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Project begins to bring newspaper archive to life through cutting-edge technology

PUBLISHED: 17:55 13 February 2018 | UPDATED: 08:35 14 February 2018

Archant chief executive, Jeff Henry, front right, signs the contract in Archant's archive with Joe Dixon, left, chief technical officer and Alex Debecker, chief growth officer for Ubisend. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.

Archant chief executive, Jeff Henry, front right, signs the contract in Archant's archive with Joe Dixon, left, chief technical officer and Alex Debecker, chief growth officer for Ubisend. Picture: DENISE BRADLEY.

Archant

Nearly 150 years of East Anglia’s history will soon be accessible to readers and listeners at a spoken command after a Google-backed scheme to digitise a newspaper group’s archives got under way.

Local Recall will see Archant, publisher of the Eastern Daily Press and East Anglian Daily Times, work with one of the UK’s most exciting artificial intelligence start-ups Ubisend to make its printed history available via a chatbot, voice bot, home assistant and mobile-first website.

After signing the contract on Tuesday Jeff Henry, chief executive of Archant, said: “For me what has been really interesting is the amount of interest from other regional media wanting to know about the project and how we can help them move forward with projects like this. It is exciting, innovative and brings to life something which for too long has been in dusty vaults.”

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

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.

Ubisend’s Alex Debecker said the company was looking forward to working on the “innovative project” with Archant.

When the project is complete readers will be able to ask questions such as “when did Norwich City last win 6-0”.

Lorna Willis, Archant executive director digital, data and insight, said: “When people read a story online people go away and search other questions so we wanted a way to query things while reading our content.

“Before Google people would go to the library or local newspaper for information and now it is coming full circle.”

She added readers had already been in touch to volunteer to help the project get off the ground by proofreading and checking stories are accurately translated.

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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