Posted by: structureofnews | August 15, 2010

The Taxonomies of News

We have to stop calling news news.

There are too many different forms of news, and conflating the various breeds doesn’t help us understand the different challenges – and value – that each kind faces.

Here’s one attempt at a taxonomy of types of news.

At one level are stories about things that happened yesterday – let’s call this Reportage. Some reportage is deeper than others, of course, and some of it is really enterprise reporting that happens to have a news peg. So this isn’t a hard and fast definition as much as it is defining some grey area.

A lot of Reportage cries out for structure – sports results, market reports, natural disasters. There are often common elements in each kind, and there are probably ways to turn metadata about those elements into even more stories. More importantly, while much of Reportage isn’t immediately or individually valuable, the aggregated data and information embedded in hundreds of stories on the same issue/theme, is valuable.

Let’s call the next type Narrative. An age-old and effective means of passing information, Narrative is really about a form of journalism that elevates story above pure information. Again, this is a grey area, but let’s say for the purpose of argument that Narrative is a type of story where the structure of the narrative helps impart the information as much as anything else.

These kinds of stories would generally defy taxonomy, in the sense that there are few common features among them. But there are elements that could be structured: synopsis, for example. Ditto absolute and relative date references. Maybe location, which is essentially already being done by outfits like

And then let’s say there’s another group called Analysis. These are stories that aren’t based on events that happened yesterday or on narrative to carry the form. Basically, they’re enterprise pieces based on some kind of analysis – where data- or source-based.

In theory these would be hard to structure, because this is a broad area, and I doubt there are enough common points to build a common structure. But on the other hand, because these aren’t pieces that are dependent on a narrative flow, they can we written differently the first time around to fit into structured journalism databases – provided, of course, that some kind of database had already been defined.

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