Design Your Stories with Transparency: The Trust Project at SNDCLT 2017

Last week I had the chance to attend Unite + Rebel, the Society for News Design’s annual conference in Charlotte, North Carolina. It was a wonderful opportunity to engage in conversations about design’s role in journalism and innovations in visual storytelling. Here’s a take-away from one of the workshops I attended.

What is design’s role in building the public’s trust in news? That was the primary question raised by Sally Lehrman of The Trust Project, an organization dedicated to deciphering technology’s role in ensuring trustworthy journalism reaches the public.

Structuring the News Page with Integrity

We know that journalism is distinct from other kinds of information on the web. Signalling that stories are produced with a commitment to transparency and integrity is crucial to building a relationship of trust.

Above is a live prototype from The Trust Project’s design workshop that demonstrates one way newsrooms could potentially integrate transparency within the article page. The prototype shows how you can integrate information like named/un-named sources, corrections, and citations in an easily accessible manner within the story.

One Size Doesn’t Fit All

News consumers are not a monolith. To rebuild trust in the news, one must also engage different types of users. Lehrman identified four categories of news readers:

  1. The Avid reader actively curates personally relevant news and spreads it on social media, believing that being uninformed is dangerous.
  2. The Engaged reader believes that news should be an equal opportunity offender: If no news offends you, it isn’t doing its job. These readers seek out quality local news.
  3. The Opportunistic reader thinks that most news is trying to sell a viewpoint or agenda. This reader consumes news in a much more passive manner – scrolling through Facebook, listening to the TV during lunch breaks – as opposed to the Avid or Engaged.
  4. The Angry and Disappointed reader feels disconnected and disappointed with news media and has the least trust in the news.

What Do Readers Want?

After researching different types of news consumers, Lehrman summarized what readers seek from the media.

  • Transparency: To build a trustworthy relationship with your readership, you need to share some information about your organization itself. Readers need to understand your positioning and agenda – they want to know why you publish the stories you do.
  • Reliable Reporters: Readers need to have confidence in the person telling the story, and they want to know about a reporter’s history, expertise, and biases.
  • Variety of Perspectives: While the general public frequently gravitate toward stories that reinforce their own worldviews, readers recognize that stories with multiple perspectives are more trustworthy. It’s important for readers to know why the story is relevant to them and to understand how their communities are affected.
  • Credible Sources: Readers check for the source of information to verify if a story is authentic. They want to know where the information is coming from and why those sources were chosen.
  • Participation: Readers want to be included in the process and make their opinions heard.

Trust Indicators

With these needs in mind, what can news organizations provide? Lehrman identified eight actionable trust indicators. These were defined through the Trust Project’s collaborative workshops with over seventy news organizations and around one hundred and fifty people.

  • Best Practices: Provide resources like an ethics policy behind your organization and word choice explanations. An example might be explaining why your organization uses the word “migrant” over “immigrant.”
  • Author Expertise/ID: Provide details about the reporter, share background information about their expertise, and acknowledge any biases they have. Let readers know who the author is and show them information about other projects the author has produced. A simple way to do this is having the byline be linked to an author and story archive.
  • Label Story Type: Clearly identify different types of content to distinguish reports from opinion.
  • Citations and References: Give readers access to the sources and facts. Include the reasoning behind why they were chosen.
  • Methodology: Readers want to know how the story was created and what editorial choices were made. Tell the story behind the story.
  • Location/Local: News can have a greater impact on communities if readers know which stories are local to them.
  • Diverse Voices: Prioritize diverse viewpoints, and pay attention of which voices are included or missing from the story. Include viewpoints from multiple political or ideological perspectives, and make a point to include perspectives from women, people of color, and other underrepresented groups.
  • Actionable Feedback: Foster participation after publication by creating a space for dialogue for the reader to contribute to the story. Let readers reach out to the story’s producers and share their opinion. An example could be a Slack channel letting readers chat directly with editors and authors.

The Trust Mark

Providing these indicators on the story page is a challenge – how can we make this information easily accessible to the reader but not be overwhelming? One possible solution is placing a “Trust Mark” on the story page. The mark would signal that the story was produced with quality and transparency. Readers would be able to click on the mark to see the different trust indicators.

