July may be an interesting month to monitor WAGA’s news. The station is slowly making a major technological change that will affect how its edited news packages are created and presented on TV. It represents a significant learning curve for the staff. And it drags WAGA into the 21st century, the last Atlanta station to make this switch.
For most of the last thirty years, WAGA has used 1970s-era tape-to-tape editing technology. Sometime in July– the date keeps moving back– it’s scheduled to make the switch to a non-linear editing system. Non-linear systems have been in use for years in Hollywood. WXIA and WGCL pioneered it in Atlanta. It’s computer-based. It’s faster (excluding ingestion of tape into the hard drive) and much more forgiving of mistakes. And it’s a completely new system that can, at first, boggle the minds of old-school photogs and editors.
WAGA’s first foray into non-linear editing is believed to have taken place in 2003, when it sent a crew to cover the invasion of Iraq. The crew quaintly edited pieces on Apple’s I-Movie program.
WAGA will also eliminate videotape from its electronic newsgathering, switching to Panasonic P-2 cameras that shoot video on computer chips. This will be a rare instance where WAGA is somewhat ahead of the curve, technology-wise
The idea is to eliminate videotape from its newscasts, putting all of its video elements on hard drives. This eliminates the classic newsroom scene of an editor running down a hallway, carrying a freshly-edited videotape package to the feedbay seconds before its scheduled newscast slot. It means that computer hard-drives will perform this function instead. As everybody knows, hard-drives are great until they crash.
The disappearance of videotape may create some serious challenges. TV reporters are notorious for squirrelling away field tapes from ongoing stories. Beta tapes are cheap. A 16GB P-2 card costs $900.
It’s a rare step forward for WAGA, a TV station that is reluctant to equip its reporters with laptops and its live trucks with GPS units out of sheer cheapskatedness. Every summer, interns show up at WAGA aghast that this big-market TV station hasn’t caught up with the non-linear editing technology found in college journalism schools. Sometime in July, the interns may be able to edit with more proficiency than much of the staff.