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News24.com adds custom synthetic voice to news articles


South Africa’s largest news platform adds audio to improve news subscription product. 

News24.com, a site owned and operated by South African news group, Media24, last month launched the world’s first customised synthetic voice for news. Subscribers to the newly introduced digital subscription package will be able to access audio versions of all news articles available on the website. Whilst media companies have experimented with pre-existing text-to-speech, News24 contracted SpeechKit, a UK-based technology company, to build a voice specific to the region.

Kelly Anderson, Deputy Site Editor at News24.com says;

“We decided to work with SpeechKit and develop a custom synthetic voice to deliver our subscribers the value they deserved. Existing voices struggled to handle pronunciations unique to South African accents and it was imperative that the voice resonated with our readers. We’re thrilled with the result.  The voice handles local names, towns and places better than anything we’ve heard before. It’s much more engaging to listen to a voice that sounds like our brand.”

Audio articles, automated using text-to-speech technology, are rising in popularity as the format moves through the technology adoption curve. Publishers are able to instantly deliver audio versions of their stories through media players embedded on their websites and apps, or through platforms, such as Spotify and Apple Podcasts. This format gives subscribers a new way to engage with articles whilst they get on with other tasks.

Patrick O’Flaherty, Co-Founder and CEO at SpeechKit adds:

“We’re excited to partner with News24 and bring this new voice to their readers. Bringing local accents to audio articles will help take this emerging format to a new level. Our focus at SpeechKit is building seamless and engaging listening experiences. By creating a voice that reflects the local audience we’re already seeing improvements in the listening data.”

SpeechKit develops and integrates high-quality custom synthetic voice technology and audio publishing tools. Research shows that listening comprehension improves when sentences are spoken in a native accent. Up to this point, the team has been working primarily with existing text-to-speech technology.  By creating integrations for newsrooms that allow readers an option to listen SpeechKit allows publishers to improve engagement and retention of news audiences.

The shift in news business models, from advertising-based models towards reader revenue, is forcing publishers to improve their digital retention with new products and strategies. In a recent Reuters Institute report, over half of the publisher respondents claimed audio would be a focus for them in 2020. New technologies, hardware, and audience behaviour are paving the way for a more immersive and modern audio news experience.

SpeechKit was founded by Patrick O’Flaherty and James MacLeod in 2017, after an experiment building a curated audio news digest. Realising that intensive podcast production would serve only a handful of publishers, they developed a platform to automate audio versions of news stories. The service is live on 75+ publishers worldwide and the company recently raised investment from Newark Venture Partners, backed by Audible.

Contact Details;
James MacLeod
Chief Operating Officer
james@speechkit.io
+44 7717 436 497

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Start-up that detects fake news raises £2.5m to prepare for US elections


https://www.prfire.com/

Logically – a tech start-up using AI to detect misinformation and to provide a factchecking service to combat fake news – has raised £2.5m to further develop its products in time for the US election.

The company has secured funding from NPIF – Mercia Equity Finance, which is managed by Mercia and is part of the Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund, and XTX Ventures – the venture capital affiliate of XTX Markets, a leading global algorithmic trading firm.

Logically, which is based in Brighouse, uses a team of dedicated fact-checkers alongside artificial intelligence (AI) and digital forensics to analyse media stories and conspiracy theories to help the public separate facts from falsehoods.

It can also track sources of disinformation, as it did recently when it identified false information purporting to link COVID 19 to 5G phone masts. Logically has a free app for consumers and also works with governments, news organisations and social media platforms to help prevent misinformation. It has already been used successfully in the Indian general and regional elections last year, in which it detected over 130,000 pieces of problematic content. It has secured contracts in the USA with public sector and social media platforms in the country to report on the forthcoming elections.

Logically was founded in 2017 by Lyric Jain, a graduate of both Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), after witnessing the public debate about Brexit and the 2016 US elections. The company now employs 15 staff in Yorkshire and a
similar number in London.

Lyric Jain, CEO, said: “With the rise of the internet and social media, falsehoods travel faster than the truth. Misinformation can polarise societies and has become a serious threat to democracy. Logically aims to stop the spread of disinformation, ensure people see both sides of the story and keep elections free and fair. Following on from our early successes in India and Europe, we are looking to establish Logically as a partner for governments, businesses and consumers around the world.”

Ashwin Kumaraswarmy, Investment Manager at Mercia, added: “Logically has developed an AI technology and an impressive client list. It is well placed to work alongside social media platforms like Facebook, as well as Government bodies and businesses, to tackle a growing issue of fake news.

Ekaterina Holt, Head of XTX Ventures, said: ‘’We were impressed with Logically’s technology and team from day one. We invest in emerging companies utilising AI/ machine learning, and in Logically we are proud to support another company that will be a future leader in the world of information and data.’’