Questions, Questions, and More Questions

The end of the workshop was opened to the audience for suggestions, reactions, and ideas. Some of the topics raised included:

How effective is the trust mark? If people already don’t trust the news, will a trust mark do anything to change their opinion? Fake news sites are implementing increasingly sophisticated designs on their homepages, making the distinction between real news and fake news even harder. What’s to prevent them from creating their own badge of legitimacy?

How do we increase news literacy? Building a relationship with your readers requires that people read more and develop skills for discernment. How can we educate the public on these skills?

And the big question...

How do we spread real news? Publishers frequently focus on producing news rather than circulating it. It can be a challenge to encourage real news to spread across the ideological bubbles perpetuated by social media, but The Trust Project is providing actionable solutions to help newsrooms foster deeper audience engagement and highlight the competency, ethics and dependability of their work.

How We Turned Nonprofit News Leaders Into Budding Product Managers at #INNProduct

Last week we hosted #INNProduct, a workshop in Chicago for about 20 newsroom leaders from INN and LION member organizations.

The goal was to help them become more effective at managing technology at their organizations while also providing an introduction to design thinking and product management.

That's a lot to cover in two days, but fortunately we had a number of great speakers and mentors to help. Here's a rundown of the sessions and some resources speakers have shared for folks who weren't able to join us.

Congratulations, you’re a product manager! 

Rebekah Monson of WhereBy.Us introduced everyone to product management, helping them think not just about telling great stories but also how to distribute those stories, who they want to reach, what impact they want to have and, above all, how to turn that into a business. Congratulations, you’re a product manager! View her presentation.

Planning and budgeting for tech projects 

Amanda Krauss, now an independent consultant but most recently of the Texas Tribune, and Adam Schweigert of INN talked about planning and budgeting for tech projects, sharing lessons we've learned over our years of managing projects and tools and techniques to eliminate the guesswork, including INN's project definition template and our process documentation.

Beyond pageviews: Getting the most out of analytics and impact tracking 

Lauren Fuhrmann of Wisconsin Watch and Ryan Sholin of Chalkbeat presented an overview of the latest best practices around measurement and impact tracking. View their presentation.

10 Ways to Recruit & Manage Talent Without An HR Department

To kick off day two, Andrew Ramsammy of UnitedPublic Strategies shared tips for recruiting and managing talent at small organizations including how to build a world-class team that is as diverse and inclusive as the audiences and communities you serve. View his presentation.

Planning and executing successful data projects

Julia Smith of INN and Fernando Diaz of Reveal/CIR talked about how to plan and budget for data and editorial projects, work effectively with news technologists and create impactful stories that drive change. View their presentation.

User-centered design on a shoestring

To close out the event, Kyle Ellis of the Society for News Design talked about how to bring design thinking into your organization without breaking the bank and then led a workshop to introduce everyone the design thinking process. View his presentation.

Thanks so much to everyone who came and a special thanks to the Ethics and Excellence in Journalism Foundation, Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, the Society for News Design, Columbia College Chicago and LION Publishers for their support of the event!

We hope to repeat this workshop next year and we'd love to have you. Sign up for our newsletter to find out about future events we put on!

In Review: SRCCON 2016

Samantha Hankins, product designer with the Coral Project, and Julia Smith at SRCCON 2016.
Samantha Hankins, product designer with the Coral Project, and Julia Smith attending SRCCON 2016.

It's been a good summer for journalism conferences. This is the first of some session reviews and resource roundups from these events.

SRCCON 2016, OpenNews’ third annual gathering of newsroom technologists and data journalists, was held in Portland during the last week of July. This was my second time attending the event, which is organized as a hands-on unconference. Sessions tend to be conversational and participatory, with lots of brainstorming, wireframing, and knowledge-sharing. And although most participants are tech savvy, many sessions are more about people than code – focusing on newsroom culture and processes rather than technical tips and tricks.

The following are a few of the sessions I especially enjoyed.

Covering police shootings (and other events) when the data is terrible

Steven Rich and Aaron Williams facilitated this session about the Washington Post’s methods for gathering their own data on U.S. police shootings. Since the government dataset on the topic is so incomplete, the Post had do all the legwork themselves – from tracking down local news sources and police records to building its own database and Django admin panel to manage each incident and track its fact checking status. This piece is the public-facing result of their efforts.

