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News operations manager shares insight, background to broadcast journalism

Kaylie Clem | The Feather Online

ABC7 news operations manager Michael Merle provides Feather staffers with a tour of the newsroom in Glendale, April 24.

Feather Online staffers took the opportunity to learn how a professional national news station operates by visiting ABC7 Broadcast Center, in Glendale, April 24. The staffers discover how a news office runs and time spent in producing content.

Serving as the biggest single news station in Los Angeles, according to news operations manager Michael Merle. ABC7 uses a variety of tools and professionals to broadcast news to the public. The building contains numerous tech, writing, and broadcasting rooms for reporters and crew members to publish stories quickly and efficiently.

Merle shows staffers several of the station’s newsrooms, including the editor room and the transmission room where connections to the station are routed to the ABC7 server. He also explains to staffers the basics of an assignment desk; the hub of all operation, they assign reporters with different stories for the day.

Merles discusses the ongoing project as ABC7 L.A. collaborates with the eight ABC-owned stations to create an integrated database.

“It was super difficult to make the digital transition,” Merle said. “We are still in the process of doing that because the greater goal of the eight ABC stations of taking all the material from the eight and compiling that into one digital database that would all be accessible. If I wanted to grab a story that Fresno did back in the 80s, we would have access directly to it.”

While passing through the ABC7 central equipment room, editor Sam Cross spoke to assistant director of technology Wes Tennyson. Tennyson shared the impact of technology development in professional journalism.

“We need less infrastructure (because of technology) believe it or not,” Tennyson said. “Technology has allowed us to use a phone to record and shoot an interview. You can do more with a full-size camera and a live truck, but you don’t need it. Technology has shrunken our industry.”

According to Tennyson, A.I. technology exists that writes news stories that can be published to websites. In exploring new technological capabilities, ABC7 experiments with implementing A.I. voice recognition to run their close captioning feeds.  

When enquired on the possibility of A.I. replacing people in the newsroom, Tennyson sees the importance of human nature in news.

“Bias perhaps, but how about bias towards understanding what the community wants and is looking for,” Tennyson said. “A person living in a community knows what the important issues are for the community. A bot doesn’t know that, not yet. We’re going to have people in our newsroom for a long time, using technology, commanding it not being commanded by it.”

Kaylie Clem | The Feather Online

Logan Lewis, ’20, (left) meets ABC7 weathercaster Danny Romero.

While exploring an ABC7 news van, Merle shares how different media outlets interact with one another.

“The studios want to help each out because there’s always going to be the other side when we’re going to want something from them,” Merle said. “If we’re there, and NBC is there, and CBS is there, and for some reason the CBS cameraman’s camera goes out, we have a gentlemen’s agreement that (we help each other out).”

Through creating an efficient computer system that cuts down the number of employees needed for operation, some people worry that machines may take over jobs in an already declining industry.

“When I first started in this business thirty-some years ago, these booths would be filled,” Merle said. “Now, the producer and director can do it all with the help of the computer system. Basically, an operation that used to take 40 or 50 people is now being done by about three. That’s what automation has done to local television news. Everyone fears for their jobs because of automation and because television news is almost a dead industry.”

ABC7 shifts from focusing on television broadcast to increasing their online presence. Merle shares the challenge of this change in direction.

“Nobody watches television (news) anymore,” Merle said. “We’re preparing for the digital age, that 24/7 operation that’s a news app. The problem in our world is that we are supposed to make money. We operate based on making money. We have to create ad space in an app world when there’s really no way to market that. That’s this whole battle the top brass is going through, how do you monetize apps and what we do.”

ABC7 assistant director of technology Wes Tennyson shares insight to the inner-workings of technology driving digital media.

Working at ABC7 for over 20 years, Jamie Evans currently utilizes his skills as a news photographer. Evans has also started a drone program and occasionally helps maintain certain news vehicles.

Kaylie Clem | The Feather Online

Feather staffers watch on set as broadcasters conduct a segment of their nightly news, April 24. Marc Brown (left) and Michelle Tuzee serve as ABC7 Eyewitness News 5 and 11 p.m. news anchors.

“I’ve come to understand that you have to continue to learn as much as you can,” Evans said, “so that you never really settle because the business evolves and technology evolves. If you progress down that road of continually evolving, and changing with the times, you will always be flexible and have a good understanding of what you are doing.”

The ABC7 television broadcast is the most watched station in southern California, according to their website,. Their station was the first local news to surpass two million followers on Facebook.

As ABC7 adapts with changes in news consumption, Evans considers how he reshapes the way he deliver stories to audiences.

“My form of journalism is evolving into something that really is unknown territory,” Evans said. “You are going to have social media becoming more and more important. Companies are already trying to capitalize on that platform, although there is no business model for that yet. Especially in this political climate, we need to stay true to journalism and we need to stick close to telling the story and telling it right, and not necessarily highlighting the fleshy and cool things.”

The Feather team continues their time in Anaheim tomorrow with a trip to Disneyland and attendance of the opening ceremonies of the NSPA conference.

The following video recaps the ABC7 newsroom tour as led by news operations manager Michael Merle.

ABC 7 newsroom tour from The Feather Online on Vimeo.

For more articles, read City leaders look to impact homeless crisis, pt. 1 and Journalists, scientist discuss growing mistrust in science journalism.

Slideshow images below show Feather students and advisers on a tour around ABC7 newsrooms, April 24.

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