Sometime during the final years of the Reagan administration, WAGA installed into its newsroom a computer system called Basys. It enabled anybody looking at a computer monitor to look at newsroom rundowns, read assignment ques, read updated wire copy, and write stories that could be read by everybody and go straight into the newscast, among many other marvels. Other larger-market TV stations, including WXIA, installed similar systems.
Basys replaced typewriters. It also replaced AP wire teletypes. Staffers logged into Basys could also surreptitiously and instantly communicate with each other via “top line,” later mimicked by AOL instant messenger, Google and others.
This eliminated the clatter of typewriters, teletypes and “which anchor is reading page A-7?!” -style word-of-hollering-mouth. The newsroom became a very, very quiet place.
Wednesday, WXIA’s newsroom got very, very loud and stayed that way through the 6pm newscast. It had nothing to do with breaking news, and everything to do with technology.
By 2010, WXIA’s old computer systems had become hopelessly outdated. Wednesday, between 7am and noon, the old system that processed words and rundowns was euthanized, as was the creaky editing system installed during the Clinton administration. Both were replaced with systems with funny names that I’ll actually remember one day.
Everybody on staff had been trained on the new systems over the previous month (I was, I’m told, the very last newsroom staffer to get training, which happened Monday). Within the newsroom Wednesday, 8 to 10 men and women who’d installed the system flitted from desk to desk to troubleshoot.
The transition was cold, with no overlap between systems. Either we used the new systems, or the newscasts didn’t get on TV.
This led to some comical overcompensation. At 4pm, a producer-type urgently asked me to write my anchor lead-in into the 6pm newscast rundown. At that moment, I was completing the writing of my taped package. A photographer was champing at the bit to start editing on the new video system, his first on-deadline package. He too wanted an extra hour to edit.
I snarled at the producer and pointed out that the newscast wouldn’t start for two more hours. Overdramatizing, I suggested the package wouldn’t make deadline if I had to stop to write a lead-in. Then I snarled again.
Producers rarely respond to my snarling the way they should.
Another producer walked to my desk moments later and told me to relate the lead-in verbally. I snarled again. She didn’t flinch. “Fine. ‘Residents of Doraville are up in arms over a poorly designed sidewalk built with federal stimulus money.'” I included the cliché with prejudice, knowing that I’d change it before it aired — I had two solid hours to fix it.
I finished writing the package, voice-tracked it and the photographer started editing. He completed it 45 minutes before the newscast started.
When I opened the rundown to re-write my lead-in, somebody else had already done it.
It turns out that the new technology is quite user-friendly. It helped that the staff was already computer savvy, which gave us a big advantage over my late ’80s counterparts who’d gotten newsroom computers for the first time ever.
And then noise died down a bit. One more time.