It’s true that thinking about all the challenges to trying to truly structure journalism – taxonomy, customer behavior, technology, newsroom training and culture – can give you a headache very quickly. Trying for the grand solution would take years, even with an infinite amount of money and power in the newsroom. And it’ll probably be wrong.
So instead it makes sense to try and iterate towards it with a couple of quick, simple initial steps that could be taken.
One of the easiest would be to compel reporters (or editors) to write a short, one or two paragraph summary of their story once it’s filed. It should be written with an eye to someone coming to it a month or six later on, and so shouldn’t assume any knowledge of immediate events. It should be relatively simple to read and understand. It could be the lead of the story, but it probably shouldn’t be – because it needs to add context for the year-from-now reader.
Now imagine if instead of a search of the archive (or even a Google News search) returned not the first sentences of a story but this summary box instead – wouldn’t that be a huge increase in usefulness for readers (and some nominal increase in value for the news organization as well, since the summaries are more likely to be chosen by readers, rather than three paragraphs of a long anecdotal lead.)
This would take nearly no work to implement, and would be of immense value to readers. Why don’t we do it?