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Data - the key to better storytelling and reporting?

30 Oct 2015

Seminar reportNews reporting has changed over time and today’s reporter has a host of tools that present a variety of approaches towards gathering and presenting news to the audience. But it’s not just reporters who have changed – the audience has also transformed in almost the same magnitude with the digital revolution taking centre stage. BBC Interactive journalist Jacqui Maher says reporters are now free to employ all the possible tools available as long as they don’t hurt their core business: news tailored for the target audience. “Modern reporting tools can result in a better experience for both the reporters and the audience.  It means going beyond the typical headline by line and copy, having more to your story structure and getting beyond the normal daily news.  A lot is changing and the tools are becoming simpler and better,” she said. From the days when reporters used faxes to file stories to the modern resources available now, reporting has indeed been transformed. However, the process of doing the reporting and getting the story to the people have not changed much.  For example, some of the content management systems (CMS) used in most news rooms are still quite complex and tedious to use. A lot of tools have been invented to allow reporters access to as much data as possible and to use it to package stories more comprehensively. Through its innovation news centre called the news lab, the BBC has captured some of the best ways to gather, link and present news to the digital audience. For example, it has worked on a platform called the news juicer which crawls online media and extracts people, places, organisations, and events and things making their information available on various application programming interfaces (APIs).  “It takes articles from the BBC and other news sites, automatically parses them and (based on their content) tags them with related entities. The entities are grouped in four categories: People, Places, Organisations and Things (everything that doesn’t fall in the first three),” Ms Maher said. To work effectively, the changes need full support from journalists in the news room who need to be fully capable of working on mobile since the digital evolution largely rides on the mobile platform. The platforms must also enable the readers to trace the story development without losing them to others sites and pages. The audience need to understand how the story developed to where it is. Ms Maher says it is absolutely essential that we know our audiences to determine what kind of data will maximise impact on them. Tools that tell us how our audience interact with the news and explore what they understand and how best it can be explained to them help in the tailoring of news both in format and content.

Written by Edwin Okoth Jacqui Maher, interactive journalist, BBC News Labs spoke at the Business and Practice of Journalism seminar at Green Templeton College on Wednesday October 21, 2015.