Effective News Content Sharing Within Station Groups in a Daily News Cycle

Sharing news content between television stations within an ownership group brings benefits at both the group and local level, increasing competitive stance while also reducing and distributing production costs. To be effective, the workflow for such sharing must tightly intertwine editorial and technical processes. Solutions that technically make all content available to everyone but fail to address essential editorial considerations can bury relevant stories in an ever-growing haystack of unapproved or irrelevant content. Journalists must find it easy to contribute, discover, review and select shared content without experiencing a burden of technical details. This paper looks at a content sharing model that addresses these concerns.

Introduction

Station ownership groups and the individual television stations within them invest significantly in content production for their newscasts. Both the group and the local stations benefit when daily news stories with cross-market appeal are shared between group-owned stations. Such stories can vary from national breaking news, to topics with more limited regional interest, to enterprise stories created for use across all markets.

When a shared story is used at another station, it reduces the recipient station’s local cost to produce a newscast and essentially distributes the original production cost across multiple sites. The larger the number of stories shared, the greater the potential savings and diffusion of costs through the group.

The concept of sharing news content between stations tightly intertwines editorial and technical processes. At a high level, the editorial aspect involves users offering approved content to other journalists, and those journalists deciding whether or not to use the offered content. The journalists who receive these stories review the associated text and video content, checking for local relevance and usability before choosing whether to copy them into their own production systems.

editorial processes vs technical processes diagram
High-level editorial processes are facilitated by a much higher number of technical steps, which should be hidden from users by the news content sharing system.

The related technical processes allow content at the originating location to be exposed to users at other stations, and enable the users at those additional sites to preview, select and transfer content into their local production systems.

The technical and editorial processes must work together cohesively to enable a useful, effective workflow, or the results may be counterproductive. A system that simply exposes all content to everyone, everywhere may address technical requirements, but may lack the editorial workflow needed for contributors to offer content selectively or for the remote journalists to discover, review and decide whether to use it. Journalists are always looking for a needle in a haystack. If we throw everything into the same massive haystack, we make it that much harder to for them to find what they need.

Meanwhile, the details and components of the technical processes should – at long last – be largely hidden from view of the users. Journalists have always wanted linked video to move with the story as the latter is copied between locations. Though e-mail and social media have long allowed similar basic features, such functionality has lagged in broadcast production tools. From a user perspective, manual FTP transfers and file transcodes should effectively go away. Files should still be transported and transformed, but automatically and transparently to the journalist.

Diagram showing how technical processes are hidden

This paper explores a commercially-available news content sharing model and system that addresses all of the editorial and technical considerations described above, enabling stations and groups to maximize the benefits and effectiveness of news content exchange between sites.

Effective News Content Sharing – the Workflow

Editorial processes are generally managed within the newsroom computer system (NRCS), and as noted above, the technical processes should be invisible to the user. Rather than to introduce separate applications or user interfaces, the optimal workflow enables journalists to share content directly within their familiar NRCS interface.

Users contribute content through the NRCS by simply dragging and dropping a story into a special rundown. Any story dropped into this rundown, including text, metadata and video, will be offered to everyone in the group, subject only to standard embargos.

All stations within the group receive a constantly-updated list of contributed stories. This list arrives as a familiar “news wire” within the NRCS. In nearly all respects, this internal wire functions like a news wire received from an agency, including triggering of top-of-line messages. However, unlike an agency news wire, this internal wire includes clickable thumbnails and previews of the video associated with each story. This gives journalists at each station real-time awareness of available contributed stories, along with the ability to easily review both the text and the media of the stories before choosing which ones to use.

When a journalist finds a story on the group’s wire that they want to use, they simply drag the story into another special rundown. Video contained in a story is automatically copied into the local production system, with any transformations required for local system compatibility taking place transparently.

This all happens in near real-time. Journalists throughout the group can take advantage of material as soon as it is contributed. Contributions happen immediately, with no dependencies on staff with specialized skills or feed schedules.