Grant Peggie, Director at British Business Bank, said: “We are pleased that NPIF has continued to support high-growth businesses in the North, providing vital funding to enable businesses to create new jobs and expand into new markets. This investment demonstrates how this funding can make a real and measurable difference to innovative businesses across the Northern Powerhouse region, creating a more prosperous regional economy.”

The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund project is supported financially by the European Union using funding from the European Regional Development Fund (ERDF) as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020 and the European Investment Bank.

For more information, please contact:
Alison Dwyer Head of Marketing and Communication
Mercia Asset Management PLC
+44 (0) 330 223 1430
Alison.dwyer@mercia.co.uk

Pauline Rawsterne
PR Agent Turquoise PR
+44 (0) 161 860 6063
+44 (0) 780 163 9816
pauline@turquoisepr.co.uk

About Mercia Asset Management PLC
Mercia is a proactive, specialist asset manager focused on supporting regional SMEs to achieve their growth aspirations. Mercia provides capital across its four asset classes of balance sheet,

venture, private equity and debt capital; the Group’s ‘Complete Capital Solution’. The Group initially nurtures businesses via its third-party funds under management, then over time Mercia can provide further funding to the most promising companies, by deploying direct investment follow-on capital from its own balance sheet. The Group has a strong UK regional footprint through its eight offices, 19 university partnerships and extensive personal networks, providing it with access to high-quality deal flow. Mercia has over £500million of assets under management and, since its IPO in December 2014, has invested over £84million across its direct investment portfolio.

Mercia Asset Management PLC is quoted on AIM with the epic “MERC” and includes the following wholly owned subsidiaries –

• Mercia Fund Management Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 524856

• Enterprise Ventures Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 183363

• EV Business Loans Limited is authorised and regulated by the FCA under firm reference number 443560 www.mercia.co.uk

About The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund

• The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund will invest in Microfinance, Business Loans and Equity Finance sub-funds which will offer financing ranging from £25,000 to £2m, specifically to help small and medium sized businesses secure the funding they need for growth and development

. • The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund is operated by British Business Financial Services Limited, wholly owned by British Business Bank, the UK’s national economic development bank. Established in November 2014, its mission is to make finance markets for smaller businesses work more effectively, enabling those businesses to prosper, grow and build UK economic activity.

• The Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund is supported by the European Regional Development Fund, the European Investment Bank, the Department for Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy and British Business Finance Limited, a British Business Bank group company.

• The NPIF covers the following LEP areas: Tees Valley Combined Authority, Greater Manchester, Cheshire and Warrington, Cumbria, Liverpool City Region, Lancashire, Humber, Leeds City Region, Sheffield City Region, York, North Yorkshire and East Riding

• The project is receiving up to £140,359,192 of funding from the England European Regional Development Fund as part of the European Structural and Investment Funds Growth Programme 2014-2020. The Department for Communities and Local Government is the Managing Authority for European Regional Development Fund. Established by the European Union, the European Regional Development Fund helps local areas stimulate their economic development by investing in projects which will support innovation, businesses, create jobs and local community regenerations. For more information visit :https://www.gov.uk/european-growth-funding.

• The funds in which Northern Powerhouse Investment Fund invests are open to businesses with material operations, or planning to open material operations, in, Yorkshire and the Humber, the North West and Tees Valley

. • The British Business Bank has published the Business Finance Guide (in partnership with the ICAEW, and a further 21 business and finance organisations). The guide, which impartially sets out the range finance options available to businesses and provides links to support available at a regional level, is available at: www.thebusinessfinanceguide.co.uk/bb

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GOOD NEWS for Travel Advisors


Destinations in America, and Earning Commissions in Advance

With limits to international travel and ever-fluctuating travel dates, Authentic Vacations is innovating solutions to meet travelers and Travel Advisors where they are. Right here. Right now. Introducing a creative and authentic suite of American vacations uniquely tailored to shifting consumer demands and an end to commissions tied to travel dates.

As America opens up, so does the potential to reengineer domestic travel as we know it. We’re offering travelers the same allure, excitement, and adventure of overseas travel within the comfort and security of our own borders.

With a finger on the pulse of state restrictions, we’re bringing up-to-date solutions to travel advisers. American travel, customized to fit your clients’ desires for travel around special Milestone Moments™, is now available to exceptional places. We’re happy to introduce you to Authentic America’s newest destinations.

Whether it’s an adventurous trip to Alaska, the Rocky Mountains, or the Pacific Northwest—or a romantic getaway to Napa—we’ve got you covered. Authentic America has found hidden gems throughout this country. Our goal is to give travel advisors solutions and options, rather than restrictions and limitations.

There’s never been a better time to travel America, or a better way to see it. And, our innovations are not only breathing new life into domestic travel, they’re also solving the emerging challenge of commissions tied to ever-changing travel dates.

