Noted: Tools for Audiences versus Tools for Journalists

Every two weeks, News Labbers come together to share project updates and interesting developments from around the News industry. We’ve decided to pass some of this onto you. This month: some thoughts on the possibilities of using News Labs technologies to serve different audiences.

Transcription Tools — For the Audience

Recently, the Columbia Journalism Review published some data on Shortcut, This American Life’s new tool for sharing its podcasts on social media. The tool received a lot of attention when it first debuted. It attracted interest on our team as an enhanced version of WNYC’s Audiograms, which we’ve configured for BBC journalists.

However, what the CJR’s article uncovered was how the 3,500+ users who clipped and shared audio in Shortcut’s first seven weeks were interacting with This American Life’s archive. Over half of the total episodes available were clipped with Shortcut — not just the newest episode.

Engagement in the archive reveals another interesting path for podcasters to resurface and monetize old audio. Many popular podcasting platforms, like Apple’s Podcast app, show episodes in reverse chronology, which tends to hide the extensive back catalog that many shows are quickly developing.

Instead of thinking of Shortcut as an alternate solution to helping our journalists share audio content on social media, it could be interesting to start thinking about how to re-purpose technologies that we’re focused on developing further — automated transcription, subtitling tools and speech synthesis technologies — so that our audiences can engage with content in a more interactive way. Thinking about how our transcription technologies might allow audiences to experience our archives in a different way or

There are other examples in this space that suggest using output from our current projects could be a way to engage with audiences as well as serve journalists. al Jazeera English’s Palestine Remix project from 2014 uses transcript-driven video editing to allow users to remix a selection of transcribed videos on Palestinian affairs.

Bots — For the Journalists

At the end of last year, we noted a few different use cases for Slack by journalists and editors that go beyond team communication. One of my favourites was Buzzfeed’s bot that notifies editors when a local story gets a certain number of views, thus allowing it to be shared amongst the publication’s global versus regional channels. In a article on Quartz’s messaging app, we learned that much of the app’s conversational style is lifted from the organisation’s Slack channels. And then there’s the Times, whose digital team created a whole GitHub repository of useful learning resources re-shared from its Slack team. (Nieman Lab did a whole round-up of other use cases earlier last year, which you can find here.

Over the holidays, I stumbled on a blog post that shared the results of an onboarding experiment using Slack bots at 18F, a digital service agency serving the U.S. federal government. Trialled in 2012, the bot initially served as a scheduling mechanism for trickling out pertinent information to new hires. It gained more complexity after the fundamentals were put in place, later categorising messages to users with tags for simple future perusal and scheduling messages by time zones.

The experiment might be a few years old, but the problem of onboarding is still relevant — and perhaps not totally unrelated the challenges of periodic training to ensure journalists keep their skills up-to-date. The New York Times’ internal report published last week, for example, says that the organisation “needs a major expansion of its training operation” in order to allow staff members to acquire new skills.

With a planned expansion as part of the BBC’s World 2020 initiative, could our work with bots support internal communication in addition to the audience-facing work that our projects have already facilitated?

  • On the theme of trust in journalism, we noted two new Chrome extensions for finding and identifying fake news. The First Draft coalition released its NewsCheck extension that allows users to walk through a verification process to determine if a piece of content is likely to be real. And Storyful developed a tool that allows users to check whether a piece of content has been cleared and verified by its team.

In essence, Verify is a mini-Storyful built into Chrome that travels with our partners as they browse content across the social web. The extension acts as a one-click analysis of any piece of content on the social web. If we have the video in our library, the button is green; if we do not, the button is red.

It’ll be interesting to see the interest in First Draft’s tool, which asks for more engagement from users than most other projects we’ve seen in this space. Whereas tools like Slate’s “This is Fake” can be used to flag fake news and link to a debunking article, it also provides a more passive service: the flags themselves appear on Facebook without any input from the user of the plugin.

  • The New York Times / IBM Watson collaboration on “Hidden Figures” looks like an interesting experiment in AR technology. We couldn’t try it out from London, but wondered if producing a country-wide AR app would mean that users would potentially miss out on content that’s geographically located in far-away places.