June 8, 2015

In the month since my last blog post I’ve made three week-long trips across the country, engaging with the two communities most closely associated with Structured Stories – Journalism and Computational Narrative.

My first trip was to the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri in Columbia, where I am a fellow this year, conducting a formal evaluation of Structured Stories. I met most of the RJI leadership team, including Executive Director Randy Picht and Research Director Esther Thorson, and spent several days with my research partner at Mizzou, Frank Russell. I was impressed by the intellect and seriousness of everyone I met and I’m convinced that RJI is the perfect environment for a careful, thoughtful and credible evaluation of the concept. I will publish more details on our research program as Frank and I develop the particulars.

Trip two was to Atlanta, Georgia, where the 6th workshop on Computational Models of Narrative was taking place. I was there to deliver my paper on ‘Narrative Structures as a Framework for Journalism”, and this was the first time I had presented the Structured Stories concept to the computational narrative community. I was very pleased by the interest and response, and I came away feeling confident about the conceptual basis of the approach and about the place of Structured Stories within the field. I also met many fascinating people with long experience in representing narrative as data, made new friends at the workshop and over dinner each night, and was introduced to several other people doing interesting and related work in the Atlanta area.

The third trip was to New York, New York – specifically the exciting and fast-paced neighbourhoods of Soho and TriBeCa. This trip was for the training program for the team participating in the Structured Stories NYC reporting project. The team members are Ishan Thakore, Natalie Richie and Rachel Chason – all students from Duke recruited and guided by Bill Adair. We were also joined by several guests, and went from an introductory overview to structuring real events and stories in three days. It was an intense experience filled with interesting discussions and examples, and the high calibre of our reporters made me very pleased with how the project has kicked off. Structured events from the NYC project are already pouring in and stories should be up on the website within a few days.

I am now back in L.A. for at least the next 2 months, focused primarily on supporting the reporting team in NYC. The NYC project is critical because it will determine whether the Structured Stories concept is editorially feasible – i.e. can it work on real stories in a real reporting workflow. With this project we are exploring ‘structured editorial’ issues that are new for journalism, and we may uncover many unanticipated challenges and opportunities. These are still very early days for Structured Stories, but they are increasingly busy and filled with interesting engagement!