An expert webinar panel gathered to tackle the topic: Transforming the TV newsroom, focussing on a wide range of topics, from optimising planning processes in the newsroom to improving newsgathering speed, volume and accuracy in the field. The panel agreed that the current hero technologies are based around connectivity and resilience, but that the power of automation will soon be transformative too, reports Mark Mayne.
The biggest story of recent times dominated the initial agenda, with the war in Ukraine seen as a catalyst for change in news organisations. Daniel Vestergaard, Head of Technical Operations, DR News and Sports commented: “The war in Ukraine actually kick started us into having a digital only channel, and also accelerated our usage of Starlink and cell phones. I think it was really impactful in accelerating our digital journey.”
Stephen Willmott, Head of Technology & Operations, GB News agreed: “I agree with that. Also the use of IP technologies and more widely, COTS solutions for connectivity as opposed to [using] some of the more traditional satellite connectivity in terms of news gathering [has been important]. Also really leveraging social media to get content as well.”
Bonded cellular - a significant revolution
Unsurprisingly, the topic of bonded cellular was discussed in some detail, with Stephen Willmott, Head of Technology & Operations, GB News keen to emphasise the value of a hybrid, flexible approach. “We can pull in satellite feeds from external providers, but we are essentially bonded cellular and IP connectivity. A recent example: There were some protests in the middle of London. We scrambled a crew to get there, but the reporter was already there, coming out of a meeting. So the reporter pulled out their phone and was able to get on air using their mobile phone, within minutes of that protest starting. So that’s just a small practical example of that bonded cellular that’s giving us part of the agility to respond very quickly.”
Jan de Wever, Project Manager Innovative Technology, NewsCity, DPG Media Belgium was also enthusiastic: “We’re here for our HR live outputs whenever some news breaks. We have reporters in the field, they can even use Google Meet to go live on air. We have about 15 cellular backpacks available, some dedicated to the teams working for that HR live channel. So whenever [news] breaks, they just grab a backpack or a camera and they go online. That [ability] has changed the workflow a lot.”
Business continuity and disaster recovery
It’s not just on the sharp end of newsgathering that the move to IP and bonded cellular has had an impact though. As Marc Lefebvre, Senior Director Operations, CBC News pointed out, the ability to use different types of connectivity seamlessly has had impacts much further up the supply chain.
“These technologies have a huge potential impact on business continuity and resilience. Last summer we had a hurricane that hit Atlantic Canada and took out our power lines and all the telcos. Our organisation is heavily reliant on a convergent network that connects all of our facilities together, and it’s highly integrated. A local radio program in Atlantic Canada must travel through that network back to the mothership in Toronto, and be bounced back by satellites, to the transmitter that’s nearby and so in a situation where you’ve got no connectivity from wireline, something like Starlink can be invaluable - not only for newsgathering and having crews on the ground being able to send back content. But also part of a technology stack you can use to establish redundancy for some of your production facilities spread out across your territory.”
Automating processes, not content
Among a series of discussions around tools and improvements to workflow - not least thanks to the ‘big bang’ moment of the pandemic - and settled around the question of AL and ML tools and their utility.
De Wever: “Well, we’re using AI in certain areas. We use it for automated cameras, using facial recognition to point and focus/frame studio guests in an automated studio. There’s no cameraman, there’s no director so that has to be fully automated.
“Otherwise we use AI and machine learning technologies in the distribution part [of the equation]. Since we do a lot of digital publication, we do like high retention rates so we do a lot of recommendations behind the scenes. We also use AI to help the content performance team, they analyse all that kind of data to help newsrooms, journalists, editors to keep retention high.”
Better tools, better output, better business data
Vestergaard made the point that getting better tools and more diverse research methods into the hands of journalists - or content producers in general - is potentially a method of raising the bar across the board.
“What I feel is very interesting with the new wave of AI is finally very ambitious technology that we can put into the editorial workflows and improve them with the technology. I think this can be very good. It’s also dangerous right now - we tried an audio clean up tool, where if the audio was too bad, it was making up words!
“But overall, this is an overarching way to get more technology in the hands of the journalists. I think a lot of the tools we have been discussing are production focussed, but there are some low hanging fruits and taking what we would normally consider expensive technology and putting it into the hands of the journalists is one of those ways where you can go in and instead of using a lot of money on new cameras, you can use it on actually improving the output.”
Lefebvre agreed with the opportunities of AI, but also highlighted the fact that a cautious and managed approach is certainly the current MO. “I would say that in general, AI is something that we are approaching with great caution and care, and any application of generative AI at this point is experimental or very far removed from the audience experience.
“In my prior role I was responsible for content management for CBC. There we have leveraged a lot of transcribing content and then using an entity and concept extractor to give us tags about what this content is about, where’s it from, who’s in it all those things, which allowed us to automate a lot of our archiving processes.
Leveraging business intelligence that you can accumulate through the production process, augment that with some AI generated edit data, and you’re fine. People can find what they’re looking for in the archive, and it also allows you to to utilise those same processes to optimise your personalization offering. These things are incredibly powerful and useful today. But when it comes to using AI to create [content] - certainly for us at CBC - I don’t see us getting there anytime soon.”
The dangers of casual AI adoption are very real
Vestergaard agreed, but also played devil’s advocate too: “I would just suggest that I think [AI] is going to do a lot. It is a very important technology and the applications are so apparent, but that’s why we need to have the difficult discussions about how we implement the specific generative stuff. The acceleration in this technology is so interesting, and I think under estimating is [also] a danger.”
De Wever rounded out the discussion with a chilling example, literally from the front lines: “Just today, I saw an example of exactly that generative AI. Someone was playing with DALL E where you can ask it to generate an image for you. The input was, ‘give me an image with Russian troops crossing the Ukrainian border’. The image that came out was absolutely stunning and realistic. How do you recognize that as a journalist?”
To catch the full debate, which covered the above as well as tackled questions around ethics, the challenges of collaborative story-centric planning processes, and delivering video tailored to digital and social media platforms, watch the Transforming the TV newsroom webinar on catch up today…
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