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Customized newscasts coming to your computer

  • Story Highlights
  • News At Seven lets people choose the topics covered in their Web newscasts
  • The program was created by two graduate students and a professor
  • The free program launches October 31
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By April Daley
Special to CNN
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CNNU campus correspondent April Daley is a freshman at Northwestern University. CNNU is a feature that provides student perspectives on news and trends from colleges across the United States. The views expressed in this article are not necessarily those of CNN, its affiliates or the schools where the campus correspondents are based

EVANSTON, Illinois (CNN) -- Imagine having your Facebook friend updates and news about your hometown football teams delivered at the same time as updates about Iraq and the presidential campaign.

News At Seven is a customized, free nightly newscast, with highly animated anchors.

Northwestern University's Intelligent Information Lab hopes to make that image a reality with its October 31 launch of News At Seven, a system that creates a daily virtual news show based on topics the user chooses.

The program is the product of two Northwestern graduate students and Kristian Hammond, a computer science professor and founder and CEO of News at Seven Inc.

Hammond said the system will help users wade through all of the news available.

"Instead of tracking information and news, we can help track it for you in the same way that Google is a search and Yahoo is used for mail," Hammond said.

For no cost, users of choose topics that interest them ranging from weather to international news.

The system then searches for relevant articles from established news sites and rewords them in spoken word format.

Two main anchors, Sam and Kaitlin, deliver these typically one-page articles.

The system also searches for snippets of video related to the story and plays them in the background. Throughout the newscast, the system provides a list of links to all of the articles and videos.

Users can also pause and switch between the news stories or change their setting at any time.

Northwestern Graduate student and News At Seven programmer Nathan Nichols said the system will also eventually let users customize the look and sound of the anchor and subscribe to the personalized newscasts of celebrities.

With or without the improvements, Hammond said he is not sure what impact News At Seven will have, but the system is not meant to replace traditional media.

"Katie Couric can't give you news you want, she has to give you the news everyone cares about," Hammond said. "Our goal is to give you your own news experience."

Northwestern freshman Maggie Elmarakby, 18, said a program like News at Seven would be a useful addition to her life.

"If something happened in the Middle East tomorrow, it would take a while for me to know," Elmarakby said. "I have problems keeping up with the world outside of Evanston. If the program would help, I would use it."

Tiarra Medley, 19, said as a journalism student at Northwestern she is always checking the news and filters out what she finds interesting on her own. She said she has mixed feelings about News At Seven.

"It is more likely that you will stay informed but less likely that you will know about everything," Medley said. "If you only focus on entertainment news, you will miss interesting political news."


According to Hammond, the program may eventually be able to suggest related stories to users and help expand their interests. But for right now, he said he looks forward to the responses of the first users.

"If I can give everyone that comes in contact with it a news experience, I'm happy," Hammond said. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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