Nieman Foundation at Harvard
HOME
          
LATEST STORY
A Swiss publisher is trying to attract a paying audience with an app sampling stories across publications
ABOUT                    SUBSCRIBE
May 4, 2015, 3:41 p.m.
Reporting & Production
upshot-geolocation-map

The Upshot uses geolocation to push readers deeper into data

The New York Times story changes its text depending on where you’re reading it: “It’s a fine line between a smarter default and being creepy.”

When you’re writing about how place — be that a neighborhood or a city — affects a child’s chances of getting out of poverty, location is obviously central to the story. So when the team at The Upshot wanted to put together a companion interactive piece, they set out to answer the question many readers would ask: What does that look like where I live?

The Best and Worst Places to Grow Up has all the characteristics of other features from The New York Times’ data-and-analysis vertical: clear and concise data visualizations designed to add context and understanding. But what’s different is that the article itself is almost self-aware: It knows what county you’re in and alters the story text depending on your location. Browsing on your phone in Minneapolis, you get Hennepin County, Minnesota. Reading at work in San Antonio, it’s Bexar County, Texas. Pulling up the interactive here at the Lab, you get Middlesex County, Massachusetts:

upshot-geolocation-screenshot-png

The interactive is based off data from a new study by Harvard economists Raj Chetty and Nathaniel Hendren that explores how community can influence a child’s future income. The authors found that a child’s chances of stepping out of poverty can improve depending on where they are raised.

Gregor Aisch, a graphics editor at the Times, told me they decided to use readers’ IP addresses to get a rough sense of their location. (Readers can also opt to tell the Times their location when prompted by their browser of choice, he said.) And why do it? Times graphics editor Amanda Cox said they wanted to cut out the unnecessary steps between readers and the information they want.

“It’s a fine line between a smarter default and being creepy,” she said.

As a practical matter, Aisch said asking readers to supply information can sometimes cut down on their desire to use a news app. Past projects have shown that asking people to enter their Zip code automatically guarantees that a large chunk of people won’t use it, he said. Using geolocation is “a way to ensure that everyone gets their location version whether they want it or not,” he said. (The Times used MaxMind’s GeoIP product.)

Once you have the data, you need to translate it into something useful to users. The Upshot team decided to use prose templates that could be rewritten by a bot based on the data specific to where you live and your neighboring counties. Sharp-eyed readers can see the changes on the page if you enter another county while reading the story.

For example, here’s my hometown:

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.51.03 PM

And here’s where I live today:

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 1.51.16 PM

It’s similar to the L.A. Times’ Quakebot, or The New York Times’ 4th Down Bot, which used historical data to spit out instant analysis on play calling during the NFL season.

In this case, most of the templates are similarly written in a style almost reminiscent of Mad Libs, with the bot swapping in data determined by a readers location. Still, there is some flexibility, the story structure allows for optional sentences that provide more specific insight into an individual county, Cox said. She estimates there are about 20 different variations on the story.

POSTED     May 4, 2015, 3:41 p.m.
SEE MORE ON Reporting & Production
SHARE THIS STORY
   
Show comments  
Show tags
 
Join the 15,000 who get the freshest future-of-journalism news in our daily email.
A Swiss publisher is trying to attract a paying audience with an app sampling stories across publications
Tamedia’s 12-App collects the 12 best stories each day from the company’s 20-plus publications.
What does it take to be a “full-service” digital journalism organization? Ask Discourse Media
“We’ve gone down lots of experimental rabbit holes.”
Spain’s Eldiario.es has 18,000 paying members, and its eye on the next several million
“We have a potential of six million readers. You may not convince all six million people to be your socios, but if you learn more about their interests, you can get closer.”
What to read next
0
tweets
Newsonomics: In the platform wars, how well are you armed?
“Think about platforms as fishing places where you can find large, engaged audiences and build a relationship with them by providing content. Then offer these users some other services off-platform.”
0BuzzFeed is building a New York-based team to experiment with news video
It is the “center of a Venn diagram” between BuzzFeed Motion Pictures and BuzzFeed News.
0Newsonomics: Can a Bezos buddy act help fend off Gannett’s bid for Tribune?
Tribune Publishing’s Michael Ferro says he wants to bring The Washington Post’s Arc CMS to its newspapers. Is that a grasp at credibility or a model for other news companies to outsource their tech stacks?
These stories are our most popular on Twitter over the past 30 days.
See all our most recent pieces ➚
Fuego is our heat-seeking Twitter bot, tracking the links the future-of-journalism crowd is talking about most on Twitter.
Here are a few of the top links Fuego’s currently watching.   Get the full Fuego ➚
Encyclo is our encyclopedia of the future of news, chronicling the key players in journalism’s evolution.
Here are a few of the entries you’ll find in Encyclo.   Get the full Encyclo ➚
Next Door Media
DocumentCloud
Center for Investigative Reporting
Journal Register Co.
InvestigateWest
American Public Media
The Wall Street Journal
FiveThirtyEight
Wikipedia
Bloomberg
Newsmax
Mashable