By: David S. Hirschman
The Washington Times has launched a new online feature that automatically translates all of the newspaper’s staff-written content, as well as some AP content, into streamed audio and MP3 files, allowing users to listen to articles they would normally read in the print version or online.
The text-to-audio system, called Click-2-Listen, was applied to the newspaper’s Web site Friday, allowing users to follow links beside each story to a computer-generated audio file. Visitors to the site can hear the robotic voice reading the text while sitting at their desktops, or can download the audio file onto an MP3 player and listen to it on the go.
The new feature was created by NewsWorthy Audio, which has proprietary “Professional Text-to-Speech” technology that continuously converts the complete text of articles in the Times’ system into MP3 files. The service is compatible with Windows Media Player, iTunes, RealPlayer, Quicktime, and others, and users downloading the files will receive the most recent version of the site’s news.
David Eldridge, the managing editor of WashingtonTimes.com said he believed his was the first newspaper Web site to have this kind of online text-to-audio feature, and thought it would be particularly useful for commuters who can now download the newspaper articles and listen to them in their cars.
“We all rush every morning to get everything done,” said Eldridge. “With this you can plug in your iPod and download the files, and you can listen to them anytime and anywhere, even while you are driving or multi-tasking. For a town as full of busy people and news-junkies as [Washington D.C.] it’s very useful.”
Bob Adkins, the Internet director for the paper, says that, while setting up the NewsWorthy feature required a great deal of custom code, it is now an automatic part of the site’s content management system and doesn’t require any extra work from online editors. He said that the audio service was created less to spike traffic on the site than as a response to readers’ demands.
“People are drifting away from print and they want their information across several platforms,” Adkins explained. He said that the site was aiming the service particularly at iPod-toting young people, but noted that podcasting technology had begun to filter into the general population as well.
Approximately 90-95% of the newspaper’s site — excepting some syndicated content — is now available in the text-to-audio format.