So what is this Structured Journalism thing anyway?
It’s not database-driven journalism, although there are elements of that. It’s not Wiki-driven journalism, although there could be elements of that, too. And it’s not writing to a template, although there will be some of that.
One way to look at it is to consider two ideas – really the fundamental underpinnings of it:
One, that the tradition “push” model of news – we tell you the latest happenings – only serves part of audiences’ needs; increasingly people turn to a “pull” model where they look for up-to-date information on specific subjects when they want it, not when events happen. The popularity of Wikipedia as a news site, and the development of “topics pages” on some mainstream media sites, is evidence of this.
Two, there is a great deal of valuable information embedded in stories – and in reporter’s notebooks – that isn’t being properly captured and turned into potential new stories/products, at potentially low relative cost. In theory, too, there is embedded value to be captured in user-generated content on sites with active communities, although that may be a more difficult logistical task.
So the gist of Structured Journalism is to change the way we create content so as to maximize its shelf-life, as well as structuring – as much as possible – the information in stories, at the time of creation, for use in databases that can form the basis of new stories or information products.
Whoa! Way too business-consultant-speak. But that’s the gist. There’s more about this in the postings below, but to add some flesh onto these bones:
One example: Stories in archives are invariably stored in the form and format they were written in. So a story written six months ago will probably have a reference in it to an event that happened “at the last council meeting.” That reference makes sense when read at the time, but is nearly meaningless when read six months later. So one simple workflow change would be to ensure that archive copies of stories be edited subtly to make such references more understandable – from “at the last council meeting” to “at a meeting held in late June, 2009,” say. It’s simple, but I don’t know of any media organization that does this.
Another example: Newspapers write about people all the time, but they don’t take the time to capture, in a structured database, information about them and their relationships. That could fuel different news products which show how people are connected – information that’s interesting, important and valuable. There are technology companies trying to do this, but by and large they’re focusing on unraveling stories after they’re written. But there’s lots of disadvantages to this approach, which I discuss in some of the postings. (An update: The product might look something like the Connected China project we launched at Reuters.)
And some news organizations are building deeper and better topics pages, which are a step in the right direction. But they don’t really get to the heart of the issue, which is the daily newsroom process and rebuilding that for a new age. Similarly, Living Stories from Google is a great step forward as well – but that, too, depends on what’s already been written.
Structured Journalism is as much about rethinking how we write things and how to extract more value – and provide more value – from what we do daily. And in the process, hopefully build a business model that helps sustain journalism as well.
(And credit where credit is due: Kudos to Matt Waite, the designer of Politifact, who really sparked my thinking on this.)
Some of the more pertinent postings:
Why we need to rethink the notion of stories as the standard unit of what we produce.
The case for why we need to structure information, not just tag it.
How we can get value out of things we did yesterday and the day before that.