It was really great to get a glimpse behind the scenes into their process for collecting and cataloging this data. They’ve gathered a great deal of information that the public doesn’t get to see, and it was interesting to learn just how manual the process is – individual reporters calling every police department and victims’ families to verify information, etc.

The session ended with a question about maintainability: Will the Post be able to continue collecting this data this rigorously for years to come? This is a really important question in data reporting. When information is collected for a specific investigation or a particular report, what happens to the process after the original story is published? Can newsrooms afford to continue dedicating resources to maintaining ongoing data collection? How much should newsrooms be accountable for collecting this information – shouldn’t this be the government’s responsibility?

Designing brands at scale

This was a fun one. Vox Media’s Georgia Cowley and Josh Laincz facilitated this session, which was all about redesigning a brand from concept to completion. The first activity was a case study on Vox’s rebrand for Curbed, a site dedicated to place – homes, neighborhoods, and cities. They explained how the redesign process started with a concept, “creating spaces,” which evolved into a metaphor, “a room,” which then morphed into the abstract design elements of Curbed’s brand:

curbed
The header graphic from Curbed.com

Flat geometric shapes angled in such a way to evoke walls and corners and shadow.

Georgia and Josh guided the group through one more case study on the design system used to develop the brand for the 1968 Olympics.

For the rest of the session, the participants split into groups and created our own concepts for a theoretical “Summer Olympics in Portland” using the scalable design methods in discussion.

Accessibility in media

Accessibility is a topic I love to see covered, so I was excited to find a packed room for this session facilitated by John Burn-Murdoch and Joanna Kao of the Financial Times. We discussed the considerations and challenges we all encounter while striving to create accessible news products – and we looked at these topics not only from a developer’s standpoint, but also from the lens of designers, product managers, and social media specialists. It was one of the more productive sessions, and the facilitators prepared a great tip sheet on the subject. Also check out the notes and live transcript from the session.

(And for more tips on building accessible and mobile-friendly interactives, take a look at my Data Viz for All resources, originally compiled for SRCCON 2015.)

What ideas can we borrow from the design world to solve news design problems?

This session led participants through a few of 18F’s design methods and illustrated how they can help solve different types of news product and project management problems. The session touched on three different areas in journalism tech – product development, editorial projects, and internal tools and operations. Participants chose one of those three areas and then completed a modified feature dot-voting exercise as we discussed the common problems we face while working on these projects. The outcome of that exercise was recorded in the session notes.

Give and Receive: Can we strengthen our community through remote mentorship and office hours?

I led this session, which was focused on brainstorming ways to better facilitate connections between current members of the journalism-tech community and individuals who may not have the consistent access to the wider network. The discussion was framed around the idea of “office hours,” but it was meant to be a broader reimagining of what that a relationship between individuals could look like.

The idea for this conversation came out of this year’s SNDMakes event in San Francisco, where my team tackled a similar question and developed a prototype that would pair individuals for online video feedback sessions. The thought process behind the prototype was very interesting to me, and I was really curious what other news nerds might dream up given the same parameters.

The session started with a roundtable discussion about different users’ needs when it comes to staying connected with the community – the needs of the person who might want help or feedback, and the needs of the person providing it – and then the second half of the session was a design exercise to create an ideal workflow that would meet those needs.

The whiteboard
The whiteboard

An interesting idea born from one group’s design exercise was a slackbot that solves “the pin-drop problem” – where someone may want to ask a question or get feedback about something, but they don’t want to interrupt anyone else or potentially ask a “dumb” question in front of multiple people. So this slackbot would take an anonymized question and add it to a queue of questions to be released only during a specified office hour, which is when the host would answer. The group liked that this concept would allow you to ask the question at the moment you’re stuck instead of during the office hour (when it’s easy to forget what you hoped to ask).

I thought the session went pretty well, as a whole, thanks to all the participants!

And the same could be said for SRCCON in general – OpenNews does a truly fantastic job creating an engaging and inclusive event, and I’m grateful for the opportunity to have been a part of it.

