The Morgue Morphs p.17

By: Editorial Staff The Baltimore Sun has embarked on an ambitious project to digitize its entire clippings morgue, featuring articles dating back to the 1920s.
Using sophisticated new software to scan old cut up newspaper clippings and convert them into searchable text files, the paper hopes to have its entire morgue ? featuring hundreds of envelopes full of old clips ? digitized by the end of the year. The $300,000 project is designed to provide reporters with desktop access to the newspaper's historic articles.
"Not only is it cost-efficient, but it helps preserve the clips," said Sandy Levy, director of library and information services. If successful, the project will make the Sun the first paper in the country to tap the technology in order to convert all its old clippings into convenient text files.
The key to the process is Retrievalware optical character recognition software from Excalibur Technologies, Vienna, Va., which in addition to converting print to digital text, employs a 400,000-word dictionary, a database of 50,000 idioms and a concept archive of 1.6 million words to correct for scanner errors and aid searching.
"We believe there's a rule of five or 10 out there," explained Mark Demers, director of marketing for the software company ? that is, if a search engine doesn't find the document a person wants within the first five or 10 articles retrieved, it isn't really helping.
To that end, Excalibur offers a smart, concept-based way to search. If a business reporter wants to find the word "stock," for example, Excalibur can also automatically search for related terms like "financial institution," "thrift" and "share," increasing the scope of the search. "It bridges the gap between whoever wrote it and whoever is searching," Demers said.
Though Levy is excited about the project, other news librarians are more skeptical.
The Boston Globe, for instance, has chosen to use an old-fashioned method of preserving its morgue: microfilm.
"Ten percent of our collection is looked at 90 percent of the time, and the other 90 percent is looked at 10 percent of the time" said Lisa Tuite, the paper's library director. "What's the added value of having it all digitized?"
In fact, the newspapers that pioneered the digital morgue ? albeit using outdated scanning technology that wasn't text-searchable ? found results unsatisfying.
The Orlando Sentinel, for instance, digitized its archive five years ago. Today, the paper is redoing the entire job. "The system we have is archaic," said Judy Grimsley, who started out as an article clipper and is now editorial research manager. "It's got to be quick or it's no good ? that's why I hate it."
Grimsley explains that the paper had problems with scanning, because newsprint ages at different rates, and different shades of yellow can distort a scanned image. "I can't imagine that anyone wouldn't have problems digitizing their old clippings," she said.
The Fort Lauderdale, Fla.-based Sun-Sentinel, which started the four-year process of converting its archive to optical disks back in 1989, was the first paper in the country to embrace the digital future.
"We think it paid off because it's certainly better than going through all those file envelopes," said Bob Isaacs, editorial research manager.
Nonetheless, he said, Sun-Sentinel managers only approved the project because the paper was in a space crunch and the move saved 700 square feet of floor space ? a pretty valuable commodity in an overcrowded newsroom.
Lacking reliable OCR, both Florida papers scanned their archives as unsearchable page images, so they use computerized indexes to find articles. For them, digitizing the morgue was simply an efficient storage option, not a means of creating a fully searchable database.
In Baltimore, Levy is excited about the prospect of a completely digital morgue and hopes that advances in imaging and text searching will make it an efficient, user-friendly system. She has no doubt archive searches will be fast.
But Boston's Tuite remains devoted to the tried and true method of newspaper archiving. Digitizing, she says, may sound great on paper, but those puzzling pixels may never be as efficient as the time-tested combination of an expert news librarian with a pair of scissors and a mechanized rotary file with burgeoning pocket envelopes full of clippings.
With digital retrieval, she noted, "I could search for about an hour to give somebody the same thing I'd give them right away from the old clippings file."
?(E&P Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher April 25, 1998) [Caption]


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