How Jacqui Maher landed at BBC News Labs

by Ashley Nguyen
Oct 30, 2018 in Digital Journalism

After living in the United States and working at The New York Times for five years, Jacqui Maher moved across the Atlantic from a mostly print news outlet to the BBC, best known for its radio and television work.

“Coming from America, I was exposed to [BBC] World Service the most, and not so much the different programs on BBC,” Maher said. “It’s interesting to be in a completely different environment.”

Since Maher arrived at BBC News Labs in January 2015, she’s been working on a slew of projects: From the 2015 general elections in the United Kingdom to helping BBC World Service with a hackathon-like event in Cape Town, South Africa, Maher has kept busy in her new position. Below, IJNet caught up with Maher to see what she's been up to.

Current title:

Interactive journalist with BBC News Labs

Most recent gig:

Maher spent more than five years at The New York Times, where she most recently was a research engineer for NYT Labs. Before then, Maher served as an assistant editor for interactive news.

What she’s been working on at BBC:

When Maher first arrived, the interactive journalist teamed up with the BBC’s audience development and data team to execute several initiatives and experiments.

One experiment stretched the boundaries of the BBC’s linked data platform, which uses automated tagging to keep track of content in addition to some manual tagging. Maher and others made several internal dashboards that monitored spefic tags relating to the election, offering the newsroom insight into how much coverage certain parties and candidates were getting.

“For journalistic integrity and from the public service aspect, the BBC wants to ensure they’re doing the best job at being fair and balanced in their coverage up to the election,” Maher said, adding that the experiment led to an internal conversation about proper tagging techniques. 

Among other projects, she even helped develop a five-part report on how the drug trade is affecting Guinea-Bissau. The series, called “Hooked,” was produced as a graphic novel.

Highlight at BBC so far:

Traveling with the BBC Connected Studio to Cape Town and working alongside local skills and training studio RLabs. The focus of the event was how BBC can do a better job distributing its audio content in South Africa. Read more about that here.

“We got a lot of ideas that people sitting around London wouldn’t have come up with,” she said.

Proudest accomplishments at the Times:

The interactive team’s coverage of the 2012 London Olympics and pulling together user-generated content to help New Yorkers with family members in Haiti find their loved ones during the 2010 earthquake.

Pet projects:

Maher’s interested in developing tools for investigative journalists, a topic she often discussed with Sarah Cohen, an investigative journalist and editor at the Times. Look out for Maher’s tools in the coming years: She wants to aid explanatory journalism, give foreign correspondents easier, safer ways of keeping in touch with headquarters and build upon existing tools that sift through giant document dumps like WikiLeaks.

What you might not know:

After studying math and philosophy at New York University as an undergrad, Maher went on to work at several dot-com companies before settling into news at Hearst’s Interactive Studios as a news app developer. Later in her career, she took time to study epidemiology at the City University of New York City College. Despite a passion for public health, Maher ended up facing a decision: Pursue a doctorate or take a job at The Times. You know how the story ends.

Main image of Jacqui Maher courtesy of the journalist.