Hamilton lyrics teach journalists how to engage their audience

Stanford Journalism
Oct 3, 2016 · 2 min read

By Kristen Lee

Journalism isn’t just about delivering information; it’s about engaging the audience. In a panel at Stanford University’s Computation+Journalism Symposium, Erik Hinton and Joel Eastwood from The Wall Street Journal did just that.

On Saturday, they demonstrated an algorithm that analyze rhymes, using the music from Hamilton. This was one of three papers featured in “The Story Behind the Story,” a panel focused on connecting with your audience. The other two papers discussed transparency in journalistic algorithms and age and gender differences in news consumption.

A key component of Eastwood and Hinton’s project is the user-input feature, as explained in their paper “Playing with Pop Culture: Writing an Algorithm To Analyze and Visualize Lyrics From the musical Hamilton.” Users input their own lyrics and get immediate feedback, which is key for engagement, according to Hinton and Eastwood.

“In order to really make a toy or a game, you need to be able to give it inputs and receive something back,” Eastwood said.

By understanding user preferences, journalists can effectively promote articles, said Jisun An and Haewoon Kwak of the Qatar Computing Research Institute. They analyze how news consumption in South Korea varies by age and gender in their paper “Multidimensional Analysis of Gender and Age Differences in News Consumption.”

Preference goes beyond news topics, An and Kwak said. The angle of the story also matters.

“Within each issue, you … would create something that you are interested in,” which varies by life stage, An said.

These demographic nuances help journalists choose effective material, An and Kwak said.

But as journalist track their readers, they also need to be transparent about it, suggested Jennifer A. Stark and Nicholas Diakopoulos in their paper “Towards Editorial Transparency in Computational Journalism.” With the rise of algorithms, journalists must have guidelines for how to use data about people’s day-to-day lives responsibly, according to their paper.

Transparency allows both other news sources and the public to verify a journalist’s claims, Stark said during the presentation.

It also builds a stronger relationship between journalists and the public. It “makes sure the public trusts the technology, and they can see … what the rules are, where the data comes from,” Diakopoulos said during an interview.

Indeed, interactivity builds a strong relationship between source and user, Hinton and Eastwood said in their paper.

“The feedback, and the process…that’s what makes it engaging, that’s what keeps people coming back,” Eastwood said.

Kristen Lee is a student reporter at Stanford University.

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