Posted by: structureofnews | October 3, 2014


onaJust a quick post to say there was a nice turnout at our session at ONA, with a great panel of Laura Amico, Bill Adair and Miguel Paz (with yours truly moderating after a short intro/powerpoint, which I’ll post if I can ever figure out how to do that.)

Chris Amico did much to live-tweet the discussion – as did many others – and you can see much of that here.

So how did it go? Pretty well, at least from our point of view.  Laura did great work to ensure a community of people already involved in doing various forms of structured journalism were in the room, among them David Cohn of Circa and Melissa Bell of Vox.  We heard from others working on projects, such as David Caswell of Structured Stories, who’s building an interesting platform/CMS for structuring narrative.  And many more.

Having all those people in a single room meant we could share experiences, talk about the ideas and obstacles, and generally riff on where we thought all this might go. As Laura noted (and Chris tweeted):

While the concept seems really simple, we’ve really lacked the words to talk about this.

So just convening everyone, and having a common vocabulary was a big step forward. And then there were good points that were raised – from the cultural challenges of getting reporters to focus less on the stories they’re crafting and more on the information they’re collecting, to the future problems of maintaining ever-growing databases, to the possibilities inherent in having better newsroom calendars that we could build structure off.

Another point that stuck to me: How committing to collect some types of information regularly can upturn some of the notions of mission and news judgment in newsrooms. News organizations typically focus on outliers – which makes sense, and is why “man bites dog” is news and the converse isn’t.  But that also means that events that aren’t surprising – to a reporter or editor – aren’t “newsworthy” and hence aren’t covered. Structured journalism turns that on its head, covering a subject much more regularly and comprehensively and hence allowing readers to delve through a wide range of information and find the things that are surprising to them. As one person noted, that also provides a check on the journalist’s sense of newsworthiness.

But perhaps the biggest insight of the conference came to me from a different session – one on design and user experience, about how we need to increasingly think about what state of mind a reader is in when our story/information reaches him or her. Is she having breakfast, on the subway, driving, running, at work, relaxing at home?  How would he like the information – as a longform piece, a multimedia package, a tweet, a one-screen update on a mobile device?  (This echoes a really nice piece at Monday Note a few weeks ago.)

That all makes sense, but faces a huge logistical hurdle: How can any news organization produce any volume of stories in as many formats as that? And if we take this idea to its logical conclusion, then we should also heavily personalize all our stories as well, adding even more complexity and volume to the challenge.

Which means we need a system – and structure – to be able to extract relevant information/data and create personalized stories on the fly for a wide range of users and use cases.  Seems like a job for structured journalism to me.  Or, as I called it in the panel, “responsive design for stories.”

Oh, and we got a huge number of people joining our Google Group on structured journalism.  Please join in, and let’s keep the conversation going.


  1. […] at the upcoming NICAR conference in Denver next year, mirroring the session at last year’s ONA. […]

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