Stories as Precious Assets: A Journalist’s Guide to Metadata and Taxonomies

By Bree Midavaine, NBC News

The amount of information that comes across the desk of a journalist is often overwhelming. Social media, email, chat, video feeds and more can drown a reporter in a deluge of data.

The good news is that there is help on the way.

Metadata and taxonomies will help bring structure to the daily mess of the unstructured reality of journalism.

Ultimately, metadata and taxonomies (apologies for the unsexy names) will work behind the scenes to empower journalists to get real-time, relevant updates on stories they’re working on, as well as assist in faster retrieval of information during breaking news.

Below is a basic guide to understanding how it works and why it’s so important.


What is Metadata?

Metadata is structured information that describes an asset. An asset can be a piece of text, a piece of video, an event and the list goes on.

The metadata is automatically encoded into the asset or attached by anyone interacting with that piece of information or media.

There are three types of metadata:

  1. Administrative: Things like creator, date, time, location, primary contact, JPEG, TIFF
  2. Rights: Things like copyright info and rights usage terms
  3. Descriptive: Things like a title, slug, keywords and tags

Take the picture below as an example:

  1. Administrative: Creator: Aaron P. Bernstein, location: Philadelphia, date: July 28, 2016
  2. Rights Metadata: Getty Images
  3. Descriptive: Bill Clinton, DNC, balloons

What is a Taxonomy?

Taxonomies are organized collections of people, organizations, locations and topics. It is the living relationship between pieces of metadata that define relevance and disambiguate similar concepts to decrease confusion.

For example, is the story about music legend Prince or Prince, Nevada?


Stories Are Our Most Precious Asset

In a story-centric workflow (which we’re working towards with NewsConnect), a story is the most important piece of metadata within the taxonomy.

A story gets its own unique ID which means that the story is the anchor for all assets across systems.

When it’s linked in this way, it ultimately saves precious time.

  1. Finding information becomes as easy as a simple search
  2. Distributing new information to users who are interested in that topic or story becomes implicit upon creation
  3. Discovery of new topics and angles within the context of past information becomes easier

These are just a few of the ways that metadata and taxonomies will ultimately assist journalists in organizing the flow of information and ultimately allow reporters to spend more time reporting.

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