An incredible Editors Lab at The New York Times
On March 29 - 30, 2014, the best US Newsrooms gathered at The New York Times' headquarters to develop innovative news prototypes.
The theme of this Hackdays was ‘News as a conversation’: Exploring innovating methods to discover and visualize stories buried in news-related data that engage audiences, invite user interactions and encourage collaboration across the newsroom. Think breaking news, specific events (elections) and opinion polls.
Our White Paper offers an in-depth look at the best ideas developed during the event and provides an overview of its highlights.
A great partnership with Reuters
Reuters was official partner for the GEN Editors Lab Hackdays in The New York Times and brought invaluable knowledge and hands-on coaching for all the participating teams for the Hackdays. As the world’s largest international news agency providing real-time, award-winning multimedia news content, Reuters was a natural fit to partner with GEN as we drive newsroom innovation together.
Reuters opened access to their API 'Polling Explorer'. The explorer, http://polling.reuters.com/, displays the opinions of hundreds of thousands of Americans on a multitude of topics. All surveys are conducted online using a pool of pre-screened participants. The data available was:
- 2012 exit polling results
- 2012 results for presidential election
- 2012-2013 polling data on all topics from politics to lifestyle
Maurice Tamman (Reuters) assisting the WNYC team
And the winner was...
New York Daily News won the Hackdays with NewsQs (see the prototype here).
‘NewsQs’ is a tool that lets readers interact with New York Daily News in a whole new way. ‘News Qs’ allows the readers have a ‘live chat’ with the New York Daily News website as if they were talking to a human.
According to the team, ‘We have data and reporting. As a newsroom we make decisions on how to present it, but we want to let our readers talk to us about what they want so they have curation control, contact and interaction. We embraced the hack theme of news as a conversation. Our idea is to let readers literally converse with our website turning the concept of a live chat into a method of site navigation.'
The users type a question on the homepage (for example, 'who won the election in my district?'), and the website answers it directly and provide links for more information. The team joked about getting some inspiration from Clippy, the Microsoft Word help tool.
NewsQs’ project stemmed from the successful live reader chats the New York Daily News has hosted on their website with celebrities. But the tool can be used in a many different ways. It could be used not only to cover elections but also live events such as sports events or awards ceremonies.
The jury was impressed by the versatility of this tool and its user- friendly interface. They appreciated how well NewsQs fits the New York Daily News’ specific market reaching a young and popular audience that could greatly benefit from this simple, direct and quick way to access information.
The Guardian was awarded an honorable mention by the jury and won the prize given by Reuters and the audience’s award.
The team created Pollie, an interface for exploring polling data (see the prototype here). When using Pollie, the users start by logging in with Facebook. Then they are asked questions such as : ‘When you think about the rights of same-sex couples, which of the following comes closest to your personal opinion?’ and they have to choose between four answers. First, their answers are compared with the exit polls answers. Secondly, Pollie identifies a couple of the users’ Facebook friends that are most likely to have extreme and opposing views on the question, based on how respondents demographically similar to them answered the survey. According to the team, ‘the presentation of polling data is often too complex and not relatable. But Pollie allows readers to interact with poll results in a personalized and conversational manner. It asks the reader for information about themselves and their friends and uses that to guide them through a tailored view of the data. We believe Pollie makes data more accessible, and can be adapted for use with any any poll.’
According to the team, in the long run ‘it would also be ideal to create an interface where newsroom editors can easily select the questions and polling data to be used in their Pollie project.’
The Jury was impressed by the way Pollie transformed data exploration into a truly entertaining experience. The jury members also praised the neat interface of the project and the technical level it displayed.
Teams at work
Narratively built Stac, a tool that allows the readers to select information from an article and easily create with this information a striking infographic and then share it on social media. According to the team, ‘important news is often bursting with numbers—big, boring, daunting numbers. As a result, data-heavy stories are often hard to get through and even harder to share. With Stac, publishers and readers now have an easy and engaging way to create eye-popping and highly shareable and personalized infographics directly from an article. And consumers have a quick and exciting way to digest the news.’ Facebook and Twitter give the opportunity to their users to share articles in a rather impersonal way. But Stac give them the opportunity to add their own personal twist.
The jury gave an honorable mention to Narratively. It praised this project as a smart and innovative way to encourage article-sharing and reading and appreciated its sleek interface.
The Wall Street Journal
The Wall Street Journal team
The Huffington Post
BBC’s project, ‘Quiz: The exit poll explorer’ allows the users to test their knowledge of the American voting public. The users are invited to answer questions such as ‘What proportion of the over 55s have voted for the first time?’. Then they are encouraged to explain the exit poll answer: ‘But what would make someone vote for the first time after nearly 30 years? Any suggestions, let us know @exitpoll’.
The team describes its project in this way :“How can we squeeze the most news goodness out of Reuter's exit poll 2012? This is no easy task as election night is the busiest night in the newsroom. So, we want to inspire curiosity about the exit poll in our readers so they can help us crowd source the survey. We will do this with a quiz which will lead into an API, over which have built a simple UI for our readers.”
WNYC built Demographic 8-ball, a quiz that allows its users to discover how much do their backgrounds shape their opinions and their habits and where do they fit in to “America's demographic mixing bowl”. To see the prototype, please click here. The user answers a few short questions and then discovers what is his demographic profile according to the answers he gave. He can find out to what extent his background has influenced his political opinions. The teams used HTML/CSS/JS and D3 for charts. Data was pulled from the JSONP endpoint provided by Reuters. The questions were rendered via Handlebars and the Question pagination were done using simple jQuery & CSS animations.
