Structured Stories NYC: an experiment in local news

Duke students will be covering New York City Hall using a structured journalism platform developed by former Yahoo! product manager David Caswell.

By Bill Adair – May 26, 2015 | Print this article

This summer in New York City, we are going to reimagine how to cover local news.

Our project, Structured Stories NYC, will slice and dice local news into chunks that readers can combine and display in different ways. It will make it easier to follow long-running stories or track how city officials are involved in different issues. Our goal is to break away from the old way of presenting the news by giving readers the ingredients of the news and putting them in charge.

Three student journalists from the Duke Reporters’ Lab — Ishan Thakore, Natalie Ritchie and Rachel Chason — will be covering City Hall the same way as other reporters. They’ll be going to meetings and news conferences and talking with city officials.

But they will write the news in bite-sized morsels that can be displayed in several different ways.  For example, readers will be able to display bulletpoints, an article, a timeline, or a visual approach known as “cards.”

Our project is the brainchild of David Caswell, a former Yahoo! product manager with a fresh approach to journalism. He invented Structured Stories, a publishing platform that “atomizes” the news, enabling readers to see patterns and linkages they wouldn’t see in ordinary coverage. (To get a taste of David’s approach, check out his fun demo for the story of Little Red Riding Hood, which can be displayed as bullet points, a timeline or cards.)

A demo uses the tale of Little Red Riding Hood to show how Structured Stories atomizes the news.

The New York project is funded by a grant from the Online News Association Challenge Fund and is a partnership with WNYC, New York’s flagship public radio station. WNYC journalists will advise us on the biggest news stories of the summer and help us make sense of the city’s massive government.

This is very much an experiment. Although we have a framework for our project, there are many details to figure out. David has drafted a booklet of editorial guidelines that is more of a discussion document than an owner’s manual. At last count it had 67 questions that we still need to answer.

Using structured journalism for local coverage is still very new. It’s been tried by Homicide Watch, the local crime news site created by Laura and Chris Amico, as well as PolitiFact, the fact-checking website I started at the Tampa Bay Times.

PolitiFact developed campaign promise meters to track the promises of elected officials such as the Buck-O-Meter, which follows the achievements of Tampa Mayor Bob Buckhorn. A typical campaign promise item has two or three updates. But Structured Stories will be deeper and more complex, showing the intricate connections between people and events.

As David wrote in the editorial guidelines, “Sprawl is our friend. Story branches, details and interconnections are kinda the point.”

Structured Stories LogoI was thrilled to partner with David because I’m a big believer in new forms of journalism. I gave a TED talk in 2012 that said we should blow up the news story and create new story forms.

That’s what we’re doing with Structured Stories NYC.

If you’re interested in following our work, we’ll be posting it on You can also check here on the Reporters’ Lab site for updates about how we’re doing. And I hope that by the next time you check, we’ve answered at least some of the 67 questions!

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Reporters’ Lab wins ONA grant for Structured Stories NYC

Duke students will cover local government in New York this summer in an experimental structured journalism project.

By Bill Adair – April 24, 2015 | Print this article

The Reporters’ Lab has been awarded an ONA Challenge Grant for a project that will develop new forms of journalism to cover local government in New York City.

Structured Stories NYC will use a structured journalism approach to cover major stories in New York this summer. It will be a new form of storytelling, a networked account of local news that accumulates over time and enables the local community to quickly access, query, and contribute to sprawling and complex local government stories.

Structured Stories NYC logo shade.001The project will be run by the Duke Reporters’ Lab in conjunction with Structured Stories, a news platform being developed by former Yahoo! product director David Caswell, and WNYC Radio, New York’s flagship public radio station.

The Duke team will be headed by Bill Adair, the Knight Professor of the Practice of Journalism and Public Policy. The students are Ishan Thakore, Natalie Ritchie and Rachel Chason.

The students will spend the summer covering local government in New York and will be publishing on They will meet periodically with journalists from WNYC’s newsroom who will help the students select topics to follow.

The Reporters’ Lab will receive $35,000 for the project. For more details about it, see our entry.

Structured journalism is a new way to present the news. Instead of the traditional news article, it dices the news into smaller fields that readers can sort, tally and combine in different ways. Examples of structured journalism include Homicide Watch, which tracks homicides in several cities, and PolitiFact’s Truth-O-Meter fact-checking.

