A Manifesto for Structured Journalism

“Journalism is the activity of gathering, assessing, creating, and presenting news and information.” – American Press Institute

There is a wealth of knowledge created during the ‘gathering and assessing’ phases of reporting that most publishing systems ignore. In the work we’re pursuing this summer, BBC News Labs is taking a look at “structured journalism” - can we empower journalists with better ways of working with information, beyond the headline and text of a story? How can this affect the quality of our reporting? Can it promote a greater public understanding of current affairs and issues - what the BBC’s Royal Charter describes as “sustaining citizenship and civil society?”

This summer, the News Labs hopes to develop practical ways to make high quality news more relevant and useful to our audience. That’s a big task, so we’re looking across the BBC for partners, including journalists in the newsroom, members of R&D, BBC Monitoring and technology. We’re also discussing our goals and progress with people working on similar projects outside the BBC, and of course, writing about it here on the blog.

We believe the time is right to start building on the work already done by BBC journalists - tagging people, organisations, places and themes - because there is significant value in capturing the relationships between these things - for the BBC, for the audience, and in pursuing this way of doing things, for the industry as a whole.

Such a database of knowledge - which already exists in the collective knowledge of our newsroom staff - could be used to provide context at scale across all our output. Structured journalism is a way of preserving a reporter’s expertise so that it isn’t lost once aired or published, and instead, is surfaced in related coverage.

So - what are we going to do?

We’re going to do two things - firstly, to explore how to make it easier for journalists, in their day to day work, to capture structured data about the key movers and shakers in the news; and secondly, build things on top of structured data that allow audiences to explore the news, understand it better, and make as much use of the data as a journalist can. The fact is, we don’t know what the future of journalism is. But if we put concerted effort into this, and be open about it, perhaps we as an industry can find what works.

The existing model of storylines, a result of years of research and partnerships, gives us a head start here. Making narratives out of structured data, and allowing room for different points of view, and links to publicly available evidence, is a key aspect of what we want to achieve. And all of this results in an archive of news which is a living resource of open knowledge for journalists and society at large.

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.

We’ll be documenting our progress on the News Labs site throughout the summer. Get in touch with Jacqui Maher or Paul Rissen on Twitter if you’d like to be involved - we’d love to hear your ideas on this topic.