Posted by: structureofnews | September 29, 2017

Structured Enough

Trump Effect.JPGShameless self-promotion time: We (Reuters) just launched The Trump Effect, a section of dedicated to tracking the real-world impact of the President’s policies and pronouncements.

It’s our way of trying to get past the daily noise and politics surrounding the new administration – important though some of that is – and focus instead on what’s actually happening on the ground.

It features a great interactive graphic that explains immigration issues (with more to come). There’s a timeline that tracks various policies and their impacts, and a rich trove of polling data for users to dig into. And stories, of course. (Hats off to a huge crew of smart people who built this, including Christine ChanMatt WeberLeela de KretserMaryanne MurrayChris Kahn and many more.)

All in all, a really nice package, even if I say so myself.  And just as important – a nice piece of quasi-structured journalism, even.

When we’re in as noisy and busy (and polarized) a news environment as we are in the U.S. these days, it can be really important – but hard – to find ways to step back and offer up a broader sense of the landscape, untethered to that day’s tweetstorm or crisis.

(Which is not to say that the daily coverage isn’t important or hasn’t been great – in many cases it’s been outstanding.  But it can be hard to keep track of all that’s going on, or understand how it relates to each other.  In my more whimsical moments I dream of the creation of a Trump-o-pedia, which simply collects and summarizes and relates all the reporting that’s out there and lets users explore it.)

And so while it can be valuable to write step-back, reflective pieces regularly, it’s hard to do them very often, or provide enough depth in them about any specific issue. Which is why good curation, organizing, and summarizing can be really useful.

In an ideal world – or at least in an ideal world as envisioned by this blog – that would come about through smart atomization of information in daily stories, channeled via databases into new configurations of stories, visualizations and other forms of storytelling, and in a quasi-automated way.  In other words, though a well-thought-out and planned structured journalism format. But that can be hard in a fast-moving environment where it isn’t entirely clear what the right data structure is, should be, or will be.

Which is why The Trump Effect is, in effect, a semi-structured project: There are stories, of course, but also a database of policies and impacts that is manifested as a filterable timeline.  The rich interactive explainer is built in sections that make it (relatively) easy to update, albeit by hand, as and when significant new developments take place.

It’s not 100% structured journalism, but it does the job – and does it better, and gets it out more quickly, than a structured journalism project would, not least because we’d need a whole new CMS.  And getting value to readers is what really matters.



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