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Ever wondered what a newspaper web site would have looked like if the internet was around when Charles Babbage was still tinkering with his difference engine?

The Guardian offers a facsimile of its 1821 front cover – when it was still the Manchester Guardian – but filled with modern news stories.

I’m not sure how well this works on smaller displays, but on a 24-inch screen it looks wonderful and is far easier to read than some modern newspaper sites. Who would have thought a seven column layout, drop caps and a serif face would make for such a good online experience?

Scanning and stitching pages and stories from old broadsheet newspapers has been a problem for a long time.

I’ve been a newspaper journalist for most of the past 30 years. My story portfolio is a pile of yellowing paper. It is now fraying around the edges. There’s enough to fill three filing cabinet drawers.

My news cutting hoard is a prime candidate for scanning and digital storage. Yet turning broadsheet newspaper pages into .pdfs or .jpgs isn’t easy.

Home office flatbed scanners are A4 size or maybe fractionally larger. They rarely scan a whole newspaper story in a single go, Full pages are out of the question.

You can scan and store pages in sections, but converting from, say, The Sydney Morning Herald, into six overlapping A4 pdfs is clumsy.

And the saved documents aren’t much use for anything.

Software stitching scanned pages

Applications like Adobe Photoshop or Gimp can stitch photographs together, so they should do the same with newspaper pages.

In practice the job is tricky, although I’m told recent versions of Photoshop do a better job.

There are specialist programs able to piece together overlapping images to form bigger documents. Photographers use them to create panoramas. Most are optimised for photos rather than printed pages. I came across ArcSoft’s Scan n Stich which automates the task making it easy.

I’d give ArcSoft nine out of ten for ease of use and practicality. There are two versions of the program. I’ve previously used the US$20 Standard Edition to deal with magazine and tabloid newspaper pages in my portfolio. The program whizzed through the task producing stunning results. I also use Nuance’s PaperPort to organise scanned documents and the same company’s OmniPage optical character recognition so I have both text documents of my old stories and facsimile pdfs.

To scan my broadsheet pages, I’d need to shell out a further US$40 to ArcSoft for its Scan n Stich Deluxe version. I don’t objection to paying for software to do this kind of job, I don’t use credit cards making it hard for me to buy software online.

Free alternative software

I looked for something available from local retailers or a free downloadable alternative. I wasn’t optimistic and braced myself for a lot of Photoshop work. On the other hand, I could just hang on to the paper.

Luckily I found Microsoft Image Composite Editor (ICE) from Microsoft Research. ICE is a free downloadable application designed to process photographic images but it can meld six A4 scans into a single broadsheet-sized document.

ICE has been on version 1.2r1 since November 2008, so the application is clearly not a priority at Microsoft. There are rough edges and little documentation, but hey, it not only gets the job done, it does things quickly.

Best of all the application is simple to use. You simply drag and drop images in any order on the main Window and let the program do its stuff. One complication is that you’ll need to have roughly 20 percent overlap between the various pages – but this would be standard in any stitching application.

When you’ve finished there’s a basic crop tool and the option to export the completed image in a number of formats.

I had to play around a little with the images to get the best output. My scans were initially black and whites – it was hard to get the contrast level right and some text was always left unread. My scanner software has an enhanced text mode, but I didn’t use this for the composite image instead opting for gray-scale images captured at a potentially unnecessarily high 400 dots per inch resolution. The results looked more like photo images, which seemed to help with the stitching.

Great technology case studies tell a story. They start with a problem and move swiftly to a satisfactory conclusion.

The best case studies in newspapers are readable, credible and informative.

If you want your marketing case studies to have the same impact, follow my guide:

Keep it tight, relevant

Nobody reads long case studies. If you still print documents, then 1,000 words – two A4 pages – is plenty. Readers can’t hold their attention as long online: keep it under 600 words.

Use short paragraphs and crisp sentences. Pull out and highlight the best quotes. Add a key points box so readers can see at a glance if the material is relevant.

Interview real people

Interviews are the heart of great case studies. Interview the most senior person at the target company, preferably the boss. Also interview the account manager who handled the sale.

It works best when these people are open, honest and articulate. Sometimes the senior person knows the business, but doesn’t have the technical know-how. In that case I look for the most senior technical person as well.

Avoid massaged quotes

Get rid of corporate BS and jargon. While you’re at it strike a line through business clichés. Tidying up language and re-organising thoughts from the interview to make your story more coherent is fine.

Companies often like to massage quotes to make sure people are ‘on message’. This results in tired, clichéd nonsense which kills credibility and undermines the entire case study.

Tell ’em things they didn’t know

Great case studies have the drama of good fiction with suspense, screw-ups and revelations. Focus on the pain points and the near misses along the way. Don’t be shy of naming the competitors you beat to win the sale.

Have specific results

Everyone knows a marketing case study will have a happy ending. The best have specific, quantifiable results. Put a dollar value on the savings or increased business.

Finish with the interviewee commenting on the result, but don’t spoil everything by getting carried away with hype at the last moment.

Australia’s federal court decided copyright doesn’t apply to newspaper headlines.

The decision strikes a blow against publishers wanting to hide content from non-paying online readers behind paywalls.

It came in a copyright claim made by Fairfax Media over headlines in its flagship business newspaper, The Australian Financial Review (AFR).  Disclosure: I spent seven years working as a freelance journalist for the AFR and a further two years as an associate publisher for its parent company.

Paywalls

Fairfax was looking to halt Reed International reproducing AFR headlines on news abstracts in its LexisNexis service – which incidentally, like the AFR, is also behind a paywall.

The AFR has operated a newspaper paywall long before the strategy became popular with newspaper publishers. For many years the AFR was derided for being out of touch with its paywall. Now everyone is in on the act, the case takes on more importance for the publishing industry.

Summaries substitute for articles

My old boss, chief executive Michael Gill went in to bat for the copyright claim. He said Reed intended its summaries to substitute for the articles and breached copyright by reproducing AFR headlines and by-lines.

The judge ruled otherwise saying Fairfax’s sample headlines were not literary works “in which copyright can subsist”.

She said Reed’s conduct was fair dealing and not copyright infringement.

Gill said Fairfax was considering appealing the decision.

Torn over copyright decision

As a journalist who has received an annual income from Australia’s Copyright Agency, I’m torn over the decision.

On the one hand, I feel publishers need protection from copyists who simply scrape data from the web, then repackage and sell it. Many of my stories from this site appear on other people’s sites – that makes me angry.

And well written headlines – the AFR employs some of the best sub-editors and many headlines are first-rate – provide readers with part of a story.

On the other hand, there’s always been an acceptance small works such as headlines, titles and advertising slogans are not protected. Now would not be a good time to start.

It is early days for the newspaper paywall. The experience so far says successful paywalls have four things in common.

Paywalls work for business newspapers like The National Business Review (NBR), The Australian Financial Review and The Financial Times.

Commentators often say paywalls and subscriptions work for niche titles providing specialist coverage and editorial quality.

This is true. For example, I work for CommsDay, which is a successful specialist niche title covering the telecommunications market. CommsDay doesn’t use a paywall – it is a daily PDF newsletter.

There’s more to getting readers to pay than occupying a specialist niche.

There are three other must haves:

  • Quality. The above titles are editorially excellent and professional. They are the best in their field.
  • Well-heeled audience. People who buy online subscriptions are richer than average readers. Business people often have personal or company-wide budgets for buying media.
  • Quick. Paywalls work when readers need information fast. They have to find it more convenient to whip out the credit card and pay for a subscription than walk to the local shop and buy a print copy of the publication or spend 30 minutes Googling for information.