The Editorial Perspective – Holding the Needle Out of the Haystack

Content sharing must be aligned with core editorial policy. Stations generally apply editorial approval processes to content before it is released to air, the Web or social media. Provision of unapproved content to anyone outside of the originating station has the potential to dangerously circumvent this critical editorial check. To avoid this obvious risk of liability, content intended to be shared must first be editorially approved.

In addition, not all local content has enough external relevance to justify being shared. If every station contributed all the content they created each day, so many stories would be exposed that the selection of relevant content by other stations would be very difficult and time-consuming.

Haystack of stories within a station
A system which makes all content available to everyone may also expose unapproved and unvetted content. In this example, all content is available to everyone, but the sharing system does not make a clear or useful distinction between approved and unapproved material thus creating a haystack of content.

Instead, stations are expected to apply their local editorial judgment when they choose stories to be shared with the group, who will generally prefer content that is of interest to broader markets.

The workflow and system described in this paper elegantly support editorial selection and approval. Rather than exposing all content from every station to all other stations, this system exposes only approved stories chosen by local editorial users as having potentially wider interest. The workflow and system described in this paper elegantly support this editorial process. Rather than exposing all content in the local news production system or archive to other stations, the system only exposes the approved stories that users choose to drop into the specified contribution rundown in their NRCS. This creates a constantly up-to-date, curated list of stories chosen for their potential relevance and interest to other stations: essentially holding needles out of the haystack.

Holding stories out of the haystack
Here, locally selected, vetted and approved content is pulled from the ‘haystack’, creating a much smaller, curated list of approved and more relevant content.

This creates a constantly up-to-date, curated list of approved stories chosen for their potential relevance and interest to other stations: essentially holding needles out of the haystack.

Stations seeking content from other sites now have a much easier task because they are presented with only a list of approved material in the form of an internal news wire. Because proxies are immediately available within each wire story, these users can select appropriate stories more accurately and in less time.

Selected stories are automatically transcoded and sent to the production server. There are no download or transformation processes that newsroom users need be aware of; everything is taken care of automatically.

The Technical View – a Peek Under the Hood

As explained earlier, any effective workflow for news content sharing must enable the journalist to contribute, review, select and use shared text and video from within their existing NRCS user interface, while blissfully ignoring underlying technical details. The workflow and system described in this paper, commercially available from Masstech, accomplishes this through direct API-level integration with popular NRCS systems. This approach allows Masstech to automatically trigger technical processes in the background based on what the user does within the NRCS. No ActiveX or HTML plugins or additional interfaces are needed for the user to share content. Very little additional training is needed for anyone already familiar with the NRCS as a core newsroom tool.

Sharing begins with a drag and drop operation in the NRCS. When this system sees a story dropped into the local contribution rundown, it looks for a local video link and fetches the video through API integration with the station’s production system. This system then transcodes the video to a pre- specified distribution format and copies the resulting file to centrally accessible storage. The system then normalizes the format of the story text and metadata, updates the video link within the story to point to the new file location in central storage, and writes the story text to central storage.

Sharing of stories in the NRCS

The technical steps at the “receiving” end of the content sharing process are similarly hidden from users behind their existing NRCS interface. The sharing system leverages standard integration points in the NRCS without the need for a proprietary plugin. Each NRCS in the station group natively monitors the designated central storage location and renders it as a news wire. As contributed content is transferred to this central directory, it appears within each newsroom’s NRCS interface as a new wire story. As described in the Workflow section of this paper, unlike typical agency news wires, stories contributed from within the group contain direct links to video thumbnails and previews which are immediately recognized by the NRCS. Network-friendly, low-resolution previews are rendered automatically and pulled as needed across the wide area network from central shared storage.

Full-resolution video is copied to the production system at the “receiving” station only when a user drags a story into a “localization” rundown. Once again, this action is detected through this system’s API integration with the NRCS. Referencing the shared story’s embedded link to the full-resolution video, thiscontent sharing system retrieves the file from central storage and transcodes it as necessary to match the format required by the receiving user’s local production system. The transcoded file is then pushed to that production system through yet another tight, API-level integration.

All of these technical steps take place invisibly to users. Journalists simply watch the internal wire for contributed stories, preview those stories and their video for editorial consideration, and choose the content they want to use in their local productions. To them, these functions operate seamlessly through drag-and-drop actions as if they were native functions of the NRCS.

