News travels fast, although never fast enough for TV stations fighting for share in hyper-competitive news markets. But for WXYZ TV — the largest broadcaster in Detroit and recent winner of a prestigious Edward R. Murrow regional journalism award — the time it takes to move a news story from field to air has never been shorter. That’s because the station, one of 14 owned by E.W. Scripps in the US, has significantly accelerated its news editing and production by using Final Cut Pro X, Motion 5 and Mac Pro.
Scripps used previous versions of Final Cut Pro to edit its news and sports programmes. After conducting a field test with Final Cut Pro X and Adobe Premiere Pro, the company decided to convert to Final Cut Pro X based on strong feedback from editors about its speed, ease of use and high-quality output. The results have been so successful in Detroit that Scripps is now rolling out the same workflow to all its stations across the country.
Ray Thurber, vice president of engineering at Scripps, explains the decision to switch. “E.W. Scripps is a hundred-year-old company. We consider local news programming a service to the community, and we take that responsibility extremely seriously. So we’re always looking at different ways to wrap technology around journalism to create more timely and compelling stories and videos for viewers. Final Cut Pro X and Motion 5 let us create stories faster than ever — and at a level of production quality unmatched by other newscasts.”
In the Field
At each Scripps station, photojournalists shoot, edit and produce local news and sport in the field. Using Final Cut Pro X and MacBook Pro computers in mobile editing vans allows them to finish stories at the news site soon after they happen. Scripps has deployed a highly efficient native workflow — importing MPEG-2 QuickTime files directly from JVC video cameras and using background rendering to create ProRes files for editing and delivery. The combination of Final Cut Pro X, MacBook Pro and ProRes allows for super-fast field editing at very high quality.
For WXYZ photographer and field editor Jeremy Johnson, these new mobile editing and graphics capabilities make a huge difference when he’s turning a story on a tight deadline. Travelling in a broadcast van with a reporter, or sometimes by himself, Johnson typically covers two stories a day, many of which pop up unplanned. And because accidents, political demonstrations and even court cases set their own schedules, Johnson is frequently left with little time to shoot, edit, package and transmit the pieces back to the station for broadcast. “I need to edit and complete every piece on my MacBook Pro in the truck before I send it back to the station,” he says. “Because Final Cut Pro X is so efficient, that’s never a problem. I love the speed of the Magnetic Timeline and the flexibility of the Trim tool. And when I’m out there on deadline, features like colour correction, shot stabilisation and audio enhancements are lifesavers.”
Nailing the Story
Because Johnson is nearly always in a rush to deliver stories, he relies heavily on those features on every shoot and edit. “Recently, we were sent to cover some suspicious house fires,” he says. “After we finished taping sound bites with neighbours, I could see that one woman was so on edge that she was watching and questioning everybody coming down the street. I was up against a deadline for the noon news, but I wanted that in the story.”
Johnson grabbed his iPhone and used it to capture the sequence in a compelling long shot. Back in the van, he transferred the file to his MacBook Pro, where it was immediately available for editing. Using the Trim tool in Final Cut Pro X, he was able to quickly cut the clip into the Timeline to enhance the story. “All of these features, from worry-free format handling to easy manoeuvring in the Timeline, help me not only make better pieces but also make my news slot.”
Fit and Finish
Thurber sees the same efficiencies described by Johnson transforming field reporting across all the Scripps stations. “With the native multiformat capabilities of Final Cut Pro X, we have an edit system that can handle anything,” he says. “We get stories now from everywhere — from journalists on their video cameras to viewers on their phones. So the ability for us to mix different camera file formats on the Timeline and immediately edit a story is a significant advantage. It really speeds up the process.”
Final Cut Pro X also makes it much faster for Scripps editors to use graphics and effects to polish their work for broadcast. The company gives all editors access to Motion-based templates created by a centralised Scripps TV design hub in Tampa Bay, Florida. So it’s quick and easy to add compelling real-time 3D news graphics into any story — even from a broadcast van. “With Final Cut Pro X, every editor on the street gets a toolkit that can help them communicate the story better through high-quality images, helpful bullet point lists and overall story integration,” says Thurber.
