How data technology drives content innovation at Thomson Reuters

By William Maxwell McKeon-White

Ithaca College

Ithaca, New York, USA


Thomson Reuters has had a colourful history, and a side effect of the creative solutions is now “innovation is in our DNA,” Reg Chua, executive editor of editorial operations/data and Iinnovation at Thomson Reuters, explained to the audience at the Big Data Media Conference, a joint venture of World Newsmedia Network (WNMN) and INMA, at Thomson Reuters’ Manhattan headquarters.

Thomson Reuters, a mass media organisation known for providing news companies with stories, is embracing data analysis in its workings, though it is likened to “rebuilding a plane in mid air while one of its engines is out and the pilot is sick,” Chua said.

Concerning the integration of big data into their work, Reuters has run into three distinct problems: the consumer base, legacy systems, and scale and complexity required.

Because Reuters has a diverse customer base, the company must ensure it is still developing deliverable news to people, Chua said. Additionally, because of the variety of systems its business customers leverage, any changes to format must be universally compatible, a herculean task considering the level of diversity. Finally, the scale and complexity required to be involved in any modernisation has proven to be a headache.

Yet, despite these challenges, Reuters has dauntlessly moved forward with its integration of data into its work. In fact, the utilisation of data analysis has already allowed Reuters to publish unprecedentedly complicated analyses and launch a series of innovative products, Chua explained.

In the field of data journalism, the Pulitzer nominated piece “Echo Chamber” was enabled by data processing technologies, as it involves a macrodata content analysis of U.S. Supreme Court documents. The remarkable conclusion found that a small set of lawyers have inordinate amounts of influence in the Supreme Court.

In another story entitled “The Water’s Edge,” a comprehensive analysis of water levels internationally, has allowed for the empirical conclusion that water levels are in fact rising. Reuters disseminated this information around the world.

Similarly, Reuters created an interactive analysis of China’s leadership using open source information, breaking into interactive journalism. The investigation yielded fascinating results, and enabling predictive analyses, Chua said. Another pioneered product, Reuters has led the development of a “poll explorer” allowing for better interaction with customers by collating millions of data points.

These technologies have allowed for the creation of a series of automated tools, that can generate and even publish “sound bytes” of data trends, Chua said. 

Another product being developed is Reuters TV, catering to the evolution of television watching trends. Using individualised data sets, Reuters has attempted to build a more personalised television experience for viewers.

Utilising Reuters global reach has allowed the company to lead the way in this innovation. Looking towards the future, Reuters is looking forward to more automation for time-sensitive situations, a cybernetic newsroom (a marriage of machines and humans ability), a social media event detector (details withheld), and, finally, the processing of event-based metadata, Chua said.

While the road to development of these abilities has been admittedly harrowing, Chua said, data analysis has allowed Thomson Reuters to maintain its international edge, creating products and news pieces thought once impossible, paving the way forward for media companies.  

About William Maxwell McKeon-White

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