My pandemic broadcasting setup

Official Business
Packing up my Scion on the day I was kicked out of the station for over a year due to the pandemic.
Reading Time: 5 minutes

I’ve been a Final Cut Pro user since 2002 and quickly transitioned to FCPX when it was released in June 2011. Since then I’ve had a variety of broadcasting jobs, and whenever I could, I would utilize FCPX.

In broadcast news, particularly at the station I currently work at, other platforms are used by station-issued equipment – such as Edius or Premiere. Edius is a great little NLE that is perfect for organizing clips and doing quick cuts and turns for broadcast news. If you’re looking to take advantage of plugins though, you’ll be hard-pressed to find easy solutions. Premiere has a huge number of effects and transition libraries available for purchase. But I’ve always preferred FCPX.

Regardless of the editing software you use, your creativity is what will make you successful in broadcasting – not your editing software of choice.

My setup during the pandemic:

In my attic office at the beginning of the pandemic – April 2020

I shoot most of my stories with a combination of Canon DSLR’s, GoPro’s, a DJI Osmo, and an Insta 360 5.7k camera. Since working remotely during the COVID-19 pandemic I’ve heavily relied on multi-cam shoots to produce, what we call, day-turn packages. For those readers not in tv news, a day-turn means you’re assigned the story earlier in the day and produce something for a later newscast that same day.

At the height of the pandemic, I was working with a lot of limitations. We weren’t allowed to interview people in person the way I normally would have. If I was able to interview someone in person I had to shoot them from at least 12 feet away. I’m also relying heavily on FaceTime or Skype interviews to gather news content.

I will usually have two or three cameras focused on the reporter, and one to capture the video chat. So how do I put all of this together?

QUICKLY

I know FCPX has multi-cam functionality, I’ve used it and it’s pretty robust. But for my workflow, simply syncing my cameras together with a clap when I begin rolling and dragging them to a timeline has been the easiest.

There are dozens of ways to accomplish the same goal when editing. The best thing you can do is experiment with what works best for you, trusting yourself, and your skills, to achieve those goals.

I create a sequence in FCPX of all my cameras and take a few minutes to sync them up. Next, I’m on to logging my interviews. During the pandemic, I was dealing with long interviews from medical professionals, government officials, and so on. Taking the time to scrub through an interview that would be anywhere between 15-45 minutes in duration is simply not the time I could waste. A lot of journalists will mark timecode as they proceed with an interview, and that’s something I’ll do as well, to flag soundbites they want to use.

During the pandemic, I got in the habit of using Otter.AI to transcribe all of my interviews. I found reading the transcripts and pulling bites allowed me to write stories faster, beef up my web articles with more quotes from sources, and allow me to use more sound in my stories. Once I would sync up all my interview angles, I would export the audio and upload it to Otter. I would find a 15-minute interview would be transcribed in less than 10 minutes. During that time I would be organizing clips, or begin to write the story. Otter.AI allows for a variety of formats, both audio and video. I found exporting the interview audio, usually, an mp3 file to keep the size down was the fastest option.

THE ENDLESS STRUGGLE OF WRITING A DAY-TURN STORY

Writing can be the death of a day-turn reporter. What information is the most important? Which interview should I use? Should I say it or let them say it? What will the producer think? What will the News Director think? Should I do a stand-up (always yes, for me at least)? Crap, I have to get this down to 2 minutes and it’s currently 3:42 (classic Nate Benson).

At the height of the pandemic, I would have to regularly turn 3 packages for the 4,5, and 6 o’clock broadcast. The truth is, while these stories were all unique, they weren’t wildly unique. They were all slightly different, but familiar enough to send a Christmas card to.

I’m constantly trying to improve my writing ability, admittedly it’s my weakest skill as a journalist – HEY, I started as a visual guy! But needing to hammer out multiple stories quickly really helped.

Once I would finalize a script and have someone look it over, I would track my voiceover and”a-roll” my packages. Usually all three out of the gate. That way I could communicate with a producer on the timing of my stories and keep them in the loop of any changes.

FCPX flourishes in a situation like quickly “a-rolling” a story. I mean, to be honest, most NLE’s do as well, but in my experience, I find that FCPX allows me to lay everything out the quickest. At this point, I’m haggling with producers about the length of stories, where I can trim things and finalize the script.

HEY! I’M FINALLY READY TO EDIT!

I use a variety of plug-ins to help me quickly assemble day-turn stories for broadcast news. And, really, this was the point of my article but it took me several hundred words to get here.

I’ll note that none of these plug-ins were given to me. I purchased them all and I’m simply sharing my tools and workflow.

I use a lot of text and graphics in my stories and MotionVFX’s mBehavior and mInfographics plug-ins are a must in my toolkit. I sometimes like to be bold with graphics and the mTitle MAX is another plug-in I use to show off big, bold graphics.

One of the biggest challenges, when I was exclusively working from home/remotely, was the delivery of the packages for the evening news shows. In the office, we would use directly send the edited piece to the placeholder in a program called ENPS. Working remotely, however, often meant using a VPN to gain access to the office servers.

Those of us working in the field quickly realized it was impossible to edit while on the VPN, and even sending packages to the placeholders could be cumbersome if your internet connection was less than stellar.

Several of the photographers and editors would use WeTransfer or Dropbox links, but there would often be confusion or miscommunication with the show editors and producers. The method I found to be the path of least resistance was creating a slack channel specifically for remote delivery. That allowed those of us in the field to tag people directly and upload a package directly to slack with very little quality loss in the compression. At one point during the pandemic, our office communications switched to Teams and it was a nightmare. Teams compress the hell out of video and the file directory is a nightmare to navigate.

In conclusion your honor…

I understand, recognize, and sympathize with so many people who were forced to work remotely for nearly two years as journalists. It was hard. There were many days where I had near breakdowns because communicating with the rest of the team was difficult, or even feel connected to the team. I’d be lying if there weren’t days where a tear or two was shed out of frustration.

Having said that, I loved the responsibility of being on my own and producing something by a certain time, and moving on to the next assignment. In an odd way, it made me feel like a network correspondent – out in the field, gathering stories and doing my thing. I’ve been back in the office for quite some time and I love being with my news family, bouncing ideas off each other, reacting to breaking news as a team, and so on. But I also miss the wild west feeling of being the lone rider on my own, figuring it all out as quickly as I can to make the 4 o’clock slot.

Whether I experience a feeling like that again as a journalist remains to be seen,

But what a time it was.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published.