ONA is the world’s largest association of digital journalists. The ONA Challenge Fund was created in 2014 to encourage journalism programs to experiment with new ways of providing news and information. This year’s winning projects cover issues ranging from poverty to juvenile justice, and food truck lines to logging.

The fund is the brainchild of a collaborative that includes the Excellence and Ethics in Journalism Foundation, the Robert R. McCormick Foundation, John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the Democracy Fund and the Rita Allen Foundation, and is managed by ONA, the world’s largest membership group of digital journalists.

For details about the 10 other winners, see the ONA news release.

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Craig Silverman’s new structured approach to covering Apple

The creative new project is a good way to keep up on Apple rumors — and hold journalists accountable for anonymous sourcing.

By Bill Adair – March 11, 2015 | Print this article

The latest example of structured journalism slices and dices rumors about Apple.

The project, part of Craig Silverman’s impressive rumor-tracking on, is a deep dive on all things Apple. It tracks more than 70 claims about things such as the trackpad of the new MacBook, the release date of iOS 8.2 and even the amount of gold in the high-end Apple Watch.

Silverman has partnered with Fast Company magazine, which has collected the rumors in a single article. The partnership gives Silverman’s innovative work a larger audience and some business-mag cred.

Craig Silverman
Craig Silverman

Like other rumors Silverman and his team follow on Emergent, they have identified the mishmash of speculation and anonymously sourced tidbits about Apple and separated them into bite-sized claims that readers can follow as Apple makes its official announcements.

For example, some rumors about the pricing structure of the Watch have now been rated True, such as the report in AppleInsider that the stainless-steel model will cost $499-549. But others have been rated False, such as the report in TechCrunch that the gold version will cost $1,200. (Actual price: $10,000+)

Silverman’s Apple rumor tracking is a great example of structured journalism. It allows people interested in the company and its products to get the latest about what’s true, what’s not and what’s still just speculation. Because it’s structured, readers can see all the False, True or Unverified claims. 

It’s also a great way to hold journalists accountable. Assuming the project continues, we’ll eventually be able to see whether, say, MacRumors has a better record of anonymous reports than Re/code.

As of March 10, one day after the announcement, Emergent had rated 28 of the rumors False and 22 True.

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No cold pizza: Notes from a structured journalism planning session

Structured journalists meet in Cambridge to plan more events and promotion in the next year.

By Bill Adair – February 23, 2015 | Print this article

We held Friday’s meeting in a windowless conference room because that’s where we go when we discuss structured journalism. This year, our meeting was at Google’s office in Cambridge, Mass., and our host David Smydra upheld the tradition.

It’s not that we fear sunlight. It’s just a quirk of scheduling. You may recall that last year’s meeting, our first, was in a windowless room at Reuters where we munched on cold pizza. This year, we got to enjoy Google’s amazing lunch buffet.

Around the table: David, Reg Chua of Reuters, Laura and Chris Amico, the creators of Homicide Watch, and me.

The goal for our second annual structured journalism strategy session was to assess how we did in our first year and set goals for the next 12 months.

A professorial Android greeted us at Google's Cambridge office.
A professorial Android greeted us at Google’s Cambridge office.

We discussed our successes. We held well-attended panels at the International Journalism Festival in Italy and the Online News Association meeting in Chicago and we started this mailing list. We also wrote blog posts and articles, although we each felt we could have done more.

We discussed our new structured projects: Laura did a demo of a cool one she’s leading at the Boston Globe, which should be published in the next couple of weeks; Chris did a demo of two structured sites he’s built for Frontline, Ballot Watch, which follows the changes in state voting laws, and Ebola Outbreak: How the Virus Spread.

I showed two mock-ups of websites I’m building with Duke students, one to track and rate medical studies (a project now on hold because we concluded it’s too complex a subject) and one that follows cases of athletes charged with crimes. We’re calling it Rule 46, after the NHL rule on fighting.

David did demos of some Google products that can help structured journalism: Google Consumer Surveys, which can generate revenue, and Google Newsstand, which publishes free and premium articles from various sources and can display structured content in an attractive and readable form.

Reg Chua, David Smydra, Bill Adair, Laura Amico and Chris Amico.
Reg Chua, David Smydra, Bill Adair, Laura Amico and Chris Amico.