CUNY University built ‘Surprise! You're 36% Conservative’, an app that, according to the team, ‘uses the Reuter's API cross tabs to identify surprising connections between political affiliation and stances on issues. To see the prototype, please click here. It uses quizzes to place a user in a political spectrum based on how closely their answers match the 2012 exit poll answers. It creates a profile that evolves as the user does more quizzes.’
The CUNY team
Columbia University created ‘Vote for your Values’, an interactive map that allows users to see how different political issues had influenced the outcomes the presidential elections. The team used the Reuters API to identify the key issues of the election. According to them, ‘overall, it was great working with the Reuters data set. We had to adapt to wrangling data, play with different models (for analysis) and create visualizations from scratch. We definitely learned a lot from this experience and would highly recommend it.’
Brainstorming session at the beginning of the event
This competition demonstrated the versatility and potential of the Reuters Polling API. The teams have used it in very innovative anddiverse ways and have avoided the usual pitfalls encountered when presenting polling data. The challenge was to engage the readers with the data. Whenpresenting polling results, journalists tend to give a neutral and general overview of the key ﬁndings that is not attractive to thereaders and lacks relevance to their speciﬁc interests. To avoid thispitfall, most of the teams have relied on personalization and gamiﬁcation. The Guardian provided the best example of “polling data’s personalisation’. It achieved to turn the data exploration into a truly personal experience by connecting the polling data with the readers’ personal Facebook data. This team managed to create a real bridge between the polling results and the personal sphere of the users. Most of the teams have built games in an attempt to transform the exploration of the polls’ results into an entertaining experience. Teams such as The Guardian or WNYC seemed to have created the best news-gaming experience because they succeeded in balancing information density with a sleek and a playful design.
Exploring the data
Polling results are dense and difﬁcult to read. Interesting detailed data is buried in polling results. But when looking at the polls’ results,the readers do not have access to it because they do not haveneither the time nor the data literacy to discover it. Reading articles about the polls do not help them ﬁnd out this detailed data, as most of them focus only on top-line numbers. During election season, journalists are bombarded with data from polls and tend to concentrate on the most obvious ﬁndings and overlook the wealth of data buried in exit polls. At the Editors Lab, the teams have attempted to tackle this problem by building innovative exploring features that lets the users make themost of the incredible richness of the API. They have explored the data in two different ways. BBC and The Hufﬁngton Post have invited their users to guess the opinions of a certain demographic group, whereas WNYC and CUNY university encourage their reader to identify demographic groups based on their of them focus only on top-line numbers. During election season, journalists are bombarded with data from polls and tend to concentrate on the most obvious ﬁndings and overlook the wealth of data buried in exit polls. At the Editors Lab, the teams have attempted to tackle this problemby building innovative exploring features that lets the users make the most of the incredible richness of the API. They have explored the data in two different ways. BBC and The Hufﬁngton Post have invited their users to guess the opinions of a certain demographic group, whereas WNYC and CUNY university encourage their reader to identify demographic groups based on their opinions.
Interacting with the data
The challenge was to engage the readers with the data. Whenpresenting polling results, journalists tend to give a neutral andgeneral overview of the key ﬁndings that is not attractive to thereaders and lacks relevance to their speciﬁc interests. To avoid this pitfall, most of the teams have relied on personalization and gamiﬁcation.The Guardian provided the best example of “polling data’spersonalisation’. It achieved to turn the data exploration into a truly personal experience by connecting the polling data with the readers’personal Facebook data. This team managed to create a real bridge between the polling results and the personal sphere of the users. Most of the teams have built games in an attempt to transform the exploration of the polls’ results into an entertaining experience. Teams such as The Guardian or WNYC seemed to have created the bestnews-gaming experience because they succeeded in balancinginformation density with a sleek and a playful design. The Wall Street Journal invited theplayers to read an article about the issue tackled in the questionbefore coming back to the game. By adding some context to theirreporting of the results, they helped their users make sense of thedata together with increasing the stickiness of their website.The New York Daily News uses a similar way to transform the polling results in a gateway for more news.
Contextualising the polls’ results
Polling results and news articles are mutually beneﬁcial. Polling results can serve as an entry point to news articles and news articles are essential to make the most of polling results. After giving the answer to each question of its quiz The Wall Street Journal invited the players to read an article about the issue tackled in the questionbefore coming back to the game. By adding some context to theirreporting of the results, they helped their users make sense of the data together with increasing the stickiness of their website.The New York Daily News uses a similar way to transform the polling results ina gateway for more news.
Predicting elections and narrativizing the data
There are other ways in which this API could be used in the future : Predicting elections and narrativizing the data. Reuters API could provide a great resource to build prediction models for future elections. The timeframe of the event was probably too short to allow them to create a statistical model sophisticated enough to predict the results. But the Reuters polling API with updated results could be a perfect tool to create results’ predictions in the same way that Nate Silver did in FiveThirtyEight. Following the theme of the competition: “News as a conversation”, the teams focused on building interactive features but did not explore how polling results could be integrated into a storytelling experience. However this could be a very promising way to make the most of the Reuters Polling API.