News markup language may be spoken soon p.14

By: Martha L. Stone The Web-based initiative could affect print and broadcast, too

The creation of a news markup language ? born out of the need to streamline production for news Web sites ? could have efficiency and cost-savings implications for media operations with print, broadcast, or other delivery methods. The development also signals a move toward print, online, and broadcast newsrooms working more closely together.
Last fall, participants at American Press Institute's (API) "Grammar of New Media" conference planned to create a series of simple computer commands that would require copy to be marked up only once by media companies. News outlets could then recycle the same story two, three, or four times for their print, online, fax, and broadcast operations. And valuable time spent preparing stories for print editions wouldn't be lost when the Web staff is forced to convert the stories to text-only formatting.
When this same group of print, online, and news library managers and academics met again earlier this month in Dallas, they created some 40 "tags" or computer codes that designate the nuts and bolts of almost every story. Tags were developed for bylines, captions, nut paragraphs, headlines, persons quoted in the story, names of books, and so on.
Chris Feola, director of API's Media Center, says the group was broken into two groups: the tag-writing group and the implementation group. Feola says the tag group wrote 40 hypothetical tags that will undergo testing with hopes of having a working model running by Feb. 1. The implementation group decided how to move forward and market the language.
"We have to make a case to publishers," says Jay Small, general manager of online services for Indianapolis Newspapers and leader of the implementation committee. "They want to know if this is going to save money or cost money. ? It should save money in workflow."
The tags perform two functions: first, to stylize the copy. For instance, the byline tag would transform plain type into the designated byline typeface ? a function already performed by decades-old computer markup often implemented by copy editors.
But the new markup language would make the information much more powerful for the reader and much more efficient for the news operation. Each category of information would feed into a database and would create a deep resource of information and an efficient way to search for information.
For example, a reader could search by author, or search how many times a book was named on the Web site, or for specific names in captions. Readers also could choose to read stories in the format in which they appeared in the paper, or just read about subjects they are interested in.
"(The markup language) will be enormously powerful," Feola believes. "It will help newspapers ? with this, you only have to edit once. It provides a much more narrow way of searching, for instance, for 'Monica Lewinsky.'"
The production could save time for editors because some print or Web pages could be generated automatically, such as briefs pages, because nut paragraphs could be assembled at the touch of a button ? a tedious function that now could take hours. "This would be a way to describe, edit, and enhance at the entry point ? at the beginning of the process as opposed to tacking it on the end," Small says. "That's where there is a potential for efficiency."
In an effort to efficiently archive news stories, news librarians already are marking up copy to make it easier for readers and company insiders to search for authors, key subjects, titles, dates, etc. The markup language could make it even more streamlined for news librarians, participants say.
The old way of marking up copy is obsolete and inefficient, participants say. The new markup language would be an industrywide standard that would also make it easier for publishing system vendors to install computer systems at news operations.
The news industry "has a long history of having vendors come in to different locations with different specs and ask for their systems to be customized," says Small. The news markup language would create a uniform system with far-reaching benefits on an international scale.
Though the tags would exist industrywide, the specifications for the tags could be customized for each news outlet. The language would be written in the XML code, which is a flexible markup language based on plain language. For instance, a byline tag could be Helvetica bold at newspaper A, Bodoni italic at newspaper B, and Futura with an underline for online news operation C, depending on customization. The customization would be in the background, while the tag would simple say .
Dan Froomkin, senior producer for politics at, says precious time spent on marking up print copy is now stripped off at his organization, and the copy becomes plain "ASCII" type so the story can be recycled on the Web site. "All that time spent on value shouldn't be lost, it should be leveraged," Froomkin says. "[The markup language] is just one way newspapers and online are going to be evolving together. Newspaper sites are the premiere source of news on the Web, which they should be. Then we need tools to leverage every ounce of value from what newspapers produce."
?(Chris Feola, American Press Institute) [Photo & Caption]
?(Jay Small, Indianapolis Newspapers) [Photo & Caption]
?( Editor & Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com ) [caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher January 23, 1999) [Caption]


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