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Archant launches Local Recall project to digitise 150 years of newspaper archives after Google grant

PUBLISHED: 15:45 15 December 2017 | UPDATED: 13:11 19 December 2017

Archant's newspaper archives will be digitised through the Local Recall project. Picture: ANTONY KELLY.

Archant's newspaper archives will be digitised through the Local Recall project. Picture: ANTONY KELLY.

Archant Norfolk 2017

Local Recall will also allow readers to search 150 years of archives with voice command.

Archant's newspaper archives will be digitised through the Local Recall project. Picture: ANTONY KELLY.Archant's newspaper archives will be digitised through the Local Recall project. Picture: ANTONY KELLY.

A project to digitise nearly 150 years of Archant’s newspaper history has been kick-started with a grant of nearly £600,000.

Local Recall, as the project will be known, will see print archives dating back to 1870 turned into digital records which can then be searched online and with voice commands.

The scheme has been awarded a grant worth 676,000 euros from Google’s Digital News Initiative, and aims to start with the Eastern Daily Press before progressing to other titles including the East Anglian Daily Times.

Local Recall has been developed to solve one of the major challenges to the regional media: that of having much of its content – stories and photographs, and especially archive material – largely inaccessible in its current format.

Material from the archives will be digitised, then checked manually by a team of community text editors.

Artificial intelligence specialists Ubisend, based in Norwich, will then work with Archant to create a voice-activated service.

This will mean readers can search the archive by asking simple questions, for example, what happened on this day on any given year, or searching for the last time Norwich City won 6-0.

Once complete, the content will be available in chatbot, voice bot, home assistant and a mobile-first website.

Jeff Henry, chief executive of Archant, said: “This is an extremely exciting project for Archant, allowing us to celebrate and realise the value of our rich history, while reinforcing our commitment to innovation and progress.”

Lorna Willis, Archant’s digital acceleration director, said: “Regional media has unrivalled expertise in local content creation and in Archant’s case, since 1870. The Local Recall project will ensure that this content becomes ubiquitous and available however the consumer wants it from text to voice.”

Due to the age and nature of some of the archive material, and the need for high accuracy, Local Recall will include an platform for readers to amend copy, with the aim of making Local Recall a community engagement tool which helps readers forge stronger links with the history of their areas.

How will it work?

Alex Debecker of Ubisend explains in a blog post how the project will work.

“The premise is simple. Archant has hundreds of thousands of pages of content in analog format. We need to turn it all into a real-time text and voice conversation.

“Our first goal is for a user to be able to ask things like: ‘What happened today in 1934?’ or ‘What was the headline news on the 4th of January 1899?’

“This would return the news that happened on these particular dates in a natural, conversational, way.

“The ultimate goal is even more exciting. Once we have processed enough data from Archant’s archives, the users will be able to ask things like: ‘Tell me the headlines on the Queen’s coronation,’ or ‘When was the last time Norwich Football Club won a game 6-0?’, or ‘What else happened on the day the Second World War was declared?’”

“The way we will, over time, label, store, and resurface the data we get from Archant’s archives will make this possible. It will also enable us to deliver topic-specific information (sports, weather, politics, etc.).”

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