Visualisation of INCA across a range of devices

The Times and The Sunday Times approach to data in the newsroom

Like many publishers we have been working hard to try and make it easier for our newsrooms to use the data we have about our readers’ interests and behaviours to make better decisions.

We believe that our newsrooms should be informed by data, not led by it. That it should help broaden our understanding of who our readers are and which of our stories resonated. That it should not replace editorial judgment, but augment it.

With that in mind we are publishing a whitepaper about the data platform we have started work on and where we hope it will take us in the near future.

Called INCA (Intelligent Newsroom Contextual Analytics) the platform is designed to support the exposing of our data in the most appropriate ways given a journalist’s context.

There are such a wide variety of needs when it comes to data, from informing commissioning and working on product improvements, to reflecting on past decisions and we want to make sure we solve each one properly.

The first way we have chosen to do this is via a Chrome extension that displays data about an edition or an article directly next to it in the browser. This helps answer some of the most common questions quickly and most importantly in a way that makes editorial staff self-sufficient.

Example of how INCA looks alongside the edition (Dummy data)

INCA data will also be integrated with Slack, our editorial production tools and TV screens around the newsrooms — each serving a slightly different purpose.

With this approach we are planning to tackle the two biggest problems we have; access and action. Traditionally, getting your hands on data requires logins to multiple systems and once you are logged in, a degree to understand how to get what you want from the tool.

We hope that by building a flexible platform we will encourage innovation around our data, that we will find new ways of exposing and using it to improve both the journalism and the product experience.

As we’re just getting started, we haven’t fully explored the ‘I’ part of INCA yet, but for us, intelligence is where the biggest opportunity is.

Our first experiment focused on intelligence is called the Dwell Time Index (DTI) and generates a normalised number for each story that helps editors understand if an article is being engaged with properly given its length and other properties such as whether it contains a video etc.

The areas where we hope INCA will help in the future are; helping the newsroom and the wider business spot patterns and anomalies that humans cannot see day to day. Providing small nudges on ways to improve an article, or how it is distributed and noticing when our reporting is exceeding or failing our expectations.

We’re also pleased that INCA picked up an award for “Best Technical Innovation” at the Online Media Awards last week.

Learn more by downloading the whitepaper here