The great dust-off: new ways of engaging your audience by mining the past

How can you repackage archive content to make it relevant for today’s readers? Can it pay dividends for news outlets? This is what we aim to find out by exploring three innovative archive storytelling projects.

By Evangeline De Bourgoing, contributor, Reuters Community

A year after the launch of Reuters Connect, Head of Reuters News Agency Sue Brookstook a step back to reflect. Brooks was surprised to discover that, although 25% of Connect’s content is used within two hours of appearing on the platform, “close to 15% of content used on Connect [was] at least one year old”.

Archival content is indeed a great way to add context and perspective to current stories. But it comes with multiple challenges: How do you find and select the most compelling pieces? How can you make them relevant to today’s readers? And is there a way they can be monetized?

We've investigated these questions and unearthed three ideas.  

 

1. Make it conversational

Archant, the UK’s leading privately owned regional media group received a €676,000 grant from Google’s Digital News Initiative to make a publically available, digital version of its 170 years of archives. At first glance, this Local Recall project looks like a typical archive digitization project: extremely useful but not groundbreaking. But look closer and you discover Archant makes its archives accessible via an Alexa skill –– quite a leap forward from dusty stacks of yellowing newsprint to voice AI.

 

According to Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, in 2018, 7% of the UK population use a voice-activated speaker, compared to only 2% in 2017.

With Local Recall, Archant will be one the first regional publishers in the UK to leverage voice AI, gaining a first-mover advantage over its competitors in this new space. Archant is considering ways to drive monetization via this medium, approaching long-standing businesses (whose ads appear in their archives) to provide further sponsorship.

 

2. Make it relatable

The release of Apple’s AR kit and Google’s ARCore made it much easier for newsrooms to create augmented reality (AR) experiences and to breathe new life into archive photos.

Prototyped by professors Sandeep Junnarkar and Jere Hester of the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism, You Are Here is an AR experience that takes users on a street-level trip through NYC history. You Are Here’s first test case “Times Square” enabled Times Square visitors to discover archival photos of the iconic intersection at four points in history: the turn of the 20th century, the 1930s, the 1950s and the 1970s.

As visitors look around Times Square, phone in hand, they can see camera icons pop up on their screens. Clicking the icons unveils archive pictures they can tap on to discover in which context the photos had been taken.

By leveraging location-based data, the prototype creates a bridge between the physical and digital world, and between past and their present. It makes archival pictures much more relatable and compelling.

3. Make it relevant

The Atlantic asked animators to create short videos illustrating important pieces from its archives. Atthar Mirza, animation fellow at The Atlantic, animated an excerpt from Einstein’s article “Atomic War or Peace”

In this powerful piece, the physicist reflects on how to maintain peace in the young atomic age and expresses concerns about fear-mongering strategies. In 2018 when, according to the Guardian, “the use of a nuclear weapon is now more likely than any time since the cold war”, Einstein’s advice resonates. Giving his speech a contemporary video interpretation makes it engaging and compelling enough to attract an easily-distracted Facebook user whilst respecting its historical gravity.

These are just three of the many ways in which publishers could leverage archive content. The team behind Reuters Connect works hard to make it easier for news organizations to add innovative projects to this list, constantly looking for new ways to make Connect’s archive content more discoverable. For instance, Today in History is a curation of multimedia coverage of historically significant events, dating back to 1900, for every day of the year. 

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