Thurber notes that the tax on incorporating complex graphics has disappeared: “Final Cut Pro X has taken what was a 15-minute render process in the field down to zero.”
Back in WXYZ’s headquarters, onsite editor Randy Lundquist uses Final Cut Pro X to edit long-form news specials. And he sees even bigger workflow payoffs. “Background rendering and real-time playback save me so much time,” he says. “If I put up a 15-second video clip with five filters and some text, I no longer have to wait 10 minutes for it to render. Instead, I see in real time whether I like the results. That saves me about an hour a day. With Final Cut Pro X, I find myself using more effects and working far more creatively.”
In editing longer projects, Lundquist relies heavily on the application’s organisation tools. “One of my favourite features is the ability to import folders as Keyword Collections instead of adding individual bins like I used to,” he says. “We had a photographer shoot every single day of the seven-month trial of former Detroit mayor Kwame Kilpatrick. I was able to keyword all of that footage as I brought it in, so when I had to go back into it for several special projects, I could just open up the library and find 10 select shots of him smiling or looking sad or smug.”
Lundquist describes how the editing capabilities of Final Cut Pro X have influenced even how the station shoots the news: “We do many more two-camera shoots because of the multicam editing feature. I love it because we use a lot of reporter questions in our interviews. With one camera, we’d always have it trained on the subject to show his answer to a question and then go to a cutaway of a reporter nodding her head. But with two-camera shoots and multicam, we can show a real reaction without worrying about matching frames. And the built-in audio syncing makes things so much easier.”
The Graphics Hub
At the Scripps TV design centre in Tampa Bay, about a dozen designers create the graphics templates used at each Scripps station. The templates, which can easily be filled with story content by editors, are used to maintain a uniform look and feel for all news broadcasts.
Radu Somesfalean, managing director of graphics, says, “It allows us to produce a singular brand message across the stations, so we really have one voice. We give the editors some creative freedom while maintaining a consistent style.”
Somesfalean adds: “Using the Mac Pro, we’re able to push Motion 5 to create a very intensive 3D layered look, so stations in all our markets get beautiful results. The pressure is not just to get stuff out there but also to give them a reason to watch. This is where the Motion templates in Final Cut Pro X really shine, because we give editors the tools to customise graphics without having to rely on us for every change.”
“Using the Mac Pro, we’re able to push Motion 5 to create a very intensive 3D layered look, so stations in all our markets get beautiful results.”— Radu Somesfalean, managing director of graphics
Template for Success
Michele Omran, a graphic designer in the Tampa Bay design hub who creates the station templates, explains that Motion 5 allows her to deliver tools that limit editorial errors. “We needed to figure out a way to let the editors update text and images in news graphics like lower thirds, topicals and promotions without violating the design. So we provided flexible drop zones where they can do that. It’s a high-production environment, but it’s really easy to use. They just need to type, drag and drop.”
Omran currently manages and distributes 966 templates, 69 for each of the 14 TV stations. Recently, she began using the Mac Pro with Motion 5 to build those Smart Motion Templates. She’s seen a remarkable boost in performance. “The new Mac Pro is just really, really fast,” she says. “It never chokes, even on the most complex 3D templates. Which is amazing for a device that is so small and so quiet. When I first started to play with it, I had to ask, ‘Is this on?’”
Follow the Viewer
Scripps is currently working to unify its TV and digital workflows. “As we add more shows, we do more news. And the news that we do now isn’t just an over-the-air experience, it goes out to all of our platforms, including digital,” Thurber says. “So our broadcast and digital news organisations need to be connected to all the assets that we have inside the TV station. Our goal with the rollout of Final Cut Pro X in each station is to pull this all together.”
They believe this will help them cover and deliver the news in whatever medium their viewers prefer. “Our plan is to go wherever people are getting their news,” says Thurber. “And with the Mac and Final Cut Pro X, we’re well equipped to do that.”