Developing a tool for and with journalists

Dimitris Apostolou (ICCS) is leading the development of the INJECT tool. He reflects on the first 6 months of developing a useful tool for journalists; with fun moments, challenges and ideas for what could be next.

From the outset, the challenge for the INJECT development team was clear: How to create a search tool that provides added value to the everyday work of journalists, while it is different from and hence it will not try to replace the established free and proprietary search tools that journalists already use?

Journalists form the consortium were extremely kind to spend the time and explain to us their needs and expectations from the tool. They walked us through the story development process. The journalists from Hallingdølen even took the time to film their requirements for professional quality. That must have been a first for an EU project!

To address this challenge of not creating yet another tool for journalists, we aimed to develop a search tool that not only provides access to a vast collection of news sources, but also helps journalists think creatively and to quickly develop news stories, which are novel and useful to the readers.

Creative thinking is the process of generating work that is both novel and appropriate. We needed to design and develop a creative search tool, which manipulates input text automatically to generate search query terms that form the input to creative news angles.

For example, retrieving evidence to backup a story, discover and explore human angles in a news story based on the different people and roles associated with the story, or explore the background events that underpin a story in order to discover a new angle to the story from its background. Each of these ‘search dimensions’ is a unique offering of the INJECT tool and is backed up by solid natural language processing and machine learning technologies.

There have been small moments, simple achievements that rewarded us, such as seeing the tool work seamlessly in different CMS systems and other small, techie stuff that makes developers smile.

Developing the INJECT technologies has been fun, but also extremely challenging. For instance, we needed to cope with information available in different languages − not an easy feat − and to make sense of content provided by diverse sources.

Effective planning, good coordination, professional engineering and good team spirit are some of the attributes that help us be productive. Of course not everything worked as planned. Testing and evaluation showed that often the tool did not retrieve meaningful results or did not help users discover something useful.

For example, when trying to find individuals associated with Donald Trump’s recent meeting with the Pope at the Vatican, users could not find actual facts about specific people who actually attended the meeting. Clearly, we need more user – tool interaction to better train the machine learning algorithms and hence retrieve more accurate results.

What’s next? Clearly, a major challenge to stimulate journalists to create new story angles is how to effectively harness the power of social media while filtering out all the noise. We hope we can help with some interesting ideas for them to try out with our future release of the INJECT tool.