My First NICAR

Conference skeptics argue you can save money and learn more by staying at home. I have to admit some conferences I've attended mostly consisted of panelists showing off their latest stuff, glossing over warts, and basically trying to impress rather than share. Others have been important venues for collaborating around challenges, ideas, and solutions, and served a key role in building important relationships and communities.

So there I was in Denver attending my first NICAR conference, not knowing what to expect.

NICAR is a Big Conference

The first thing that struck me was how big NICAR has become - more than 1200 registered attendees - and how many sessions are concurrently scheduled. The NICAR Guidebook app showed which sessions were discussion-oriented, which were hands-on technical, and what level of knowledge was expected. But there were a dozen interesting sessions every hour. To be sure, hard to pick.

Here are some highlights/takeaways from sessions I was able to attend.

Overview

Jonathan Stray from Columbia University demonstrated Overview, a tool for analyzing and annotating “way too many” documents. It’s designed to extract a signal from noise in a large body of documents, like 391,832 reports from the U.S. Iraq War Logs, or Hillary Clinton’s State Department emails. Overview creates document maps based on topics, keywords, and other entities, with tools to drill down and find key information. A cousin to DocumentCloud, with some complementary features.

Building VR Interactives with Three.js

virtual terrain on marsArmand Emamdjomeh from LA Times blasted us though the process of modeling a three-dimensional virtual reality scene using Three.js and Mars terrain data from NASA. I found myself scrambling to keep up. At the end of the hour I had a working VR model of a Martian volcano based on geographic data. I could fly around the model using my laptop’s touchpad, or export the model for portable 3D displays. Coming soon to wearable devices.

Data Viz for All

The stories we publish today are increasingly experienced by users on small screens and mobile devices with limited bandwidth. Data visualization is now part of reporting and storytelling. INN’s own Lead Designer Julia Smith helped lead a discussion of data viz design for a world where “mobile friendly” can also mean “works better for everyone on all devices.”

Conversations: How Should News Apps Teams Respond to the Era of Distributed News?

Is it wise to rely on platforms we can’t possibly control? Is it even possible to go back? This session consisted of a thoughtful discussion of using Google AMP or Facebook Instant Articles without being consumed by them. Participants included developers from large news orgs like The Guardian, The New York Times, NPR, and smaller organizations more dependent on third-party technology solutions. Summary: becoming dependent on these platforms is a really bad idea; and it’s probably already too late to do anything about it.

How to Keep Up: Newsapps Teams as Lifetime Learners

Four team managers (including INN senior director Adam Schweigert) presented on learning, creativity, and diversity. A few worthy points:

  • Imposter Syndrome is an industry-wide epidemic.
  • Struggle is part of learning and we should embrace it.
  • A diverse team will always outperform a team that is homogenous.
  • Hiring good people with some skills generally works out better than hiring difficult people with mad skills.

Reporting and Presentation with DocumentCloud

A hands-on demo of DocumentCloud for reporting and publishing, lead by Ted Han from DocumentCloud/IRE. We’re in a golden age of open source tools for managing and making sense of large sets of data. In this session I got a taste of the power of DocumentCloud, and how easy it is to use for non-programmers. It’s a different use-case than Overview, and I’m curious to know more about how they could be used together.

So You Want to Be a Lonely Coder?

How do you “level up” from a journalist who does a bit of data work to a full-fledged coder in your newsroom? I think this is a key question the NICAR conference is trying to answer. This panel was about stories of success and failure, and let’s face it: the successes don’t often come first.

Lightning Talks

slide showing the number of NICAR attendees over the past few yearsFive-minute talks voted up or down by NICAR members. The top dozen proposals present a lightning talk. Inevitably, there were many slides with cats. It takes real courage to get up in front of 1200 people. Even if you're brilliant like all these people are. Definitely a highlight of the conference.

The Life Cycle of a News App

This session hit home for me as an accidental archivist. When we build a news app today, will it exist in five years? How many of our links will be broken? The history of the web informs us: Ten years ago Flash was the rage and smart phones didn’t exist. If what we publish matters, we need to think about how to keep it online and accessible. A great session with Scott Klein (ProPublica).

