Posted by: structureofnews | November 24, 2015

A Sign From The Times

NYTWe must be making headway.

First the BBC News Labs published “A Manifesto for Structured Journalism,” which laid out in pretty clear terms how they think this is one key way journalism can move ahead.

And now the venerable New York Times has written a piece that – except for not using the term “structured journalism” – lays out their case for why they ought to jump on this bandwagon as well.  (OK, they wrote it a couple of weeks ago – I’ve been busy. Gimmie a break.)

And while we’re at it, there’s a nice shout out to structured journalism by Jairo Mejia of Agencia Efe at the European Journalism Observatory. (It’s also likely that they’ll be a session on structured journalism at the upcoming NICAR conference in Denver next year, mirroring the session at last year’s ONA. )

So we’re making real progress.  (And more so than the last time I wrote about this.) Structured journalism is getting to be much more of a meme at mainstream news organizations, and with luck, all that early thinking on display with Politifact, Homicide Watch and even WhoRunsHK (and later, of course, Connected China) will get embedded  in more and more newsrooms.

The Times piece – entitled “The Future of News Is Not An Article” – offers a nice and fresh argument about the insanity of how newsrooms currently treat the information we create:

Can you imagine if, every time something new happened in Syria, Wikipedia published a new Syria page, and in order to understand the bigger picture, you had to manually sift through hundreds of pages with overlapping information? The idea seems absurd in that context and yet, it is essentially what news publishers do every day.


And they also come to the conclusion that it isn’t just about better storage of what we’ve already done – although there’s a good argument for that – but more the need to be able to automatically (or algorithmically) recombine information into new stories to serve new needs, audiences or platforms – or even interests.

Consider every new platform and product to which news organizations currently publish their content, and how each of those outputs requires a different format and presentation. For example, a New York Times food article may be published as a medium-to-long-form piece on the website, as a headline with bullet points on the NYT Now app, as a one-sentence story on the Apple Watch, and as a standalone recipe on Cooking, not to mention the various formats required for platforms like Facebook or Pinterest or Twitter.

Plus, all the other possible use cases that could exist once you have the parts of information that create news, from smart data visualizations to intense personalization of news, created on demand.

So we’re moving ahead. The Times calls their take on this Particles, and the rest of us call it structured journalism.  Either way, it’s a good step forward when one of the giants of the industry sees the light.  Or, as the BBC News Labs noted when they published their manifesto:

We believe that structured journalism will make BBC News smarter, more efficient, and more engaging. We believe that structured journalism will allow us all to engage with the world in ways that acknowledges its true complexity. And, finally, we believe structured journalism will make better journalists – ones who are empowered to show their work, open their data, allow the public to meaningfully contribute, and create a more informed society.



  1. But unfortunately for small orgn, when people leave, so does accumulated knowledge! I’m saying that because when I came to SCMP ago, no one knew where the files for Who Runs HK were! I had to ask a former staffer, who happened to have a copy on Google Drive (and only the database is somewhat useable, although never integrated to our other databases).

    Practically it’s costly — in human resources mostly — to maintain highly technical projects. But yes, structured journalism is really exciting.

    • Cedric, you’re right. All of this takes planning and continuity, something that newsrooms aren’t always good at. But it’s increasingly important as we move into technology-enabled journalism. Reg

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