Is modular journalism a solution to some product major problems?

By Jodie Hopperton


Los Angeles, California, United States


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

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About Jodie Hopperton

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