Posted by: structureofnews | August 9, 2010

What’s It All About? Part 2

Just to clarify what seems to be coming together in my mind about the three strains of structured journalism that I’m thinking about – only two of which really have to do with structure, data and text.

The first, non-data element is simply the worldview that most stories will in the future be read some time after they’ve been written. So we should make it easier to understand stories by writing them to be read months after the event. That means changing date references, adding different context, etc. It may be writing two versions; it may mean going back to the old AP system of doing writethroughs on continuing stories; it’s more a mindset than a solution.

The second is that there are ways to build data fields that we can input story information/text that will help make stories more understandable, more searchable, more usable. Building a summary box is one; so are fields in disaster stories for number of people dead, etc. At a minimum, these can allow us to display more relevant information more easily on a website. They also allow us, like tags do, to pull up relevant related stories/content up more quickly. On a story about a disaster, it could show number of dead at each given time, say.

The third is that building the data fields described above allows us, in theory, to both

1. search and analyze information we previously didn’t have easily (the number of home games the team lost in rainy weather, say), leading possibly to classic CAR stories and

2. the creation of user-defined ‘metastories’ based on aggregating the data that’s been input. For example, in Politifact we can see a page showing how many times Obama lied. No journalist wrote that story page, but it exists now.

The value of metastories is two-fold. One, it’s scalable, because fundamentally we’re creating new content out of old content, at essentially zero cost. Two, it’s reader – and public interest – friendly, because it allows, within limits, readers to determine what they’re interested in. It helps bring a level of analysis to more people – and that’s certainly in the public interest.

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