PBS NewsHour Goes West

Last month the popular PBS evening news program NewsHour went on air with a new West Coast edition, live from Arizona State University (ASU)’s Walter Cronkite School of Journalism in Phoenix. The school’s facilities are now considered the Western bureau for “PBS NewsHour West,” serving as a reporting hub for breaking news and feature stories.

Closing its October 14thbroadcast, East Coast anchor Judy Woodruff said on air: “And finally tonight, for those of you watching NewsHour in the Western part of the country, or after 9:00 p.m. in the East and online, you may have noticed something different. We are thrilled to announce that tonight we are launching “NewsHour West.” We realize the news doesn't stop after we go off the air, most nights at 7:00 p.m. Eastern. So, we will be updating news headlines to better serve our Western and late-night audiences.”

This has been a milestone for the school, which is renowned for its journalism programs—focusing on both editorial and technology instruction—and was made possible, in part, by generous technology partnerships with companies like Avid, Canon, ChyronHego, EVS, Evertz Microsystems, Grass Valley, Imagine Communications and Sony.

Sony, in particular, has been an important supporter of the Cronkite School since its inception in 2008, continually providing its best equipment at reduced prices in an effort to train the next generation of journalism professionals. (Sony has done this with a number of schools around the country as well.) The new camera purchase, replacing older Sony models, was made prior to NewsHour West arriving, with administrators hoping to attract productions like this to help financially support its ever-improving facilities.

The main Arizona PBS control room with PBS

The main Arizona PBS control room with PBS "NewsHour West" executive producer Richard Coolidge and crew.]

The school is now using three new Sony HDC-4300 4K/UHD 2/3-inch studio cameras (in 1080p HD mode) with Canon 27x UHD box lens on Vinten Quadra camera pedestals in one of four production studios (Studio B). There are also three control rooms, all with Sony 8000G 3ME production switchers, and a series of Adobe Systems Premiere Pro edit rooms for students and outside professionals to use.

Richard Coolidge, Executive Producer at NewsHour West, said his professional crew is sharing Studio B and the new cameras with another daily Arizona PBS news program called “Arizona Horizon.” The local PBS crew, which produces “Arizona Horizon” with assistance from ASU students, has access to the space for a couple of hours in the afternoon for their production. At around 5:30 pm (MST), the studio crew and technical resources become available for the NewsHour West production, which runs until 8 pm MST. The Arizona studio is smaller than the main NewsHour studio in Arlington, Virginia, but according to Coolidge, is on the same professional level in terms of technology.

“We are excited to be partnering with the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University,” Coolidge said.

The ASU facility infrastructure includes HD-SDI routers from Grass Valley and Imagine Communications and (256 I/O matrix) and a 10G network with a fiber backbone in the Arizona PBS station plant on new redundant Cisco Nexus routers.

“Our production network has 10G fiber feeds to our [Avid] MediaGrid for online editing of 4K content,” said Ian MacSpadden, CTO of the Arizona PBS station, which is located on the campus of ASU. “We’ve found that using a proxy workflow is a must with six 4K capable production suites, as when the editors fired up three sessions at once they discovered how easy it is to clog the production pipes with real time 4K HDR content.”

ASU has purchased three HDC-4300 4K/UHD 2/3-inch studio cameras for its NewsHour West studio and uses Sony F7 cameras for ENG work in the field.

ASU has purchased three HDC-4300 4K/UHD 2/3-inch studio cameras for its NewsHour West studio and uses Sony F7 cameras for ENG work in the field.

He added that while they do have some IP capable systems on hand—such as AutoScript’s new Epic-IP teleprompter system—they have not yet migrated to SMPTE ST 2110 IP video as the house standard. MacSpadden said they’ll “wait for a critical mass before justifying a core video router upgrade to enable this.”

“Part of what I think NewsHour found compelling about our facility was that not only were the physical studio spaces high end, but the camera equipment was as good if not better than what they used in Virginia,” MacSpadden said.

Students also do a lot of field work with Sony F7 cameras, which he said are as flexible as an ENG camera with the ability to shoot 4K, where they can also make use of the Cronkite School’s lens inventory, “creating some really nice-looking shoots.”

Students at The Walter Cronkite School are trained on the best broadcast production equipment, so they graduate with a thorough understanding of production techniques.

Students at The Walter Cronkite School are trained on the best broadcast production equipment, so they graduate with a thorough understanding of production techniques.

Besides the Sony cameras and production switchers, other key technology in the ASU facility includes: Abekas Mira + for effects and video record/playback; EVS XT-3 for video record & playback; ChyronHego Mosaic and Camio systems for graphics; Studer Vista V audio mixing consoles; Clearcom and Riedel intercom systems; Evertz and Imagine Communications multiviewers; and Sony Bravia 4K LED monitors throughout the space.

“Students at Cronkite are trained on the best of breed broadcast production equipment, which allows them to learn what is required at each position and how each production role interacts with the other,” MacSpadden said. “So, they graduate with a thorough understanding of production techniques applicable in any control room in the country.”

Anchored by veteran reporter Stephanie Sy, the West coast feed of NewsHour represents an updated version of the east coast show, depending upon the news of the day. Mark Lodato, Associate Dean at the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism said there is a professional staff of six who produce NewsHour, although students sometime participate at different levels, including produce segments that appear on the show. He said the school has always had a good relationship with PBS and it’s been significantly improving and growing over the last few years.

“In today’s rapidly changing news environment, NewsHour felt that [originating NewsHour West from ASU’s facilities] was a strong strategic decision to better serve their audiences and we’re happy to play a part in that,” said Associate Dean Lodato. “We have a very strong relationship with Sony and other technology suppliers that has grown over the years. These corporate partnerships are so important to our mission here.”

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