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The Reese News Lab, an experimental media and research project in the School of Journalism and Mass Communication, will soon unleash a powerful new tracker to help lobbyists, lawyers and media professionals sniffing for news in the N.C. General Assembly.

Called Capitol Hound, the subscription service will provide alerts and searchable transcripts of sessions using keywords selected by the subscriber. It’s a watchdog for the watchdogs.

“It’s our responsibility to keep journalism alive and thriving,” said John Clark, executive director of Reese News Lab. The lab focuses on developing and testing new ideas for the media industry in the form of a “pre-startup.” Students create prototypes, interview and survey potential customers, and develop business strategies for their products.

For example, student-led teams looked at the problem of how media outlets who can’t afford a Raleigh bureau or correspondent can still keep tabs on the General Assembly. The solution the student team came up with was Capitol Hound, an archive and alert system that combines low tech and high tech for a quick turnaround with 98 percent accuracy.

Students on the Capitol Hound team take publicly available streaming audio of General Assembly sessions and use software to split the audio into five-minute segments that are submitted to online workers to transcribe through Amazon’s Mechanical Turk. The students spot-check the transcripts to make sure they are complete and use software to stitch the audio segments and transcripts back together. Then they insert the transcripts and descriptive data into the Capitol Hound system and re-index it to get the complete transcript up and searchable by 8 a.m. the next day.

“Human transcription is the only way to get accuracy up,” Clark said. And accuracy is very important when your clients are media professionals.

Capitol Hound will charge its subscribers $500 for a searchable audio and text archive and email alerts on requested keywords from the upcoming General Assembly short session, which starts May 14.

“We think this could be a valuable newsgathering tool, and we’re looking forward to using it in the upcoming legislative session,” said Rick Gall, WRAL news director.

And while students in the Reese News Lab provide tech support, manage subscriptions and monitor the alert system for daily keyword searches for their customers, they are also evaluating Capitol Hound as a reporting tool for themselves. “We want to see how we could use this system to report on happenings in the legislature. It’s how to make the North Carolina General Assembly more transparent,” Clark said.

To find out more about Capitol Hound and to run a demo to see how it works, visit

By Susan Hudson of UNC University Relations.

Published April 23, 2014.