More details on the OPB News Bureau

I have more details on Oregon Public Broadcasting‘s new News Bureau that’s opening up next month. I spoke with Morgan Holm, Vice President of News and Public Affairs at OPB, last week and he was more than happy to fill in the blanks for me.

First off, it’s primarily for OPB Radio, though the stories will be posted on their website as well. The Bureau will cover all of Central Oregon, not just Bend, and what strikes me as being very cool is the fact that this is almost more of a "virtual" bureau—the reporter will record and file stories on a laptop (with portable audio equipment) and post them to the OPB server (either via email or FTP) as MP3 files. No studio necessary.

This is a much more grassroots and modern direction to take, and definitely shows that OPB is thinking a lot about these issues and about how to do radio (and news) in the modern era of wireless, ubiquitous internet and blogs and podcasts. (OPB does have a podcast feed, incidentally, and you can listen to their radio stream live online.)

Here’s a few snippets from the article Holm wrote for the OPB July Member Guide, which he was kind enough to forward to me:

OPB Radio began broadcasting in Bend in 1986. Since that time, OPB has been represented in the area primarily by excellent engineers who work hard to keep both our radio and television signals on the air. Beginning in July, though, we will open our first news bureau in the region to expand our coverage of central Oregon. We are re-assigning a position from our Portland newsroom, and we have hired Ethan Lindsey to fill that position.

In the early 1990’s, OPB brought Oregon Considered, our daily news program, to Bend for an entire week each summer. Back then, it took two people and a trunkload of cassette tape machines, reel-to-reel tape decks, phone coupler units and microphones to produce the show. Central Oregon Community College allowed us to use their board room to set up a mini-studio for our live broadcast each afternoon. Those shows “on the road” were great opportunities for us to meet people and hear stories that we wouldn’t have encountered during a quick trip to the area or through covering a story by phone.

Today, we can put together news stories and entire shows with much less equipment. OPB’s reporters record interviews on machines that use Flash card memory (the same little cards you find in a digital camera). A laptop computer has all the necessary software to produce top-quality audio stories. And instead of filing those stories by phone, our reporters can e-mail them or send them to an FTP server, often using a wireless connection. All of that equipment fits in a modest bag that can be carried over the shoulder. In short, it’s much cheaper and easier to set up a bureau virtually anywhere, and our reporters can file the same high quality stories as they can when working out of a studio.

(I added the links and emphasis.)

This is also their first satellite bureau (outside of one in Salem), so this will be something of an experiment for OPB as well. In addition, assuming all goes well with the News Bureau, Holm talked about exploring the possibility of isolating a radio signal in Bend in order to be able to broadcast for Bend only—hyper-local and not piggybacking on another signal/station. That’s still up in the air, though, so there’s no saying (yet) whether that would consist of all-local news or general OPB broadcasts.

Also a possibility: launching a local talk show/call-in show around the first of the year. Again, up in the air, but it sounds like they might send another reporter over to Bend for that.

This is all very cool. I’ve subscribed to a number of the OPB RSS feeds and I’ll be watching closely in July to see when they go live (most likely the second week) and keep track of the local news being generated. I’m quite sure I’ll be blogging more about this during that time.