October 6, 2015

Focus and engagement are both powerful things. Sometimes it’s necessary to be heads-down on a hard task for a sustained period. Sometimes it’s necessary to engage broadly with others; to communicate, to demonstrate and to collaborate. For Structured Stories the last three months have been about engagement.

The reporting phase of the Structured Stories NYC project completed at the end of July, and the reporting team succeeded in capturing more than 60 stories on local government topics in New York City. As the first independent reporting effort in a structured narrative format, the project produced a lot of findings, which will take time to fully understand. A paper on preliminary results was accepted for the ‘Computation + Journalism 2015’ symposium at the Columbia School of Journalism in New York. The key result is that the approach worked: Ordinary, everyday news stories were reported and published entirely as structured events and narratives by non-specialist journalists. I believe this to be a very big deal.

The next phase of evaluation is now underway, and includes a second, more narrowly focused reporting experiment covering Missouri state government and supported by the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri. The goal of this experiment is to understand how to use Structured Stories to cover long-running state and local government stories, and to build a library of event frames to do so. A separate experiment testing the consumption of news from Structured Stories is planned for late 2015 or early 2016. More on these experiments soon.

Other activities in the third quarter include a visit to NCSU in North Carolina for an invited talk in late July, an ongoing experiment on structuring pursuit stories with a major Los Angeles newsroom, work on a more consumer-friendly user interface with the Reporter’s Lab at Duke. The quarter also saw various articles and podcasts about Structured Stories, an unconference panel at ONA15, several posts on the RJI website, and lots of interaction with a diverse range of people on an even more diverse range of topics. It has been busy, fascinating and fruitful, and I’ve learned much.

But there’s lots to do, and increasingly it will require focus. The Structured Stories platform, which has served well for initial reporting experiments, must be upgraded based on those early findings. Many bugs need fixing, many elements of the API and UI need simplifying, features need to be completed or improved, and workflows need to be streamlined. Also, demonstrating the feasibility of Structured Stories is not the same as demonstrating its usefulness. Finding an initial niche for the technology and exploring various operational and business models will be priorities towards the end of 2015.

Much has been done, but it’s still very early days for Structured Stories and there’s much to do. If you’re interested in getting involved then get in touch.