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As part of its continued efforts to encourage innovation in the newsroom, The Telegraph is trying to be more strategic in how it develops digital tools.

Malcolm Coles, the outlet's director of digital media, said the organisation is trying to "create reusable assets" so that journalists can be more efficient in how they plan their coverage and report on stories.

Speaking at the Digital Media Strategies event in London on Monday (7 March), he explained how The Telegraph's 'new formats' team of four, created in the spring of 2015, works with a small group of developers to plan and build new tools that can then be shared with the rest of the newsroom.

"When news happens, lots of newsrooms will have somebody doing a timeline, another person doing an explainer, someone else writing the story, so you end up having people write about the same thing at the same time.

"Journalists also assume readers know everything that's been previously written on that topic," Coles said.

The Telegraph has tried to solve some of these issues by creating a collection of embeds, such as timelines, explainer cards and a responsive infographic generator, which can be quickly put together by journalists as the story requires them – "we want to support different levels of understanding among our readers", he explained.

These embeds or 'particles', a concept borrowed from The New York Times, will be integrated in The Telegraph's CMS over the next few weeks.

They can be created for news events that are known in advance or likely to repeat themselves in the future, and journalists can collaborate on their production when news breaks.

"So when a new story happens, instead of publishing ten articles on the same topic, we can take any updates or new developments and embed them into that one article where the audience is," Coles explained.

He said The Telegraph divides the new tools it releases for the newsroom into three categories:
  • formats that don't get much use and are only tried out by a few people;
  • those that are fairly used, which leads to developers building an admin interface outside of the CMS, but which eventually stop working;
  • successful formats, where someone in the organisation comes up with a better way to make use of the respective tool and it gets incorporated into the CMS.

Prioritising resources for the right tools

But how do they know if these new additions to the newsroom actually help journalists? One of the challenges faced by the team is getting the embeds to work across the different platforms The Telegraph uses to distribute its content, Coles added.

For example, the particles are supported by Facebook Instant Articles and Google Accelerated Mobile Pages, but not by Apple News.

Overall however, the embeds have increased engagement time by 25 per cent on the outlet's most popular stories, and by an average of 15 per cent across the rest of the website. They have also made the process of publishing breaking news faster.

In February, The Telegraph was also awarded funding as part of Google's Digital News Initiative to develop its Sports Action Visualiser project, a tool aimed at creating rich graphics in real-time, particularly for live football coverage.

The organisation is in the process of rolling out a new, more efficient CMS, and it is experimenting with an internal Slack bot that works out how many embeds are being put into an article and automatically sends a message to the author to suggest other relevant elements that could add value to the story, such as a timeline or an explainer.

The 'wider audience' versus Telegraph 'customers'

The Telegraph divides its audience into four segments, to get a better understanding of how different people interact with stories.

Readers who have only visited the website once over the last 30 days are referred to as the 'wider audience', whereas those who come regularly but only bring a few pages per visit are 'casual readers'.

On the opposite spectrum are what the outlet calls 'bingers', or people who generate many page views but who don't come to the site on a regular basis, and lastly, 'customers', The Telegraph's most engaged visitors.

"We want to help our journalists understand what the spread is between those four categories of their audience, and what the distribution of traffic is throughout the day, what times different people turn up to read their content.

"But we also want to help them understand what doesn't work so well, so they can stop doing it," Coles said.

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