Posted by: structureofnews | August 4, 2010

Selling Shovels

Just to be mercantile about this for a moment: While I’ve mostly been writing about the increased accessibility of information for readers and the possibility of extracting more knowledge from day-to-day reporting, I certainly believe there’s also monetary value in structured journalism, if done well.

News organizations that structure their information should be able to monetize more of their archive, surface more relevant information, build more persistent content, and create metastories at essentially no cost. That’s all added value to readers, but as we all know, that may not actually translate into dollars and cents. Well, maybe cents, if we look at online ad rates and try to monetize this off Google Ads and marginal increases in traffic.

But I do believe the recreation of news into structured information can create a new form of product, if you like, that should find a way into a business model that works. That’s an article of faith, I admit, but I do think that one of the problems we have in the journalism business these days is that we’re trying to take a product and process built for one business model and shoe-horn it into a different kind of world.

Unfortunately, even if I’m right, it doesn’t pay the rent today.

But one clear area where structured journalism could have more immediate monetary value is in tools – in other words, don’t prospect for gold, sell shovels. Beyond the publishing systems that could use plug-ins to allow for more taxonomy and structure of content, there also needs to be a host of tool kits that allow people to create taxonomies on the fly, train staff to use them and spit out some kind of useful aggregated data afterwords.

In other words, if your SJ-enabled newsroom is about to cover an earthquake, there’s (hopefully) a taxonomy created in the publishing system for natural disasters; the SJ editor at the organization looks over it, and decides that he should buy/borrow/dig up the subset of that for earthquakes (which has extra data fields for magnitude, aftershocks, etc) for this story. But then he realizes that the earthquake was on Mars, and as he dispatches his reporting team on the next rocket, he needs to create, on the fly, a bunch of new structures for this particular kind of story.

That shouldn’t be too hard; but what would be ideal would be a system that can relatively easily integrate new fields into old data, and so on.

Not entirely clear how that should work. But the theory is: There’s money in them thar shovels.


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