Ruby Web Frameworks: Rails

Another hands-on workshop with laptops provided by IRE. I participated in a Ruby intro session last year at Code4Lib. This one was better, and I might actually kind of understand Ruby and Rails at this point.

Intro to Python Frameworks

INN’s Director of Technology Ryan Nagle walked through Python as a framework for data applications and websites. For me this was the perfect thing following the Ruby session, as I was able to better grasp the similarities and differences. I feel better prepared to continue learning both Ruby and Python as a result. But I’ll definitely be hitting up Ryan for more help along the way.

Investigating Agribusiness: The Data and Stories Behind the Untapped Field of Our Food and Fuel.

Agriculture reporting panelPam Dempsey from the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting and BigAgWatch led a packed room of people interested in reporting on agriculture, business, science, the environment, health, energy, government policy, and of course the food and water we depend on daily. I see these intersections every day living in the Midwest, and there aren't too many issues more important to people's daily lives.

NICAR16 tl;dr

I know something about journalism and technology. But there’s still a ton I don’t know, and things are changing fast. NICAR seems like the kind of place where you could know things and share them, or not know things and learn them.

It’s also has become a primary gathering spot for mission-driven people to share their ideas and responses to far-reaching changes in technology, audience behavior, and business models for news.

For anyone interested in these things, it’s an extremely useful conference.

Postscript

The INN Nerds hold a daily video scrum meeting, and exchange asynchronous work communications and hilarious gifs on Slack. I knew Adam from a previous life in public media, but this was the first meeting in person with the rest of the INN team.

house we rented in denverWe rented a house for the week, and discovered that we enjoy a shared taste for things like coffee in the morning, eclecticism in music, the occasional taco and good beer, and nerding out about basically everything.

We worked hard the entire time, preparing for sessions, meeting with INN members, and perpetually responding to INN issues while pushing our product work forward. We also spent a day and half just talking about our role in the future of nonprofit news.

Remote teams need to communicate effectively over distance and time, and thanks to tools like Slack and Zoom it’s getting easier. But how much bandwidth is needed to build trust? You can learn from a webinar, but you can’t really have the kind of extended conversation where everyone in the room learns from each other.

Sometimes it's important for the INN team to meet in person, hang out, eat tacos, play a little guitar, and have extended conversations about what we’re trying to accomplish.

It’s great to share technology solutions and skills, but conferences like NICAR are so important because they give us an opportunity to build a community around them. That's how people really get things done.

Like another first-time NICAR attendee tweeted:

Open Video and the Democratization of Multimedia

Last month I attended a very interesting discussion in New York about the potential for collaborations among news and cultural heritage organizations around video content. This discussion led to formation of a working group that will consider ways to share knowledge, tools, and potentially project funding. Before the inspiration of the moment fades, I want to share some of the key info and thoughts I brought back from that meeting.


Five centuries ago the moveable type press massively expanded the reach of printed language and the tools of authorship. The printing press didn’t just open access to knowledge. It transformed expectations about what kind of society we could have. The idea that a person could participate in public life became possible only with the spread of literacy and access to the printed record of human knowledge and culture.

Today we are living through another historic expansion of access to the consumption and authorship of human knowledge and culture, enabled by the Internet and digital multimedia. For more than a century the practice of filmmaking was limited to people with specialized skills and technology resources. Today anyone with a smart phone has access to high definition video production and distribution technologies.

With more than 400 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, it’s clear the moving image has joined print as a primary element of our daily communication. Video is now a part of human language. But the norms, technologies, and thicket of rights around video still limit its role in the commons. While text, images, audio, and data have become easy to access, manipulate, and remix, the reuse of video remains constrained.

For those of us working to build a universally accessible knowledge commons, limitations on the role of video are problematic.

Video and the Commons Working Group

To begin addressing this challenge, a Video and the Commons working group has been formed to consider new models of open video licensing and peer production. Participants from the Wikimedia Foundation, Creative Commons, the Internet Archive, New America Foundation, the MacArthur Foundation, the Netherlands Institute for Sound and Vision, the American Archive of Public Broadcasting, the Institute for Nonprofit News, the City University of New York, and the PBS NewsHour have begun developing a plan for bringing open video to the commons.

