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Credit: Image by kpwerker on Flickr. Some rights reserved.
When a story breaks, getting the latest updates to the audience and verifying reports are two areas journalists immediately focus on – but what about putting the story into a wider context?

That's what the team behind contextual storytelling platform FOLD wanted to address when building their tool, set to launch as an open platform in early April.

"It could be used to not just get readers up to speed but also provide more interesting parallel stories or deepen the experience in other ways," said Alexis Hope, one of FOLD's creators and an MIT Media Lab student.

We're trying to make it easy to pull in content that already lives elsewhere on the webAlexis Hope, FOLD
As events like the crisis in Crimea and the disappearance of Malaysian Airlines Flight MH370 were developing last year, Hope and co-founder Kevin Hu found themselves reading up on the history of Crimea and researching how radar works.

"All these questions that unfold from breaking news led us down rabbit holes, or [it] took us a long time to just understand the basic facts to help us put the emerging news in context," she said.

Contextualising the torrent of 24-hour news is a growing trend – last year saw a spike in explainer journalism sites like Vox and the NYT Upshot, aiming to provide context to news stories.

This year has already seen the launch of an app called Timeline for a slower, more historical take on current events.

FOLD first started as an idea to help readers get up to speed with the basic background facts.

The team expanded to include developer Joe Goldbeck, and the tool will now launch as a "public authoring and publishing platform" with embeddable stories.

To produce a story on FOLD, users can write straight into the platform's "cards", which are arranged vertically to form the main storyline. Writers then add additional context where needed, displayed horizontally in line with the relevant section of the story.

"It's context cards anchored around a sort of narrative core. And then to add new context cards, we hooked into different services like YouTube and Google Maps and image hosting services," explained Hope.


A run through some of the features of the platform. Video courtesy of FOLD.

But is finding or creating context cards practical in breaking news situations? Hope said the FOLD team know time constraints are a reason why journalists don't include more contextual information in their stories.

"The way we're addressing it in FOLD is that you don't have to create your own context. We're trying to make it easy to pull in content that already lives elsewhere on the web.

"Your role as a journalist would be just to curate it and link it, if you want, to your main text."

FOLD also has an option to "remix context cards" where users can search stories on a similar subject and reuse relevant cards, which will be credited to the original author.

"You could basically rely on someone else's curation to surface good videos or good photos and then you can leverage that by putting it into your own story," said Hope.

The types of context Hope said could be included in FOLD stories range from historical and geographical information to technical facts, as well as the "human narrative" and user-generated content.

She said there are opportunities within the platform to not just offer additional facts, but to find a new way to tell the story.

FOLD's context bar is a "curated tangent" that gives writers the option to "strike out in new directions" and engage readers with the main text more.

Hope also said collaboration with journalism outlets to create branded sections was a possibility, but FOLD is a "platform that anyone can use".

"I am really hoping to see a lot of creative uses of the tool as well as more traditional news related uses," she added.

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