Computer scientists and data people have a process called normalization, where there’s a table of a thing, and that thing gets related to other tables that need to reference that thing. That way, all that’s being stored in the other tables are references to this thing—the relational parts of a relational database system. This is exactly how I set up PolitiFact. There’s a people table, and they say things (the statement table), or promise things (the promises table) or they get mentioned in stories (you guessed it; there’s a stories table). These kinds of relationships don’t exist in most newspaper content systems.
Finding Stories In The Structure Of Data
Matt Waite builds on Adrian Holovaty’s brilliant essay about a change in mindset that journalism needs to take — from reporting to build just stories, to reporting that gathers and presents structured data.
I hammer the point, whenever the opportunity arises, that the websites my peers work on are really just translations of print products. They fail to capture the full potential of the web and, as Waite points out, miss the fact that stories really are structured data.
Now I’m realizing that, to add to my bag of talking points I employ in trying to drive digital culture change in a news organization, it will help turn on the light bulbs for some if they have a conceptual understanding of relational databases, how they work and what we could do with them.
(I don’t have an answer yet for how to sell this to those who just want to be “great writers.” That’s a tough sell.)