Reporters could make news stories more intelligent by replacing time-sensitive information with tags that automatically generate data relevant to the date and time the article is read and also the location it is read in, according to the head of editorial innovations at the Washington Post and Newsweek.
Adrian Holovaty said the international readership of news websites, and the fact that they carry news archives, creates potential confusion for readers when faced with specific information such as times, relative dates and financial figures
“One thing that’s always bothered me is that the bread-and-butter of journalism is relentlessly unstructured. The primary product of journalists – the news story – is just a giant blob of text,” he said, in a message to developers.
Mr Holovaty, who developed the prize-winning ChicagoCrime.org Google Maps mashup and the Washington Post’s archive of Congressional voting patterns, called for all written dates like “today” to be accompanied by a specific date so that “publishing systems could output appropriate date text, depending on the day the article was being read”.
And he said systems should allow financial figures to be expressed along with an embedded system date so that future readers of archived stories could read the amount with adjustments for inflation.
He also called on developers to work on ways to identify individual quotes and facts within stories, so that publishers could create an automatic archive of all quotes by a given person, for example.
“So much of a traditional news article fundamentally assumes the story is intended for a person in the same town, on the same day, with the same cultural background,” Mr Holvaty wrote.
“But the web allows anyone to read news stories worldwide, and days or weeks after the fact, so journalists should start taking advantage of automation and smart markup to make news stories more valuable sources of information.”