AP’s ENPS breaks language barrier

Apr 8, 2002  •  Post A Comment

Until recently, television stations that broadcast in a language other than English had few choices when it came to news production systems, which typically operate only in English. That’s why it wasn’t unusual to find stations such as KTSF-TV, San Francisco, still using paper.
“We were one of those dinosaurs,” said Mei-Ling Sze, managing editor of the station. “Everything was handwritten, and there weren’t a lot of support tools for Chinese that would make it easier for us to do the computer news processing.”
Reaching more than 1.6 million viewers in the Bay area, KTSF is America’s largest provider of Chinese-language television programming. It is one of the only television stations in the country to air nightly Mandarin- and Cantonese-language newscasts.
The station’s challenge was to find a multilingual newsroom system that provided an easy way for journalists to work in different languages and dialects and share information quickly and easily while offering traditional rundowns, scripting, prompting and planning. At last year’s National Association of Broadcasters conference, Ms. Sze found two systems that could work for the station. One was from a company in China. The other was the Associated Press’ Electronic News Production System. They were competitively priced and had similar features.
According to Ms. Sze, the station chose ENPS for two major reasons: The Chinese vendor’s support people do not speak English, and KTSF’s technical team does not speak Chinese. “That’s a big problem,” said Ms. Sze. “If they can’t communicate, there’s no way we can iron out problems.”
Openness of the system was another factor. The Chinese vendor had a proprietary closed environment. That meant that if KTSF wanted to add on or make changes to accommodate future needs, the vendor would need to do all the development. ENPS, on the other hand, uses an open-systems approach, which would allow the station to hire local software developers as needs changed.
Microsoft compatibility
Originally developed for the BBC, ENPS is installed at 389 locations in 39 countries. It runs on Microsoft operating systems, which makes it possible to run the system in every language supported by Microsoft.
“That’s the theory,” said Anthony Prangley, product manager at AP. “Every language has issues that often we don’t find until we start testing it, so we have to make odd modifications.”
For example, the Turkish alphabet has an extra “I,” requiring modifications on the search facility. Arabic is written right to left, which required swapping the interface, dialog boxes and error messages.
The system is currently offered in more than 40 languages. With the release of Windows 2000 and XP, even more languages are possible. AP has recently begun testing Hindi and Tamil, opening up the Indian market.
All ENPS menus and dialog boxes can be translated into native languages and even meet local dialect/terminology requirements. No matter what language is used, non-English characters may be written and edited in any text window, provided each user’s workstation has the appropriate language version installed. That interface for foreign-language editing will aid journalists at KTSF when translating news stories from English to Chinese.
Working out the bugs
Installation of the system at KTSF began just a few weeks ago. Though it’s in the process of integrating the system, the station is already beginning to see benefits. “ENPS is helping us a lot because it can process everything in Chinese,” said Ms. Sze. “We can send Chinese character generation information to the machine, and we can do the prompter in Chinese. That is pretty comprehensive.”
Ms. Sze said there are, however, still a few bugs to work out. Different dialects of the Chinese language are used in different locations. People in mainland China use simplified Chinese, while people in Hong Kong and Taiwan use traditional Chinese. “We use both traditional and simplified forms, and that’s giving ENPS people headaches,” said Ms. Sze.
Timing is also a challenge. Chinese uses about four characters for words that may be 16 characters in English. Using English names makes it difficult to get the timing right. “We’re in America, so we refer to organizations and people in English,” said Ms. Sze. “For timing of the script, you can either time in Chinese or English for the read rate. When doing a sports report where we’re listing five names, I would be totally off on the time. So, we’re still trying to work that out.”
However, Ms. Sze is confident they will work through technical glitches and is satisfied with the decision to go with ENPS. “We really like it as far as archiving and managing things,” she said. “The part that takes a little more effort is getting people used to doing everything on the computer.”