A common theme in our discussions: the need for narrative and context in structured journalism. Questions and suggestions from the group made me realize that our sports crime project needed an additional feature — articles — to help readers better understand the structured content. Readers are interested in stories, David said, and we shouldn’t “outsource how the narrative gets built” to the user.

We discussed business goals and agreed that the long-tail potential and new, innovative content formats of structured journalism projects provide different kinds of opportunities to earn revenue. It’s important for both editorial and business-side leaders to plan for revenue opportunities from the start.

We agreed to keep speaking and writing about structured journalism. We’re holding a panel titled Why Structure is the Future of Journalism at the International Journalism Festival in April and we hope to hold another one at ONA15 in Los Angeles. We’ve also started collecting a list of structured journalism projects that I’ll be publishing on the website of the Duke Reporters’ Lab. And we’d like to get this listserv more involved in developing the ideas of structured journalism and spreading the word — perhaps a larger group meeting later this year would be useful, too. (Let us know if you would be interested in that!)

We’ll be holding another planning session next year, probably at Duke. I’ll find us a windowless room.

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Soft opening

Our website has been redesigned to highlight our new focus on fact-checking and structured journalism

By Bill Adair – December 7, 2014 | Print this article

Welcome to the new website of the Duke Reporters’ Lab!

You’re getting a preview of our new site, which will have its official launch in January. With the help of the talented team at Cuberis, we’ve redesigned the site to highlight our new focus on fact-checking and structured journalism.

Please feel free to browse the site, particularly our database of fact-checking sites around the world. It’s an impressive list – particularly when you see it on the map. You can zoom in and out over the continents and click the pushpins to get details on each site.

We’re still fact-checking our map of fact-checkers, so if you see anything that needs to be changed, email us at


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Creating new forms of journalism that put readers in charge

The creators of Homicide Watch, Connected China and PolitiFact met over pizza and agreed on a plan to promote structured journalism.

By Bill Adair – February 28, 2014 | Print this article

It’s been 20 years since the Internet began to disrupt journalism. It has turned our business upside down, but it’s also given us a new canvas to invent different ways of presenting information. It’s time to start reimagining the news story.

Last week, four of us gathered in a windowless conference room in New York to explore what we can do to nudge things along.

The participants were the creators of three projects that rely on new forms:

All three projects use a structured approach to present content in different ways. The animated diagrams of Connected China show you the family and government relationships that determine who has clout in that country; the lists and maps of Homicide Watch show who has been killed and where; the PolitiFact report cards reveal which politicians have earned the most Pants on Fires.

Homicide Watch, Connected China and PolitiFact are known as structured journalism because the articles contain fields of information that can be sorted and tallied. They provide readers with many ways to explore the content, both through individual articles and the data the articles create. Structured journalism puts the reader in charge.

“It’s a way of reporting that builds a comprehensive reporter’s notebook and then opens that notebook up to the public,” said Laura Amico. “There is no ‘old news’ in structured journalism, there is cumulative news. It is reporting that increases in value over time.”

There are a few other ventures that are experimenting with similar new forms, such as Circa, the app that atomizes the news into digestible chunks. But by and large, story forms are stuck in the past. We want more news organizations to experiment with structured journalism.

We began our New York meeting by trying to understand why media companies have largely failed to take advantage of the incredible power of the Web and mobile devices. We identified four forces that have stymied innovation:

  • Content Management Systems. They are designed to convert old media into new media and they provide little flexibility to experiment with new journalistic forms.
  • Newsroom culture. The rhythm in most newsrooms is based on a well-established work flow that produces predictable content. It’s not easy to suggest a wholesale change.
  • Product managers on the business side. They’re accustomed to selling the old recipe and often seem perplexed by new approaches.
  • Editors/news directors. They’ve got other priorities — such as having to choose people for another round of layoffs — and often don’t have the resources for a new venture.

Chua said editors need to get beyond the idea that “what’s new is what’s valuable. Sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s accumulated information and knowledge that is valuable.”

We then turned to the need for evangelism. What can the four of us do to get more news organizations to try innovative story forms?

We agreed to host a mini-conference in September before the Online News Association meeting in Chicago. It will allow us to demonstrate the promise of new story forms for industry leaders and innovators.

In the meantime, we’ll be writing and speaking about the new forms and encouraging organizations to do more experimentation. We invite you to join in these conversations by sharing your projects, ideas and hopes. #structuredjournalism


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