The working group was convened for an initial meeting in New York by Ben Moskowitz (Mozilla) and Peter Kaufman (Columbia University, Intelligent Television) with a mission to make video a first-class citizen on the Internet, like text, images, data, and sound. This will require two key things: a commitment to licensing that facilitates public sharing, and new tools for easy access and reuse of video.

Licensing for Public Reuse

The licensing protocols and tools developed by Creative Commons provide a comprehensive and legally defensible framework for specifying terms for reuse of copyrighted works of all types. Public sharing of content without giving up copyrights is now a solved problem. But the economics of video production and the complex of rights associated with its elements often work against putting it out for public reuse. What has been lacking is a commitment by producers and organizations to produce video in a way that can be licensed for the commons.

This is changing for many cultural heritage institutions at the urging of foundations like Hewlett and Mellon, who increasingly require open access to the media content generated from the projects they fund. Especially in the case of archival media, clearing rights can be challenging and expensive. These funders believe the costs associated with open content are more than recouped by the social value in making the content free to reuse.

That value can be unlocked by helping rights holders to feel secure committing to an open content strategy. This will require resources for education, advocacy, and support.

So we were all elated as Creative Commons announced receipt of an unrestricted multi-year grant of $10 million from The William and Flora Hewlett Foundation to strengthen the knowledge commons movement. The grant will enable Creative Commons to more deeply engage with content creators, rights holders, developers, scholars, and a growing community of users and collaborators to build sustainable models for the content commons.

In announcing the Hewlett grant, Creative Commons CEO Ryan Merkley told the Working Group they are especially interested in working with journalists and news organizations to expand the use of CC licenses for news content.

That’s when working group participants from the PBS NewsHour raised a very interesting possibility.

Open News

What if the NewsHour were to publish hundreds of hours of video from their 2016 election coverage under a Creative Commons license allowing for non-commercial reuse? This might include gavel-to-gavel coverage of the Republican and Democratic national conventions, interviews with candidates, incumbents, party officials, and analysts, along with B-roll footage.

Other news organizations (and anyone else) would then have access to the raw video content for use in their own stories and productions. Creative Commons could provide guidance and support (and potentially grants) to producers of the content and those who want to reuse it.

If we want to engage more people in collaborating on knowledge and culture using multimedia, the most important thing we can do is to make more high-quality multimedia content available for reuse. We need to nourish a culture of open production and collaboration around digital storytelling, including video. We need to educate producers, news organizations, and public media about how to make content sharable via Creative Commons licensing without giving up their copyrights and potential commercial licensing revenue.

Next we need better creative tools that facilitate and broaden participation in multimedia journalism and storytelling. Mozilla and the Wikimedia Foundation are hoping to do that by bringing video editing to the browser.

Video Remix

It’s now trivially easy to copy, paste, edit, save, annotate, and share text, images, raw data, and even sound using free desktop tools, and even within a web browser. But until recently, in-browser editing and annotation of digital video seemed farfetched. At the first Open Video Conference in 2009 some great ideas were floated and then sank under the weigh of proprietary video formats and browsers that didn’t comply with W3C standards. But in the last few years, the adoption of HTML5 and the maturation of certain JavaScript libraries have enabled development of some amazing news tools for online video.

One of these is a framework developed by Mozilla called Popcorn Editor. Popcorn enables easy browser-based remixing of video from multiple sources: adding clips, resequencing, annotating, deleting, and exporting a final version. But actually there is no actual final version since each revision is stored in a version history, and can easily be restored. Video clips can be stored on Wikimedia Commons, the Internet Archive, Amazon S3, or any other location accessible via http.

There exist many other tools for collaborative video editing, like Zaption,WeVideo, Kaltura, and of course YouTube Editor, but each of these has significant technical dependencies and licensing limitations. Popcorn Editor is an open source project that can be deployed by anyone with basic coding stills, and used freely by anyone with ideas.

Popcorn Editor isn’t a scriptorium; it’s a moveable type press.

If We Build It Will They Come?

As a multimedia journalist and producer I think carefully about sources and story elements. Who or what is credible and provides information or perspective to the story? I’m talking about people, documents, photographs, audio, and increasingly video. A good source or story element may be inaccessible given available resources and the production timeline.

