News Labs and the Future of the BBC

We had a warm feeling at News Labs today, as BBC director general Tony Hall outlined proposals for the Corporation to become an open and more distinctive organisation over the next ten years.

All the proposals and analysis are publicly available here.

For us in News Labs, these announcements were confirmation that much of our work on what the BBC - and in particular, BBC News - might look like in the future was heading in the right direction. It was particularly nice to see that we are already developing and beginning to test elements of key ideas the Corporation wants to grow.

News Labs gives the BBC a chance to work on these ideas without the pressures of minute by minute output. It offers the space to experiment, learn (and sometimes fail) without upsetting our audience - or hard pressed production teams. So here are some of the things that we hope will go on to delight audiences and production teams alike.

presentation with Tony Hall Presenting multilingual video journalism production to (left) James Harding, (centre) James Montgomery, (sitting) Robin Pembrooke, Tony Hall and Nathalie Malinarich.

International innovation

The BBC World Service is the UK’s most important cultural export. It inspires and illuminates the lives of millions around the world, helping them make sense of the world they live in. It is one of the UK’s best sources of cultural influence. We want to invest in it so it can respond properly to a changing world.

BBC charter review proposals

We’ve been working with BBC World Service since we kicked off our Language Technology workstream at #newsHACK III. Language technologies are beginning to enable broadcasters to re-package, distribute, and translate many versions of their creative content to audiences around the world - automatically.

News Labs are nearly ready to pilot the NewsRig. Combining content extraction, text-to-speech synthesis and a lot of code writing, it will produce daily bulletins in multiple languages with a simple and (hopefully) journalist-friendly workflow.

Integrated in our language workstream, NewsRig is a crucial prototype to explore new workflows and concepts for our international journalism - quickly.

The SUMMA project (which stands for “Scalable Understanding of Multilingual MediA”), is a platform to automate the analysis of media streams across many languages, to aggregate and distill the content, in order to automatically create rich knowledge bases, and to provide visualisations to cope with this deluge of data. The project involves 10 partners (BBC Monitoring, BBC R&D, universities, plus other news organisations), and just received a EU Horizon 2020 Big Data grant.

But we also believe that there is some work to do on the ground, to improve our understanding of our audiences around the world, and to engage them in our work. We are supporting the World Service, with Connected Studio, through a series of collaborative development studios around the world.

Newstream: telling the story on mobile, better and faster

Mobile provides the best opportunity to deliver a more personalised news service, and to create innovative ways of informing audiences. The news will no longer just be news stories, but also be relevant data, context and information that everyone needs, delivered to fit into their lives.

BBC charter review proposals

Mobile has been described as potentially disruptive to users of the internet as the internet was to organisations used to working in the physical world. News Labs is working with BBC R&D to develop new ways of telling stories to audiences who are increasingly used to finding everything they need on their mobile devices.

The idea of breaking stories into easily digestible and flexible “atoms” could give users a chance to learn as much - or as little - as they have time for. It allows users to draw on the full depth of the BBC’s knowledge, or simply get the main points of the story.

You can find out more here:

Structured journalism: linking the world

News Labs’ first big project was to lead the BBC towards tagging and linked-data. And so we did, pushing human and automated tagging at the same time, giving birth to elements of the new BBC News app, pages for every UK electoral constituency and much more.

Today, we’re working on even smarter ways to report, present and distribute our content. In this sense, Structured Journalism will empower us to go beyond the headline and text of a story, by getting to the heart of the journalistic process, working with journalists to produce structured data throughout their workflow, not just by adding tags at the end or relying on computers to guess for us after the fact.

We hope that will make it much easier to create explainers, info-boxes, visualisation prototypes, timelines, geospatial relationships, annotated articles, second screen experiences and much more…

BBC as a partner: helping the news market

Through our #NewsHack events, we’ve been working with other news organisations and universities on the development of collaborations.

Our most recent NewsHACK led to the development of The Journalist Toolbox, which we commissioned and developed with The Times and Goldsmiths university as a resource for all journalists in the industry.

News Labs are also working on developing Suggestr, to test a model where local news publishers can flag their content using the same tags as BBC News. That would enable their journalistic work to be included and promoted much more easily across suitable BBC internet-delivered services.

The future of the future

News Labs will continue to work with partners inside and outside the BBC to explore new techniques and technologies which might enable journalists and audiences to enjoy better and more accessible journalism. But it’s nice to pause from time to time and check that we are heading in the right direction.

Today was one of those days.