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TRIBUNE GOES BACK IN TIME TO TAKE A LEAP FORWARD Chicago paper takes key step in ambitious plan to put 150 years' of clip files on-line.

The Chicago Tribune is one big step closer to putting 150 years' worth of key archives on-line.

Excalibur Technologies, a supplier of digital archiving tools and services based in Vienna, Va., has completed the first phase of a three-year project to store in digital form what now is available only on microfilm or yellowing clips from Tribune editions stretching back to 1849.

The project will put on-line front pages, obits and major stories covered by the Tribune, whose home city is renowned for gangsters, politicians, sports and historic events. When the first of an expected 15 million files are offered to the public sometime next summer, consumers will be able to surf to a number of sites, including ChicagoTribune.com and NewsBank, and pay to download items of interest.

Getting to that point is a highly technical task well worth the effort and cost, explains Mark Demers, Excalibur's director of marketing. The Tribune "turned to us because they realize that their information, and how they publish it, is a differentiator for them." In other words, Demers says, the Tribune and other news organizations "have realized it's a gold mine for them," that making instant, continuous access to archives -- text, images, video -- available to the public is one swift revenue stream, if channeled correctly.

"They need to keep their users coming back," Demers says, "and one way to do that is through search capabilities." Excalibur's RetrievalWare system uses pattern recognition to take optical character recognition (OCR) to a higher level -- not on input but in retrieval. "That's really eliminated the need to clean up scanned-in documents," he says, because RetrievalWare's search engine can look not only for identical strings of characters, as many search engines do, but also for semantic or idiomatic matches as well.

The two avenues into the archive are incorporated into "a hybrid search system," using concept searching and pattern searching. Concept searching "basically bridges the gap between the words the searcher's using to find something, and the words an author used to create a document," Demers says. A user can enter "War Between the States" and RetrievalWare, through its on-line client WebExpress, will find documents that not only may use those words, but more importantly will address the concept of the Civil War as well.

With the archive built on scanned images of tear sheets, the second search methodology is critical, as it makes allowances for errors, "both in how they spell something as well as how something potentially was stored into the system," he says. This again makes the search simpler and less likely to return "89,286 documents, the majority of which aren't what you're looking for."

The Tribune, which has not yet set a fee schedule, expects the archive to be popular world-wide, says Jeff Bierig, the paper's media relations manager. The web site now gets about one hit in 12 from overseas, so it's easy to imagine someone searching for the full front page from the day of his or her birth, or looking for an obit of an ancestor.

The Excalibur project, notes Bierig, plays on two Tribune attributes -- its credibility as a news organization, and being "an innovator in having things on-line."
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Comment:TRIBUNE GOES BACK IN TIME TO TAKE A LEAP FORWARD Chicago paper takes key step in ambitious plan to put 150 years' of clip files on-line.
Publication:NewsInc
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Jun 21, 1999
Words:531
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