All Digital Lab Makes Its Journalism Debut

Incoming students at the Graduate School of Journalism's Center for New Media this year were introduced to an all-digital laboratory for reporting, writing and editing news via the medium of radio.

The system was constructed according to specifications established by TimeFrame Productions, Inc., a consultant to the center, and after detailed testing of systems by technical staff and electronic journalism teachers of the Graduate School of Journalism.

All students--both electronic and print--are exposed to the new technology during their first semester in the school.

The Digital Audio Laboratory uses a new nonlinear software editing system called "Sessions." The School' s technical staff and broadcast teachers chose the "Sessions" system over others they tested for both quality and simplicity. Students who have never used recording or playback equipment can be taught to record and edit on Sessions software in several hours, so they can concentrate on content instead of technology.

Students also use familiar analog tape recorders for their first assignments and then convert the sounds they have recorded to digital format after they return to the Laboratory. Students who do their year-long master's projects in radio will record digitally from the beginning, capturing sounds with digital audio tape recorders.

Sessions allows editing to take place using cut and paste features similar to those in most word processsors. Segments of sound are manipulated not by cutting and splicing magnetic tape or waiting for magnetic tape to wind or rewind--but by merely directing an electronic pointer at a representation of a particular segment of sound and dragging to reposition, shorten, extend or delete it.

The system operates on 20 Apple 8100 computers equipped with PowerPC chips, 16 million bytes of random access memory, 1 million bytes of hard-disk storage and quad-speed CD-ROM drives. Because storage and manipulation of audio requires large volumes of bits of information, each machine contains a removable Syquest hard drive capable of storing 270 million bytes of data; Syquest will upgrade those to 1.3 billion-byte drives once it has perfected that technology. Each computer is connected to a Soundcraft audio mixer, Marantz audio recorder, Audio Technica microphone, Sennheiser headphones, Sony analog cassette decks and other custom-designed equipment. Since the Lab is a teaching facility and not a formal radio news room, a special system was installed to allow instructors to communicate with all their students even when the students are wearing the headphones.

Columbia University Record -- December 8, 1995 -- Vol. 21, No. 12