What does 2016 hold for News Labs?


Robert McKenzie, News Labs Editor, looks back on a busy 2015 and outlines some of his ambitions for this year.

2015 ended on a fabulous high for the News Labs team with the formal launch of the Japanese output of Babels and News Rig.

It is one of our core projects and you can read more about it on the project page. The BBC Director General, Tony Hall, was impressed by an early demo and getting machines to do repetitive tasks such as translation and reversioning is one of the key aims of BBC News Labs. We want to free journalists to do what they want to be doing - original journalism and thinking how best to explain the world and hold the powerful to account – rather than reproducing other people’s work.

One of our top priorities for 2016 is to expand this.

We hope to be able to launch a Babels/News Rig service in Russian very soon, with other languages later in the year. Given the number of international services offered by the BBC, language tech is likely to be a central part of our work for a long time to come.

Babels operator

Another success in 2015 which we need to build on in 2016 is the development of a hugely popular internal newsroom tool.

The News Switcher allows journalists inside the BBC to change their view of the BBC News website without needing to install proxies or plugins on each machine they work at. It’s an important encouragement to journalists creating stories and indexes to see the website the way our audience does - often on a mobile device outside the UK, rather than on a big desktop monitor in London.

An early priority for 2016 is to open source the core software behind part of the News Switcher, so it can be available to anyone who wants to change their view of a webpage between desktop, tablet and mobile.

In 2016 we want to work our way through a list of other new internal tools to make working at the BBC a simpler experience. Aside from wanting to be loved by our colleagues and bosses (James Harding, the BBC’s Director of News, is a big user of News Switcher), part of our motivation is to introduce the functionality of our Window on the Newsroom project into daily journalistic use.

Live Stream

A big priority for BBC News this year is the launch of Newstream – “bringing the expertise of our journalism into the palm of your hand” as the BBC press release put it. News Labs have already played a part in its creation with our prototype we called Live Stream.

In only two weeks the News Labs team built a proof of concept prototype which would allow journalists to stream live video from their BBC mobile to our audiences via the BBC News app. In addition, it allowed users to interact with the content and read relevant news stories connected to the event while watching the live stream.

We still have a lot of work to do to turn a proof of concept into a live product, but we are hopeful that audiences will get the best of the BBC’s live coverage and in depth analysis in one location sometime in 2016.

360 shooting

We will also continue to support our colleagues in developing and dealing with 360 content. The BBC has made some promising progress, particularly in capturing the atmosphere of shock in Paris after the attacks in November and, in complete contrast, around the excitement of the launch of Tim Peake’s space flight. We hope to build on the audience’s appreciation of this new way of covering stories.

Another innovation we would like to continue is using the potential of Pulp to make more graphic stories such as Hooked, which was described by a senior BBC manager as “among the best things the (BBC) website published this year”.

And that’s the real priority – delighting audiences and colleagues with our innovations during 2016.

Tweet us at @BBC_News_Labs if you want to find out more.