A group of BYU students won’t be watching general conference this weekend — they opted to work instead.
While millions of LDS Church members will gather to watch or listen to conference in homes, chapels and stake centers throughout the world, these students will be scrambling around the fifth floor of the Wilkinson Student Center, taking part in one of NewsNet’s biggest projects of the year.
A team of seven NewsNet employees — three computer programmers and four Web editors — will broadcast the four general sessions of conference. NewsNet will offer video streaming in Spanish and Portuguese and audio streaming in six other languages. NewsNet is the only news organization that is offering video streaming in languages other than English; no live English sessions will be broadcast on the site.
“With the high availability of the English broadcast, we decided to allocate our resources to languages that are harder to get on the Internet,” said Michael Buhrley, NewsNet Web Director.
Although NewsNet won’t be broadcasting in English, it will still add full English video clips to detailed summaries of every conference talk, since that is generally one of the most popular uses of the site.
The Web editors will also post in-depth stories about related conference events, including the debut of the new Conference Center.
NewsNet will offer a virtual photo tour of the building, including panoramic and still frame photos, which should be accessible from its home page, http://newsnet.byu.edu, by Friday evening, March 31.
“We’re really excited about the virtual tour because it’s something unique to this conference only,” said Jeni Deery, NewsNet special sections editor. “People can access the pictures from all over the world, so if they can’t come, I think they’ll feel more like they’re a part of the historic event.”
Although it may be an exhausting weekend for all that are involved, Buhrley said NewsNet is glad to use the given technology for such a worthy cause.
“It’s not really a sacrifice for us at all,” he said. “Some of the most powerful experiences I’ve had in my life have been while working with conference and bringing it to people who have never had an opportunity to see or hear it live.”
Some of the students involved with the project will be able to watch parts of conference, although it may not be in a language they understand. One editor reported having to watch October’s conference in Samoan and Hmong, although she is fluent in only Spanish and English.
“Even though the students may not understand the languages they are monitoring, they’ll look back on the weekend and all the time they spent, and they’ll realize they did something of great worth,” Buhrley said.
Managing Director John Gholdston said it is the “tear-stained e-mails” that NewsNet receives from people around the world that make the project worth it.
“Conference is not available by TV or radio in Austria,” wrote Heber Ferraz-Leite, 31, of Vienna, after watching all four sessions of conference online last October. “Sessions at our stake center are available in German or English. With us being foreigners in Austria, and Spanish being our language, the Internet was the only means by which we could listen.”
Ferraz-Leite said having the words of the prophet in their home gave them the feeling that their family was living the fulfillment of a prophecy, and the spirit was stronger there than it might have been in other places.
Denise McArthur, 52, who is serving with her husband as a mission president in Fukuoka, Japan, said there is no other way besides the Internet to get conference in Japan.
“The only way people here get conference is by video tape a month or two later,” McArthur said. “And then they only see what gets shown in church a couple of times. We spread the word to all we could find to watch or listen on the Internet. It was the first time that most of the people had heard conference live.”
Although NewsNet has been netcasting general conference since 1997, Buhrley said the coverage has improved every year.
“We are able to send conference to more people than in the past, and more languages have become available to us,” he said. “Because NewsNet has become so popular at conference time, we look forward to it and there’s a lot of preparation that goes into it.”
Buhrley said the site usually receives four times more traffic over conference weekend than it normally does in a month.
Perhaps the biggest problem that plagues the site is that its servers are limited, which makes it so that only a few thousand can use the services at the same time, Burhley said.
“On the site we say that the streaming versions are there for those who don’t have a stake center in the vicinity or who don’t have it carried on their cable system,” Buhrley explained. “We want the people who have no other method of getting it to be able to take advantage of what the Internet offers.”
NewsNet will provide links to other pages for sessions of conference it is not covering. Other sites that will offer conference coverage include LDSWorld.com, DeseretNews.com and KSL.com.