Can modular journalism solve big product problems?

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


Hi there.

May is a busy month with events. I’m hosting a virtual four-part series on innovative content formats over the next two weeks and then heading to New York for our World Congress. I have fireside chats with AG Sulzberger, a CEO panel on what will happen next, and the Nick Thompson CEO of the Atlantic on the best things in tech, amongst others. What questions should I be asking them? Drop me a note. I’m at 

And today I’m covering some formats I’ve seen recently that have wowed me. Is modular journalism a solution to some major product problems? Hope you find this and the other formats helpful for your work.   

Best, Jodie

Is modular journalism a solution to some product major problems?

I recently came across something that was developed by JournalismAI during a challenge in 2021, and I can’t get it out of my mind as a possible solution to a few product problems: modular journalism

Before we get into why this could be a solution, let’s talk about some of the problems.

As discussed in this Webinar with Kara Chiles and Damon Kiesow, sometimes it’s hard to create a great content experience in a world of fragmented news. How much does a user already know about a story before they come to us? What were their sources and frames of reference? Do we need to start from the beginning? Do they want a quick update or an in-depth look? Do they want to end their experience knowing what they can personally do about this particular issue? 

The answer is simply that we don’t know, nor are we likely to in the future. That means that we don’t always know who we are catering to and what they actually want. Let's not go down the personalisation discussion right now as that assumes we know some of these answers and are able to meet them. 

Another issue is that we distribute content across a wide range of platforms. Every story has to get broken down into different lengths and formats to make it relevant for the individual platform. 

The final issue — for this newsletter — is that every time a story is written, we usually start from scratch. We reuse formats but not stories.

Modular journalism could be an answer for newsrooms trying to make fragmented news more readable.
Modular journalism could be an answer for newsrooms trying to make fragmented news more readable.

So why do I think modular journalism is the saviour? 

Essentially, what modular journalism does is break down a story into fragments:

Modular journalism breaks a story down into many fragments.
Modular journalism breaks a story down into many fragments.

My theory is that if we started writing and filing stories in these elements, it would make it a lot easier to present the information in a way that makes it easier for readers to digest. It would also mean that journalists and editors could reuse information such as context and background, which makes it easier to keep stories updated.

By breaking down the story, you can also see what information could work best on each platform: the headline on Twitter, summary and image on Instagram, etc. I am oversimplifying, of course, but you get the idea.

Has anyone tried this? I’d love to hear how you have implemented it and if it’s effective. If not, can someone lend me an innovation team or product team to try this theory? I’d love to see how it worked out ;)

After writing this post, I noticed The New York Times has started breaking down stories. Not always and not exactly like this with segments including the news, why it matters, background and what’s next. You can see an example here. 

Date for the diary: Product master class starting this Thursday 

My latest product innovation master class, a four-part virtual event, starts this Thursday and goes through May 16. We have an incredible lineup of speakers with tons of practical ideas on organising for innovative formats, audio, gen Z, and personalisation. Full details here.

The best frameworks and resources I have seen recently

Given that I spend all day every day looking at product for news, I feel like I see a million product frameworks out there. Every now and then, one stands out. 

Above we solved the problem of using fragments of stories on different platforms and reusing parts of stories at a future date with modular journalism. But how do we know who our audiences are? 

We don’t need to know every person, but we do need to have an idea of who you are creating for. If you need a 101, here’s your guide. This was actually written for the UK public sector, but — bear with me here — Khalil A. Cassimally, head of audience insights at The Conversation, highlighted this and it is highly relevant to news media. 

This flowchart illustrates how to reach audiences.
This flowchart illustrates how to reach audiences.

Once you know who your users are, understand what they need. Dmitry Shishkin has spent years perfecting the user needs model and is inspired by his time at the BBC and, in the last few years, working as a consultant studying user needs across multiple organisations.  

Dmitry Shishkin's user needs model.
Dmitry Shishkin's user needs model.

Lastly for today, here’s how to show your work. I am in love with the FTvisual journalism chart. What a fabulous reference for journalists to have as inspiration when they write stories. I’m particularly impressed that they have spent time and energy on this so that data and visualisation come in at the beginning of the story, not at the end.

The Financial times' visual journalism chart.
The Financial times' visual journalism chart.

About this newsletter 

Today’s newsletter is written by Jodie Hopperton, based in Los Angeles and lead for the INMA Product Initiative. Jodie will share research, case studies, and thought leadership on the topic of global news media product.

This newsletter is a public face of the Product Initiative by INMA, outlined here. E-mail Jodie at with thoughts, suggestions, and questions. Sign up to our Slack channel.

About Jodie Hopperton

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