Future of News Session

On Wednesday September 10th, the BBC News Labs, accompanied by BBC Connected Studio, kicked off the Future of News initiative, in our beloved London Old Broadcasting House.

This project is lead by James Harding, Director of News. For the next months to come, Future of News will invite people from all over the BBC and beyond to talk about, guess what, the future of news. The talks and collective brainstormings will feed our reports for Charter Renewal, and we aim to present an output of this large-scale project by the New Year.

Matt Shearer, Innovation Manager at BBC News Labs, led the hour-long talk with George Wright, Head of Prototyping at BBC R&D, and Miles Bernie, Technologist.

This event was part of one of the three workstreams, the Technology strand, Future of News is made of. The People and Stories branches will also organise similar events. The participants are asked to reflect on how the BBC will look like in 2017, 2022, and 2027.

Future of News?

Matt described the News Labs as being at the intersection between Journalism, Data, and Technology. Looking back at 2001 (which is as far away as 2027 is), he added that no major technological breakthrough has been made. Virtual Reality was already here, though in a niche and quite expensive; so were smartphones, even though Apple’s iPhone changed the rules.

Innovation, therefore, is likely to be made on known technologies. So, we need to be ready, and also to forge ahead so we can remain a step ahead.

One of the dangers we are likely to face is the constant disruption by technology. An incredible number of new softwares, solutions, and hacks is published every day? How do we stay focus in the meantime? How can we distinguish between the useful and the useless?

As for the News Labs, the long-term goal we will be pursuing will be connecting our content and stories together. We are already doing so by tagging mechanisms (whether this tagging is done by our journalists or by a machine, the Juicer), but we are looking to expand these connections - the Storyliner being the most recent expression.


If the technology is already there, it is only a matter of using in an innovative way and to stay in a pioneering position. Matt Shearer introduced the Future News Rig (FNR), our latest project, as an example of the need to prototype a lot. The FNR aims to combine several branches of news technologies:

  • Video-led news, using the BBC’s experience as a broadcaster,
  • Structured data, using our most recent technologies to link and associate content together,
  • And Language technologies, using research speech-to-text and text-to-speech research prototypes.

Miles Bernie presented to the audience the Window on the Newsroom prototype, which is a product for our journalists. Using a dashboard approach and aggregating content from News and all across the BBC, as well as other publishers, Window on the Newsroom wants to make our content discoverable, by allowing the journalists to see everything that’s happening in an instant. It can be used as a research or a monitoring tool.

It promotes the live visibility of Storyline data and is supported by a streamlined content flow. Window in the Newsroom is a large-scale experiment in our newsroom, and it is being tested at the moment to identify the bits that will go to production in smaller tools.

Creating the Matrix

The last demo was presented by Matt Shearer, and presented a very Inception-ish experiment: sticking HD cameras on an Oculus Rift to allow the VR headset user to see videos of the place he is in. You see as you would see without the Oculus on… but you can also add virtual-reality elements to your environments.

Matt used this example to propose to move away from a device-centric approach, as the character in the virtual-reality video deployed virtual screens showing the BBC News webpage just by moving his hand. “We shouldn’t rely on multiple devices for our screens,” Matt said.

Following this demo, a question was asked by the audience: “Are you creating the Matrix?”

So let’s wrap up with an official communiqué: We know it looks like it, but we aren’t.