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Training Tapes for the Fourth Estate

A case study of Emerson College's Journalism Department

The Department of Journalism at Emerson College uses the SnapStream Enterprise TV appliance to gain access to a constant stream of televised newscasts for classroom study.

The Situation

One of the most challenging aspects of teaching journalism is the need to study the news as it happens. The world of media moves quickly and doesn’t wait for scholars to catch up. This is especially the case with television journalism. The speed of communications today creates the possibility of reporting on events in real time. Due to the nature of breaking news, it is very difficult to capture and analyze this material.

As a college that specializes in the study of communications, Emerson knows these challenges well. Until recently, the Department of Journalism dealt with them by recording television newscasts strategically. Careful planning was needed to allow Journalism faculty to study TV news. However, the inefficiencies in this solution prompted the department to look for a more powerful and comprehensive TV capture and search solution.

Before SnapStream’s Enterprise TV appliance was implemented at the college, the Department of Journalism had the capability to record a limited amount of news broadcasts. VHS copies of news programs could be obtained by advance request from the school’s Media Services department. However, professors’ use of these recordings was restricted by the limitations of VHS technology— for example, they had no simple way to edit or share these clips for classroom use. Furthermore, requests for recordings had to be made in advance- no method existed for regular news capture or for gaining access to live TV. Though a huge amount of TV news is broadcast every day, the school had access to only a small fraction of it.

The Solution

Now, the Department of Journalism has gained instant and simple access to TV news through a 6-tuner SnapStream Enterprise TV appliance. In addition to recording on-demand, professors now have access to all regularly scheduled news programs, which are recorded automatically each day. Once the programs are recorded, professors are able to use SnapStream’s powerful television search technology (which uses closed-captioning among other things to search inside television programs) to find key newscasts and categorize them for different topics of discussion. Then, the clipped and sorted newscasts can be stored for up to two months on the SnapStream appliance, streamed or copied to desktop PCs, burned to DVD or dropped onto a USB memory stick for further use. One of the most exciting uses of SnapStream’s DVR technology has been the streaming of recorded and live TV to a widescreen projector for classroom and student lab use (see Figures 2a and 2b). 


SnapStream’s DVR technology provides the Department of Journalism instant access to vast, constant stream of TV news, empowering the school to pursue a wide variety of teaching strategies, such as:

Side-by-side comparison: Using streaming video and editing software, teachers are able to show video clips from multiple newscasts in classrooms, highlighting the differences between them.

Content Analysis: SnapStream’s powerful search technology gives Emerson College the ability to find clips of interest almost instantly. This is an important advantage for a smaller school without access to hours of graduate student manpower necessary for visual monitoring of recorded news broadcasts.

Student projects: In the department’s computer lab, students can view recordings through the SnapStream Link client or download them directly off of the appliance. Professors can record broadcasts on the campus cable channel, on which student projects air, for critique and analysis.

Archiving: Emerson’s SnapStream provides enough storage capacity for months of automatic recordings, making it convenient for stories to be studied across news cycles. Clips of particular interest can be burned to DVD for long-term storage and easy retrieval.

Realtime news analysis: Professors can pause and time-shift live TV to give students an unprecedented opportunity to examine news coverage as events unfold.

The Snapstream Enterprise TV appliance can record from up to six channels simultaneously, and provides nearly two months worth of fault-tolerant storage. These features allow the Department of Journalism to record all available news broadcasts on four channels, as well as ad hoc recordings on two other channels at the same time. Requesting recordings is no longer necessary- and the department can be assured that they will never miss a story.

Emerson College SnapStream Configuration

Emerson College distributes commercial cable mixed with internal stations throughout the college via coaxial cable. The Snapstream Enterprise appliance resides in the college’s server room and is administered by their IT department (see Figure 1). The appliance is connected to the LAN, allowing any networked computer with the Link software to stream live TV and stream or download previously recorded TV. Users can save segments, which can then be edited or burned to DVD locally. Streaming TV can be projected for classroom presentations using Link clients in the department’s teaching labs.

About Emerson College

Emerson College is the only comprehensive college or university in America dedicated exclusively to communication and the arts in a liberal arts context. The College enrolls some 3,000 full-time undergraduates and 900 full and part-time graduate students in its School of the Arts and School of Communication. This diverse group of men and women come from 45 states and 40 countries. Emerson College is located in downtown Boston, at the gateway to the Theatre District. It also has facilities in Los Angeles and the Netherlands.


Figure 1: The SnapStream Enterprise TV appliance (blue) is rack-mounted in the Emerson College server room.

Figure 2: The SnapStream Enterprise appliance feeds content to computers in the Journalism Department’s teaching labs, which can be projected for classroom use.

Figure 3: A journalism department professor referencing recordings made with the Enterprise TV appliance.