Newsbeat

Tribune's Newsbeat app will stream audio of newspaper stories to users. (Tribune Digital Ventures)

Tribune Digital Ventures, a technology unit of Chicago-based Tribune Co., is introducing a new mobile app Thursday to provide audio streaming of newspaper stories, enabling listeners to create their own customized news radio stations.

The Newsbeat app aggregates content from hundreds of newspapers and websites, voicing some 7,000 national and local stories each day through announcers and text-to-speech technology.  Available free for iOS and Android devices, the format includes local weather and traffic updates in real time.

"Newsbeat offers a new way to experience the best print and online news in a personalized audio streaming format," Shashi Seth, president of Tribune Digital Ventures, said in a statement. "We've married high-quality journalism from respected reporters and publications with mobile technology to extend its reach and appeal to an audience that is often on-the-go."

Newsbeat will cull stories from hundreds of licensed news sources including the Chicago Tribune, Los Angeles Times and other major newspapers. Overall, some 70 percent of U.S. newspapers are on board as of the launch, according to Seth. The content partners will be paid for use of their stories, while the product will be supported by targeted audio ads inserted in the programming.

Aimed at commuters, Newsbeat can pair mobile devices with Bluetooth systems in cars for a radio-like experience. Drivers can skip or rewind stories, in some cases using voice commands, a process which helps the app learn a user's preference, shaping its content over time.

Listeners can also actively customize the program with areas of interests, sports teams, newspaper sections and favorite publications.

Generally, only the first few paragraphs will be voiced, with the full text available on the mobile device. Stories that generate greater interest will be fed to announcers, while most stories will rely on computerized text-to-speech delivery, according to Seth.

"The minute a news story breaks and it is determined to be something that a lot of users would be listening to, it will instantly go to a voice artist who will record it, and it will flow into your program in real time," Seth said in an interview.

All of the stories will be read exactly as written.

"We are trying to stay away from the editorial judgment ourselves, because we're an aggregator," Seth said.

Newsbeat is the first major product developed by Tribune Digital Ventures, a 10-month-old stand-alone unit of Tribune Co. based in California's Silicon Valley. Last month, Tribune Co. closed on its $170 million acquisition of Gracenote from Sony Corporation of America. The music metadata company was combined with Tribune Media Services under the nascent unit, which now has 900 employees, according to Seth.

While newspapers provide the core content for Newsbeat, Tribune Co. will soon be separating itself from its own publishing holdings. The company plans to spin off its eight daily newspapers, including the Chicago Tribune, to focus on its higher-growth broadcasting, entertainment and digital assets.

rchannick@tribune.com