Posted by: structureofnews | August 12, 2010

Structured Journalism

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.  There’s lots of disadvantages to this approach, which I detail in some of the postings.

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.


  1. […] and I have been talking about structured journalism for more than a year now, but usually by the third glass of wine we’ve forgotten most of what […]

  2. […] don’t adapt our archives to make them user-friendly – an old bugbear of mine – but also, in our push for faster-and-faster updates, we often don’t think through the […]

  3. […] it’s my personality, but when I think about reasons for trying out the ideas embedded in structured journalism, I tend to focus on the practical: We can build new products that will serve people better, and […]

  4. […] and products so that we can find ways to build longer-term value in what we do, ala the ideas in structured journalism.  If you want to earn a salary and get paid via advertising, then you need to think about how to […]

  5. […] a theme close to my heart, of course, and in many ways the essence of what structured journalism is about.  (Matt Waite, one of the creators of Politifact, used the molecular analogy in a recent […]

  6. […] or can make a buck from – providing fast news, we should also be thinking about how to structure that news so that we can continue to serve readers well (and/or make a buck) long after the fact.  […]

  7. […] The trick is to find a way to do both – cover news as it happens, and also build more enduring value out of those otherwise-ephemeral reports.  As Politifact has done, and which is the idea at the core of structured journalism. […]

  8. […] the content we create and how it can continue to generate value; we need to think about how we can extract information and value out of the daily work we […]

  9. […] one reason I’m hopeful about how structured journalism can help newsrooms – it emphasizes discipline, hard work and consistency rather than counts on […]

  10. […] And as a result we don’t spend nearly enough time thinking about how best to build the tools, structures, stories – and products – that really take advantage of the accumulation of information over […]

  11. […] for other kinds of coverage.  But we can help it along if we adopted some of the ideas embedded in structured journalism – because if information was more structured, we’re much more able to compare it with […]

  12. […] a nice way to focus attention on a key genre of information.   And, of course, the core ideas in structured journalism build on the notion that information should be built in such a way that they can be accessed easily […]

  13. […] streams, but also the more fundamental questions about how we create the basic units of news, the persistence of our content, and what it costs to do […]

  14. […] of information, why not do it regularly?  That’s not entirely analogous to the ideas behind structured journalism – but it’s close.   Reporters – like detectives at a crime scene – sift […]

  15. […] should be, in love with great architecture.  But there’s real power, too, in giving ourselves standards to conform to.  If we build the building blocks of data-driven journalism in our day-to-day work, we open up […]

  16. […] the piece and what datasets are being drawn from – not unlike some of the ideas embedded in structured journalism.  At the very least, we’d have to write some parts of such stories in a quasi-structured way, so […]

  17. […] it’s in exploring new types of content and new, non-advertising driven revenues that new business models – and new audiences – might […]

  18. […] for newsrooms not only to have easy access to data, but also the value of having newsrooms create data from daily reporting as well, to make it easier for machines to help sift through patterns.  (A simple, if […]

  19. […] major innovation in storytelling was at Politifact.  (Which is why I keep pushing the notion of structured journalism). We have all been so focused on the quality issue: the fact that we’re still doing journalism […]

  20. […] we want – words, images, data visualizations, etc. – on whatever timescale we want.   We can assemble information as building blocks of courses, topics pages, databases, or whatever.  We can serialize stories.  […]

  21. […] to other coverage on the same topic, personalization, data and user experience (and, of course, structured journalism) – and I’ll write more about that soon – but the broader point is that, if we’re going to […]

  22. […] while not giving up daily stories that inform people on a daily basis – the central thesis of structured journalism.  And that means fundamentally deciding what events and data points you want to collect regularly, […]

  23. […] to that, which echoes very much the core themes of structured journalism.  As Ken Doctor notes in a recent smart post on technology-enabled […]

  24. […] certainly echoes the thinking behind structured journalism. It’s true that this is easier said than done.   But there have been some interesting […]

  25. […] Just a quick post to point out this nice piece in Columbia Journalism Review by Bill Adair about the birth of PolitiFact, my oft-mentioned poster child (along with Homicide Watch and Connected China) for structured journalism. […]

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