2014 is the year of contextualization

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“We’re limiting the opportunity for our readers to understand all the intersecting impacts by reducing context to a few paragraphs of background.” -Lauren Rabaino

According to Lauren Rabaino, Product Manager for The Verge and previously News Applications Editor at The Seattle Times, 2014 will be the year of contextualization.

“My prediction isn’t particularly snazzy. It doesn’t require drones or sensors or wearables. It gets back to common sense, highlighting our role as an industry in creating informed citizens,” said Rabaino.

Contextualization means guiding readers through large, convoluted news topics. Rabaino explains that no matter the topic, we are going to see a shift in how journalists help people understand where information fits and what it means.

Events don’t happen on 24-hour news cycles, and the most important of those events can’t be captured in 2,000-word stories. But that’s how journalists publish, because that’s how newspapers and daily broadcasts are designed. Topics that impact our lives have winding histories, key players over time, topical shifts that are important to understanding the whole story. They don’t really start over every day with a new angle, as we’d force readers to believe. Journalists are limiting the opportunity for readers to understand all the intersecting impacts by reducing that important context into a few paragraphs of background on each new development we write about.

Matt Thompson wrote at Nieman Lab in 2009 about adding context and depth to how we report the news and Sean Blanda (Managing Editor at 99U) discussed the topic last year.

Rabaino believes taking the next step involves:

  • Stop thinking of content as unstructured text with headlines, bylines, ledes, nut grafs, etc. There will be an emphasis of the pieces of information that make up those stories.
  • Create more living content that gets updated at a canonical source as a topic evolves.
  • Start thinking more holistically about stories and writing content in non-narrative formats.
  • Come up with better mechanisms to organize the information that makes up articles.
  • Integrate more structured data into everything we do, blurring the lines between “news apps” and “stories.”

Watch Rabaino’s advice to students: 

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