Deeper into the Details

This news content sharing workflow and system feature numerous attributes that combine to deliver the desired effectiveness and efficiency benefits:

  1. Media, script/story text and metadata are sent and received together, saving journalists time and effort while reducing the potential for errors.
  2. Native transcoding automatically transforms video to match the format requirements of the destination production system, with no third-party software dependencies.
  3. Users are shielded from the technical details of processes like file transfers and transcoding. Journalists, working directly within their NRCS, are aware only of the end effect of these processes: the text and media move together to appear where they want it, ready to use.
  4. Central storage can be hosted in station group’s private cloud or in an external public cloud.
  5. Content (text and video) shared through the internal wire is retained within central storage for only a limited time, just like traditional agency news wires. This time is configurable, and typically ranges from two to seven days. When stories are purged from the group’s central storage, the original content at each station remains available for retrieval from its local archive.
  6. Configuration options let station groups choose the file formats and bitrates that provide the best combination of quality, storage and transfer speed for their specific environment.
  7. Full-resolution video is transferred to individual stations only when a story is localized, avoiding unnecessary network traffic.
  8. Thumbnails and low-resolution video previews are created natively and automatically. NRCS clients pull these directly from central storage on demand.
  9. By default, FTP is used to transfer full-resolution video. Signiant and Aspera file transfer acceleration are both optionally available.
  10. Groups are not limited to a single internal news wire. Larger groups may benefit from using multiple internal news wires to support geographic regions or particular topics, aiding discovery and helping maximize use.
  11. External news wires can also be created. For instance, group stations can contribute content to network affiliate feeds through such wires. The effort to contribute content is greatly reduced, as the same workflow feeding the internal group wire is also applied to feed one or more network affiliates. Again, text and video travel together for receipt by automated systems. Additional benefits include being able to provide automatic embargos and delays, as well as tracking the stories sent by all stations in the group.
  12. Distribution restrictions can be attached to stories as they are contributed by each station. These restrictions can define who is and is not an intended recipient of the story, and whether there are any timing or usage restrictions that might apply. This system mirrors the embargos which have been attached to stories used by network affiliates for many years. Individual stations, markets and networks may be embargoed; release dates set in advance; time of use limited; and distribution channels constrained (e.g. broadcast vs. websites vs. mobile).

Further to this last point, a separate standard called NDR (News Distribution Rules) has been pro- posed. Designed not only to enable sharing between stations in the same ownership group but also between groups , NDR defines structured metadata and logic to convey this information to human users and automated systems in a consistent manner that both can understand and act on. This subject will be explored in a separate white paper.

News distribution rules example

Putting Content Sharing Into Practice

As noted, the workflow and system described in this paper were developed by Masstech and are commercially available. Working closely with television stations and groups, we have a deep understanding of their challenges and processes, and the inseparability of their editorial and technical needs.

As groups produce more content that they want or need to share among sites, the proper solution is not simply connecting sites so that everything can be shared. As discussed, this simply makes a larger haystack which takes more time for each site to sort through, and reduces their chances of finding a relevant story.

Instead, we started by understanding the editorial processes of approval, contribution, discovery, review and selection that collectively comprise what we describe as “sharing” today. This thorough understanding enabled us to develop a software solution that uses the existing NRCS to apply lower-level technical processes to a much more focused number of stories, thus using resources more efficiently. Making these processes transparent to journalists through the NRCS with “video follows text” simplicity encourages sharing, while the new efficiencies in contribution similarly make the editorial process of selecting offered content more productive.

Chart - Average Stories Fed Per Day Per Station
Results of the deployment of the Masstech newsroom solution within a station group that had established FTP workflows. At the end of this 9-month period Masstech-enabled sites contributed 4-5 times more stories per day on average as compared to stations that used only FTP.

In practical application, we have seen stations using this system contribute three to four times as much content as stations limited to sharing stories through less automated or elegant systems. And when the sharing of news content is efficient and effective, the station groups, local stations and journalists all benefit.