Organisation: Junkee Media (Australia)

Publication Date: 03/02/2018


As a small youth publication with a national focus, we serve many different communities through our reporting but struggle to make sure we’re consistently following up on the issues that matter to them. For example, one month we might devote our editorial resources to reporting on sexual assault on university campuses; in a different month, we may focus on the problems facing LGBTQI+ youth in high schools, and at present we have no system capable of tracking our previous reporting focuses and reminding us to follow up on them months or even years later.

This is where YarnBot comes in. Yarnbot is an interactive alerts tool for our journalists to track trending topics from their database and allowing them to set reminders for anniversaries, ensuring we keep the conversation going and continue to serve our multi-faceted youth community. Our prototype delivers a weekly report to all of our journalists via Slack, highlighting popular articles and topics from the past week, along with four other time points (one, three, six and twelve months ago). The completed project will also allow journalists to set reminders for specific articles or topics so as to receive a follow-up prompt after a certain amount of time has elapsed.

YarnBot helps remind journalists (particularly those whose small teams necessitate that they work across many beats) about the stories their audiences cared about in past, increasing the likelihood that these stories will be followed up on. Ideally, this benefits both the journalist, by providing reminders to follow up on stories that have dropped out of the news cycle, as well the communities they serve through their reporting, who are less likely to feel overlooked as a result.

Technologies used for this project:

At the crux of the YarnBot tech are two weekly-run PHP Cron jobs:

one that updates the data set via several requests to the Google Analytics API (storing the look-up of most popular posts in a custom table within our MySQL database);

and a second one, which analyses the stored data - alongside existing Wordpress data - and sends the formatting results to Slack via the API and a custom web hook.

Users can then respond to the Slack bot, requesting updates on specific topics, setting custom update frequencies etc. Requests are sent via a http request, analysed and returned directly to the Slack interface. The future implementation of YarnBot will include an expansion of this feature, where the bot's understanding of commands will be expanded.


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