With the launch of Authentic America, Travel Advisors receive their commissions up front—even before your clients travel. Our ‘Authentic America Advance,’ pays your commission when full payment for travel is made. The incentive is valid for any future Authentic America customized itineraries, booked and paid in full by July 31, 2020.

America is opening up possibilities for travel advisors. We’re here for you, and we’re here for your clients.

Authentic Vacations has arranged over 200,000 trips and is a trusted member of USTOA, IATA, ASTA, and Travel Leaders.

To Learn more about Authentic Vacations visit https://www.authenticvacations.com or to schedule an interview with Allegra Lynch, President, please contact:
media@authenticvacations.com
Meredith Blevins
602-299-0327

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The IRS Provides Good News for Certain American Expats


https://www.prfire.com/Are you an American who has lived or worked in the UK or elsewhere overseas and owns Foreign Trusts? Have you paid a penalty for late filed Form 3520 or 3520A for 2016,2017,2018 or paid an earlier year penalty within the last 2 years or have clients that did?

If so, there may be good news for you, according to Mary Beth Lougen, President of American Expat Tax Service. This week the IRS issued new guidance in Rev. Proc. 2020-17 that may exempt qualifying U.S. citizens and residents with Foreign Trusts from the onerous reporting requirements. This means that you may not have to file the Form 3520, due April 15th, and Form 3520A, due March 16th going forward if you qualify.

What Foreign Trust qualifies according to the IRS? According to Mary Beth the IRS states in the guidance; “ This revenue procedure provides an exemption from the information reporting requirements under section 6048 of the Internal Revenue Code for certain U.S. citizen and resident individuals with respect to their transactions with, and ownership of, certain tax-favored foreign retirement trusts and certain tax-favored foreign nonretirement savings trusts.” “For purposes of this revenue procedure, a tax-favored foreign non-retirement savings trust means a foreign trust for U.S. tax purposes that is created, organized, or otherwise established under the laws of a foreign jurisdiction (the trust’s jurisdiction) as a trust, plan, fund, scheme, or other arrangement (collectively, a trust) to operate exclusively or almost exclusively to provide, or to earn income for the provision of, medical, disability, or educational benefits, and that meets the following requirements established by the laws of the trust’s jurisdiction”. There are further restrictions in the guidance that apply as well. She recommends speaking to an experienced expat tax advisor to determine how the new regulations may apply to your specific situation.

But there is more good news. Mary Beth notes that the new procedures provide an opportunity to request abatement of penalties has imposed and a refund of penalties paid for tax years 2016 – 2018 or earlier years if paid in the last two years. A Form 843 should be used to file for this relief.

According to Mary Beth to be eligible a taxpayer…

• Must be compliant with all requirements for filing a U.S. federal income tax return (or returns) covering the period such individual was a U.S. citizen or resident.
• To the extent required under U.S. tax law, has reported as income any contributions to, earnings of, or distributions from, an applicable tax-favored foreign trust on the applicable return (including on an amended return).

More information can be found on the IRS website at … https://www.irs.gov/pub/irs-drop/rp-20-17.pdf.
Mary Beth Lougen is President of American Expat Tax Services which is an income tax preparation firm that specializes in all areas of US Income Tax Preparation, Compliance, and IRS Problem Resolution for American Expats. She has over 30 years of US Income Tax experience including cross-border and expat taxes. Mary Beth has a Master’s in Law and taxation, is an Enrolled Agent, a U.S. Tax Court Practitioner (USTCP), and is also a respected writer and instructor in cross-border taxation.

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Social Media is to blame for suicides, Branding company Spread awareness video

As another week comes to an end and the UK’s Brexit decision and teen knife crime dominate the media… there is an epidemic sweeping across our nation “under the cloak of night.” There are millions of teenagers struggling with depression and mental anxiety, the large social media networks have been facilitating these messages of self hate and sadly lives are being taken at an alarming rate…

Dozens of families have come forward and accused these social media giants of aiding their children’s suicides and now, in the wake of the death of Molly Russell a 14 year old girl who engrossed herself with disturbing posts on sites like Pinterest and Instagram, her father Ian Russell says these companies must be held accountable for the content on their sites.

British Brand Management have created an online video to build awareness about this issue affecting 1 in 3 children under the age of 16. It reenacts a very real scenario and hopes to provoke the online community to wake up and do something. After watching the reconstruction, British Brand Management invites the viewer to sign the online petition, which seeks to hold these social media companies accountable for this ever growing problem and push the issue all the way to parliament.

With the likes of ITV’s Loose Women presenter Katie Price recently airing her views on the negative effects of social media content on the youth, British Brand Management’s Director Reece Johnson states “It starts with awareness, we can’t sit back and watch our next generation fall by the waist side whilst the government debate about the difficulties of enforcing online censorship.”
involvedweekly@gmail.com