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Bill Bennett

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When news goes molecular

I’m excited by South China Morning Post editor-in-chief Reg Chua’s effort to find the new molecular building blocks of journalism.

In the print era, the news story was the basic block. Chua says stories are less valuable in a digital age and daily news stories have even less worth when readers come back to them at a later date. Returning to old stories is now easier thanks to online newspaper archives and search engines.

Chua describes how software tools cleverly pull atoms of news (facts) from sources then knits them back together to form Molecules of News. In effect this means mining raw data for useful information.

In some ways this isn’t too different from the way journalists research sources when writing news.

As every journalist knows, much of the raw data collected in daily news gathering never makes it into news stories.

Chua says the news industry misses the value locked in that data. He thinks the challenge is for news organisations to find ways to turn this into money.

Clearly one approach is to chain atoms and molecules of news together in ways that make it easier to extract information. This means thinking about data structures, not news stories. This could involve writing reports (or atoms, or molecules) directly in to a pre-built data structure.

Chua’s last idea – suggested in a reply to my comment on his post – is the part I find exciting. I’m going to make developing a working news data structure my background project for the year.

I’d be interested to hear any thoughts on how this can work for a freelance journalist.

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