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Personalized, computerized news via satellite.

Personalized, computerized news via satellite

Put several dozen scientists and technicians on a ship in the middle of nowhere for two months straight, and what do they request?

News.

That's something Karen Riedel can provide. She is coordinator of public information for the Ocean Drilling Program in College Station, Texas.

But, the job is a bit complicated. To begin with, the scientific drill ship stations itself out of helicopter range - no print media can be flown in - and often it is out of radio range. People on board are unaware of what is happening back home.

"Back home," to further complicate matters, could be one of 20 countries in partnership exploring the earth's structure beneath the sea floor.

Among the 115 people on board for each cruise to remote waters are the U.S.-based drilling crew; scientists from European countries, Japan, the U.S.S.R., or the U.S. with various earth science specialties; and engineers, system analysts, photographers, and others who staff the labs and are employees of Texas A&M University, also in College Station, Texas.

The employer of the drilling crew and owner of the vessel communicates with the ship daily via satellite, sending stock market news, sports, and the leads of two major news stories.

"But there's still a gap," said Riedel. "That's where I come in. My news to the ship is different in that it's weekly and it's targeted - targeted to the scientists specifically and to the [Texas A&M] technical crew," she said.

And she does mean targeted! At the beginning of each two-month cruise, Riedel notes the home countries of the scientists on board. Those country names become "keywords" for a computer search of stories filed by AP, UPI, Reuters, and the Washington Post.

Riedel uses Executive News Service (ENS), an electronic clipping service available on CompuServe, that allows her to scan and save stories as they are released from the news wires.

With ENS, Riedel creates three "folders" into which the selected electronic stories are deposited. The first folder is for articles that match the keyword countries.

Into the second folder go articles on science topics, using seven keywords including earth, ship, volcano, and scien*. The asterisk is a clue to the computer to match all words starting with "scien," including science, scientist, and scientific. "I send in-depth science stories that I think they might be interested in," Riedel said.

The third category is business. The AP wire does a daily "business highlights" summary that she finds useful.

Whenever it is convenient, Riedel can check her electronic clipping folders by connecting on-line to CompuServe. ENS offers the option of scanning articles by titles or by leads. "Since I get about 500 stories every two days, I just read by titles. Because I've been doing this for so long - since 1987 - I know immediately what I want." At that point, Reidel "clips" articles and saves them to her computer to "cut and paste" or otherwise manipulate. "I usually end up with 10 or 15 pages." All text is in English, the official language on board the ship.

Riedel then transmits the copy as the weekly "memo to the crew" through the corporate computer system to be "blasted" via satellite to the ship. The ship's telex operator receives it on a computer screen. He has the option of routing it to personal computers on board or printing it out and posting it.

"The response I've gotten has been fantastic; they really appreciate it. When returning crew members find out who I am, they come up and thank me and tell me how much they enjoyed reading it."

At times, reading the news memo is more than just a pleasure - it's a pressing concern. "One crew left from New Zealand December 22, 1990, and didn't get back into port until February 28, 1991. During that time the Gulf War broke out. They weren't getting very much information, so I did a daily memo to the ship then on the Persian Gulf War, with in-depth stories," Riedel said.

Another cruise began on July 10 and ended September 11 - and there was a coup in the Soviet Union. The U.S.S.R. is the newest member of the Ocean Drilling Program consortium. "For about a week there, every other day I would send news of the coup, because we had two Russian scientists on board - and everybody else on board was interested in it," Riedel said.

Not all news for the crew is critical or scientific. "Sometimes I even have to insert editorial comments to let them know I'm not making it up," Riedel said. Like when Money magazine named College Station the third best place in the nation to live.

Now, if you don't understand why that statement has to be qualified, you won't understand why this sounds like the beginning of an Aggie joke: Put several dozen Texas A&M technicians on a ship in the middle of nowhere for two months straight, and what do they request?

Sheri Rosen, ABC, owns ConsultRosen Enterprises, 1468 Nelson St., Mandeville, La. 70448. The firm specializes in corporate publications and computer applications for public relations.
COPYRIGHT 1991 International Association of Business Communicators
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 1991, Gale Group. All rights reserved. Gale Group is a Thomson Corporation Company.

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Title Annotation:Computer Sense
Author:Rosen, Sheri
Publication:Communication World
Article Type:Column
Date:Dec 1, 1991
Words:861
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