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Vol. 19, No. 3/Spring 1997

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Important new changes in photo subject headings

by John Jansson

The International Press Telecommunications Council has approved two changes in the format for news transmission. One change may affect the efforts of the News Division's technology committee to produce a basic list of enhancement terms for electronic news photo archiving systems.

The change is contained in a new ``Subject'' field, which is designed to take the place of the old ``Category'' and ``Supplemental Category'' fields in the headers of wire service stories and photos. These fields are used by newsroom computers to sort copy to appropriate queues -- National, Foreign, Sports, Business, etc.

The new ``Subject'' field is a set of numerals, which is broken down as follows:

  • The first two numerals refer to the ``subject'' of the transmission, either text or photos.
  • The second three numerals refer to ``subject matter'' and refine the``subject.''
  • The last three numerals refer to ``subject detail.''
The ``subject detail'' resembles enhancement terms that might be used in text or photo archiving, but from the point of view of experienced news text or photo librarian/archivists it is clearly inadequate.

The News Division technology committee has opened communications with the Newspaper Association of America (NAA) wire service task force that works with the IPTC with the intention of having the News Division's list of basic photo enhancement terms acknowledged by the NAA task force and possibly the IPTC.

The preliminary list of enhancement terms was published by the News Division about three years ago. It since then has undergone substantial changes in the field. A revised list, based on the field tests, should be developed and passed on the NAA wire service task force.

A more detailed discussion of this subject is on the Newslib listserv.

John Jansson is on News Division Key Word task force and Editor, Information Services at the Chicago Tribune. Send him email at

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