Tips on building newsrooms for the 'age of context'

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One of the sessions at the World Editors Forum, currently underway in Bangkok, was a workshop looking at why newsrooms should focus on data with tips on how to get started.

The 'data revolution in your newsroom' workshop was led by Justin Arenstein, involved in a number of initiatives including the African Media Initiative and African News Challenge.

Arenstein listed four apps that are, as he described, it, part of the "age of context". Each of the apps serves to illustrate the point that people are not necessarily searching for news and information, but that recommendations are pushed to them automatically. Arenstein argued this is something news outlets must be aware of as they pivot to the changing landscape.

The four 'age of context' apps he showed are:

1. Twist - An app that uses your social media connections and accesses your calendar to make informed guesses as to who your contacts are and let people know if you are going to be late to an appointment. "It starts becoming an automated PA," he said.
2. Highlight - An app which helps you find new people.
4. My Recommended Radio - A Music recommendation and discovery app which maps out the mathematical structure of music and recommends new music.
5. Hunch - Which makes commercial recommendations based on your likes and dislikes

Arenstein also mentioned Google Now, which only delivers news articles it thinks you would be interested in.

And while thinking about the way content discovery is evolving, Arenstein also mentioned Google Glass, immersive media and "the direction the digital world is travelling", with readers delivered contextual information.

He also talked about Google Goggles, an app which has been around for several years and enables the recognition of objects, such as buildings. Apps such as this provide the user with the ability to start to "peel away the history of an area", and local newspapers are sources of some of the information delivered.

Arenstein described this as "hyper-personal media". He said newsrooms should be aware that consumers are now less brand-aware and expect news and information to come to them.

He outlined eight trends news outlets should be aware of:

1. Audiences are looking for the signal in the noise, with news providers able to make sense of the buzz from social media. Indeed is the name of a platform that provides "actionable intelligence". It was used by Al Jazeera to predict activity during the start of the Arab Spring.

2. Verification is important in the evolving news landscape. Journalists are now faced with verifying that images, videos and facts shared on social media or sent to a news outlet are what they purport to be. Arenstein mentioned Storyful, a news agency which verifies such information.

3. Open data and data journalism. While some news outlets are guilty of simply creating "data porn", as Arenstein described the process of creating pretty pictures rather than meaningful data interactives, other outlets are using data to provide context and background. He later shared 13 examples of data journalism projects carried out on both large and small scales.

4. News as a service. We need to "move beyond the crisis", Arenstein said, referring to the decline in newspaper circulations and ad revenues. We need to frame the conversation differently, he suggested. He urged news outlets to ask the question "are we content-first or are with audience-first?'" Most media outlets are not having this conversation and it has implications for major decisions such as paywalls. He gave the Mail Online as an example of an organisation which is audience-first, bringing in ad revenue by reaching more than 100 million readers, and listed the Financial Times as a content-first outlet, with the niche content appropriate for a paywall.

He said news outlets should also ask "are we creating news or content?" Once that is answered "we can create engaging experiences around that content", he said, using the examples of County Sin and Where Does My Money Go?, two projects which allow the reader to explore information.

5. Because people are reading so much content, people are consuming it for less time. Newsrooms should be aware of this trend, Arenstein said, as we strive to find ways to increase engagement in a crowded media landscape.

He listed three examples of projects delivering such engagement. The first is NPR Public Insight Network, where the "underlying powerful concept" is one of whether the audience becomes a resource working together to shape policy. The next example he gave was Purpose, which takes signatures for campaigns by getting people to provide a missed call. The third example he gave exposes wrongdoing by providing hidden cameras.

6. Security and personal encryption.
People are increasingly realising that conversations, particularly with newsrooms, can be monitored, Arenstein said. Some journalists are using Tor, an open-source piece of software which allows for anonymity. Al Jazeera is working on a new "plug and play" option to protect whistleblowers and sources when they want to report a story to the outlet.

7. Co-creation.
Arenstein said there are a number of examples of initiatives where networks of journalists in different parts of the world are working together, citing the Hacks/Hackers chapters as an example, with journalists and technologists working together in local groups and the groups also working together regionally and internationally.

8. Re-use and replication. The next newsroom trend Arenstein outlined is the growing number of repositories which are "the first or experimental versions of new solutions". The Knight Foundation has invested millions of dollars in open-source projects, which allow for the sharing of information and code. "There's also a growing civil and civic movement creating tools," he explained.

What do we need to change in our newsrooms?

The next area Arenstein outlined during the three-hour workshop are steps newsrooms should be taking now, as the nature of digital news and media evolves.

1. Geotagging. By geotagging stories, people and places mentioned in articles, news outlets can be ready for new geolocation tools and services, including Google Glass. Unlike the next point, geotagging happens at the newsgathering stage.

2. Build in entity extraction and network analysis. In comparison to geotagging, this must happen at the news production stage, Arenstein said. By creating "deep linked data", news outlets can semantically link articles and both journalists and readers can start to see relationships by the linked information. Arenstein gave the example of Thomson Reuters project OpenCalais, and Poderopedia, which automates linkages.

3. Turning narrative news into structured data. (As explained further in the next point).

4. Treating news as an API. The New York Times and the Guardian are two news outlets which have done this, opening up their structured data.

Arenstein's slides are at this link and the raw 'live notes' on the session are at this link. is in Bangkok for the World Editors Forum. Follow @SarahMarshall3, @JohnCThompson and #editors13 for updates.

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