October 21, 2015
Structured journalism is a growing form of journalism that publishes news content as entries in a database, enabling users to explore the content in ways that reveal trends and patterns and create new stories and visualizations. Instead of a single news story that repeats material from previous stories, structured journalism often uses short updates about the new developments that can be combined with previous updates.
It’s been described as “atomized” journalism because it dices the news down to individual events or statements that can be viewed separately, combined into a narrative or summarized in helpful ways.
Some forms of structured journalism such as movie reviews or political fact-checks provide ratings that enable readers to search, sort the content and see tallies of published work. This enables a reader to see a politician’s report card from fact-checks or to sort for recent movie reviews that have gotten glowing reviews.
Structured journalism is different than data journalism. In data journalism, the writer uses content from the database to enhance a traditional story. In structured journalism, the database IS the story. The individual database entries — which can be incidents of crime, political fact-checks or movie reviews — are the story form.
Publishing in a database might sound dry, but structured journalism can be powerful and lively. For example, the Marshall Project’s Next to Die feature uses a simple structured approach and stark graphics to provide a dramatic countdown for prisoners on death row. PolitiFact’s structured approach allows readers to see when a politician has received a “Pants on Fire” rating.
Computer programmer Adrian Holovaty described the fundamental ideas behind structured journalism in a September 2006 article by noting that most material collected by journalists is “structured information: the type of information that can be sliced-and-diced, in an automated fashion, by computers”. For him, a key difference is that traditional journalism produces articles as the final product while structured journalism produces smaller pieces of content that are continually updated and improved.