A former American news broadcaster has bought the revolution of digital video-journalism to Newcastle

Michael Rosenblum takes a wad of notes from his pocket and offers me a fiver if I can tell him what the BBC Look North news item he's just shown me was all about.

I can't, but then he knew that from the start as he's made the point before. The dull visuals don't keep your mind on the story being told by the reporter.

American Rosenblum is not out to criticise journalists on the BBC Newcastle regional news programme, more to illustrate the restrictions under which they operate. He can change all that. For the past 15 years the former CBS News producer has been leading the digital video-journalist revolution - and now he's brought it to the North-East.

The BBC's Broadcasting Centre in Newcastle is housing a school for these new-style TV journalists. Over the next two years, some 400 journalists and production staff from all over the country will be trained to report, shoot and edit their own news material.

"The problem with television is that it's so complicated to make that very few people get access to it. The cost is so expensive that it makes people very nervous and because of that it inhibits creativity," says Rosenblum.

His solution is Personal Digital Production (PDP). The current method is for a journalist to take a craft crew to film and then have an editor put the film together. Video-journalists work on their own - shooting material on a small digital camera and editing the piece themselves on a computer.

Rosenblum, who is consultant on the multi-million pound BBC project, likens the process to a print reporter's job. All he needs is a notebook and pencil to collect the information, and a computer to write the story.

"This isn't an attempt to create cheaper TV. That's a misnomer. It will empower people with the opportunity to try and to fail. You can't hit the mark every time. The act of writing is so inexpensive, you can take risks. With TV, you can't," he says

The BBC will be running PDP side-by-side with conventional news-gathering methods, the result of a multi-skilling agreement with the NUJ and BECTU trade unions.

"People who have trained love it because it makes their job really exciting," says Fiona Macbeth, Strategic Development Co-ordinator, BBC Nations and Region.

"There's no problem convincing senior management at the BBC. There are still issues with middle management we are working through. Some people don't know how it's going to impact on their jobs.

"That's partly to do with the bad reputation because others have used it for cost-cutting and multi-skilling. We're doing the opposite. It's a major investment for the BBC".

Rosenblum agrees there's a lot of misnomers and misinformation about the process. New technology makes it financially possible to replace expensive cameras and editing systems with a £2,000 camera and editorial system piece of software. The new-style TV newsroom will look much like the editorial floor of a newspaper with reporters at computer screens "writing" their stories, using the sights and sounds of digital video instead of words. This new method, he feels, brings a sense of individual authorship to stories.

For Rosenblum, it all began 15 years ago when he quit American news outfit CBS to investigate new ways of making television. A Swedish TV executive asked him the seminal question of his life: could he teach other people his method?

"As I always say, 'any idiot can do this'," he recalls. "We started to build a TV station in Scandinavia. VJ news-gathering has proved very popular with start-up companies because of the cost.

"The BBC is the first mature broadcaster I've worked with, although it's not to cut costs but release journalists and cameramen.

"No one has ever done this before on this scale. Most broadcasters around the world are looking at this. This is a completely different model to how TV works. That's the hardest part for people to grasp. They think it's cheap TV."

The end result will be to increase 84 craft crews in the BBC to around 760 cameras. Already the results are being seen on BBC programmes around the country as successful trainees return to their regions. Some 60 PDP items have appeared on Look North, for instance.

Viewers may not notice any discernible change, although the process tends to make stories more original and more character driven.

The BBC has tested it on a focus group. "The audience found the PDP items more memorable," reports Macbeth. "They empathised with people they wouldn't share a point of view with, and remember details of the films they wouldn't normally remember. It's all very positive."

The scheme puts Newcastle at the heart of a major BBC initiative, something emphasised by BBC Director General Greg Dyke making the trip north to officially open the centre.

"There are some fantastic opportunities for filming in this region," Fiona Macbeth says. "We need 120 film opportunities every three weeks as new trainees arrive. We need a busy region and one where people don't say, 'I don't think I can be having you coming round filming today'."