By: Mark Fitzgerald
YOU COULD LOOK it up: The hottest electronics on the show floor of this year’s Nexpo exposition were text and image archiving systems.
The explosion of interest and experimentation in online and Internet publishing has given the dusty newspaper morgue a new purpose in life.
Or, to use the ubiquitous buzzword, a “repurposing” in life.
Newspapers long ago realized information and images were their most valuable assets, essentially raw material that could be used ? sold ? again and again.
Electronic publishing, however, has given new urgency to the search for solutions that can easily handle this so-called repurposing of raw words, photos, graphics and ? increasingly ? voice, sound and full-motion images.
“The ability to distribute your information in various ways is going to be the key to being competitive,” said Dan Woods, now the applications editor for Pathfinder, a Time Inc. company. Woods developed the archiving system used by the News & Observer Publishing Co. in Raleigh, N.C.
Woods, in large measure, used so-called “freeware,” the public-domain software available on the Internet, to create the N&O’s text archiving system. Among other capabilities, the archive, dating back to mid-1990, is searchable by keyword or proximity techniques, allows operates using Boolean logic applications to connect search terms and can sort search “sets” in reverse chronological order.
Perhaps most important, however, the system can print and e-mail search results in bulk ? and is accessible from a World Wide Web interface.
N&O, in fact, has already used the archive to develop two Web applications: One that gives parents who input their street address wide access to a range of information about their neighborhood schools, and another that permits database tracking of the progress, and text, of bills in the North Carolina legislature.
Though creating the system from scratch ? a process Woods describes as “rolling your own virtual library” ? is by no means easy, the cost was very low and the freeware was high quality, he said.
“People are sometimes afraid of free software, the assumption being that it’s worth what it costs,” Woods said. “The bottom line, though, is there is a huge community of people out there supporting Unix tools.”
Further, Woods argues, creating its own archiving system gives a newspaper a big edge in the market.
“I don’t think you should let an integrator take control of your key technology,” Woods said. “That will be your competitive advantage.”
Of course, there are dozens of integrators out there willing to put together an archiving system ? and most of them seemed to be on the Nexpo floor.
? Cascade Systems International showed its MediaSphere, a system that archives and retrieves text, images, published pages and multimedia objects.
MediaSphere uses the so-called object-oriented approach in accepting and indexing digital data into a Sybase SQL (structured query language) relational database. It uses a natural language search engine and a graphical user interface integrated with Adobe Acrobat. It supports both Windows and Macintosh clients.
? Harris Publishing Systems Corp.’s Vantage, an object-oriented archiving system that soon will be out in a CD-ROM “jukebox” format.
? Lexis-Nexis and Tribune Publishing Co. introduced new features for NewsView Connections, which works with its text archiving system and permits automated distribution of text formatted for the Web, online services, in-house library and e-mail.
Also shown was PhotoView, an image archive with new features, including Macintosh client support.
? IBM’s Digital Library is a scalable solution that integrates information storage, search, retrieval and distribution technologies into a single architecture for distribution on the Internet or other online services.
Part of the problem, says one expert on newspaper archiving systems, is that there are a growing number of vendors ? but the technology is still in its infancy.
“There’s an awful lot of developing going on, which means there is not a lot of real-life experience out there,” M.J. Crowley, library manager for Philadelphia Newspapers, told a session at Nexpo.
For newspapers, Crowley said, the biggest issue remains accomplishing archiving and repurposing ? while not slowing workflow to a halt.
Because the fact is, say Crowley and other library managers, newspapers store enormous amounts of information.
“We use one gigabyte of storage every month and we’re not even saving every image we publish, let alone every image we shoot,” Crowley said of the Philadelphia papers. A gigabyte is approximately one billion bytes.
But it is not just storage capacity that gets eaten up ? it’s time as well, Crowley says. For instance, when images are taken off Associated Press’ Leaf Desk, they decompress, and must be recompressed for archiving.
“We are doing a lot of things that are time wasters,” Crowley said. “We’ve gotten used to doing a lot of things that way. But it doesn’t function very efficiently, and we’ve got to get beyond that.”
Another demand libraries have of archiving systems is storage of a full newspaper page, Crowley said.
“We know all of our users in the newsroom or remote sites want to see the article the way it was displayed,” she said. “We want the page, with the graphics and the pictures.
“After all, we in the news business don’t just put information out ? we display it, we present it and we want to archive it that way,” Crowley added.
Quick turnaround on text and images is important not just for use in electronic publishing or fax on demand, but for “repurposing” that material back into the printed newspaper, library managers say.
“About 20% of the pictures put in the paper every day come from the library,” said Jerome McClendon, imaging editor of the Los Angeles Times.
It has all served to make the newspaper library more valuable than ever before ? but there remain problems with terminology, Philadelphia Newspapers’ Crowley says.
“We’ve finally rebelled against the stodgy feeling of the word ‘morgue,’ but ‘archiving’ doesn’t really do much better,” she said.