technological advances in electronic media.
Digital technology is profoundly changing the way TV news is covered, produced and collected. Many newsrooms, including my own at KSTP-TV, still have one foot in the analog world and the other in digital. Still, it is only a short matter of time before everything will be digital, and analog’s last toehold in the broadcast newsroom will be archival. Eventually, even the archives will be transferred from decaying analog tapes to more permanent and accessible digital formats.
Moving pictures and audio are what have always separated TV news from other forms of journalism. Thirty years ago, TV cameras started to make the change from film to tape. Now we’re changing from analog tape to digital. Currently, there exists a dizzying array of choices, and few broadcasters are certain which format will become dominant. However the larger trends are clear. Cameras are providing higher quality images while becoming lighter, smaller, more durable and far cheaper.
Once the audio and video is captured as a digital file, it can be edited on a laptop computer in the field. Older analog edit bays required the working space that would fill the back of a van. The editing was linear. In other words, you had to lay each shot and each piece of audio down in the order you wanted to see it. If you wanted to make changes with the first shot, the entire story would have to be re-edited. Graphic effects were nonexistent or had to be added back at the station after the story was fed in. Digital editing is nonlinear. You can shuffle the sequence, shorten or lengthen the story with ease. Digital effects allow you to “wipe” between scenes, merge still and moving video or add characters to the screen. Digital technology also has completely changed the way graphics are created and displayed throughout a modern newscast. Digital allows more audio, motion and layering to be introduced into the broadcast.
Digital technology also is changing the way we get the video back to the station. Microwave or satellite trucks still are the dominant way we do this. However, on recent international trips to Iraq, Thailand and Kosovo, we used a smaller digital camera, a laptop editor and either a satellite telephone or a high-speed Internet connection to push the video back to the station. It takes a while — about 20 minutes for one minute of video — and the video quality is not quite as good. Still, in the past it would have been extremely expensive if not impossible to file video reports from these kinds of locations.
Gary Hill is director of investigations for KSTP-TV in Minneapolis. He is also co-chairman for SPJ’s ethics committee.