With a tool like Popcorn Editor, I could quickly assemble video elements from open licensed video resources across the web. I might invite others to participate in a given production via the web. A deployment of Popcorn Editor on a website might itself become a new kind of collaborative storytelling platform.

But let’s say we have access to a vast store of video content licensed for reuse under Creative Commons. We have an open source browser-based video editor anyone can use to create stories, news, art, documentaries, and who knows what other forms of media from openly licensed elements.

Will people actually use it?

I expect Popcorn Editor or some iteration of it will gain critical mass when the timing and formula are right. The current version evolved from the failure of Popcorn.js, which came too early in the adoption of HTML5. At this writing the Editor needs further development and better documentation. Members of the working group include seriously talented developers from Mozilla and the Wikimedia Foundation, and that work is happening now.

Coverage of presidential elections has been increasingly dominated by large news organizations with outsized resources and privileged access to sources. The news agenda and narrative has largely been defined by a handful of corporate news giants, and public disengagement with political news is a byproduct of this trend. What if anyone could make use of raw materials produced by the news giants to broaden the narrative? What if we gave more people an outlet? What kind of stories would they tell?

I don’t know if the timing is right. Maybe we’ll all shrug and continue to turn on (or off) Fox News, CNN, MSNBC, PBS, and Comedy Central. We probably need some pioneers to show how this could work.

The most likely pioneers might be among today’s students who are all now digital natives, and journalists in public media and nonprofit news. And I expect that as this unfolds we’ll begin to see some interesting experiments. I’m planning some of those myself.

Your Mission If You Choose to Accept It

“The Society of Professional Journalists is dedicated to the perpetuation of a free press as the cornerstone of our nation and our liberty.” I like that as a general statement. The SPJ mission statement adds that journalists should “encourage a climate in which journalism can be practiced freely.”

The free press could only become free when it was possible for anyone to access the tools of print. Five centuries after the moveable type press, the Internet enables anyone to access the tools of multimedia. I think we should encourage a climate where multimedia journalism can be practiced freely.

With that our adventures could get a lot more interesting.

INN Nerds Invent Tools To Promote Community At SND Makes Austin

A couple weeks ago a group of designers, developers, community managers, educators and students met up in Austin, TX for the latest edition of SND Makes. The group included two members of our team, Ryan Nagle and Adam Schweigert, among representatives of 22 different news organizations from around the country.

This was the latest of a series of events presented by the Society for News Design and our design challenge for the weekend was: "How might we invent tools that promote community?"

There were ten teams in total and SND has a recap post that you should check out showcasing all of the projects to come out of the weekend. Here are the two projects our respective teams cooked up and a bit of the thought process and work that went into them.

The Gist: Giving Topic Pages A Makeover

gist

Topic pages on news sites tend to be very static and are often just a reverse chronological list of stories about a given topic or category.

Our team wanted to re-imagine the traditional topic page as something more dynamic. We wanted to also use the topic page as an opportunity to create and engage a more active community around any given topic and establish the reporter/editor at our hypothetical news organization as more of an authority on that topic by positioning them as a "host" of that topic page and community discussion.

What we created for our hypothetical news organization (called The Gist) is a re-designed topic page that would replace the traditional "Education" section front or topic page on the site. When visitors to the site click on "Education" and then land on this page, instead of being presented with the usual list of stories, they would instead see the topic for that week (or perhaps month if the news organization had a slower cycle of fewer resources). In our example we picked "Racism on Campus" because there was a lot of conversation around that topic this week and we believe that picking a more specific topic each week will lead to a more engaged community around that topic on The Gist.

At the top of the page we see the topic, a link to view the traditional list of stories in the education category (for readers who still want to get to that easily) and then an introduction to the topic for that week, the host of the page for that week and then everyone who has contributed content or added to the conversation.

Below, we see a list of curated stories, links to conversations on social media, promoted comments, photos, videos, graphics, etc. that have been selected and arranged by the page's host. We specifically call out content that has been added by the community to help them feel like their contributions are valued by The Gist. At the bottom of this river of updates, you might expect to find the usual comment form, but instead we ask readers what we've missed or what they'd like to add and then make it easy for them to contribute. The host for the page can then add this contributed content to the river above.

At the end of each week, we would have captured a collection of some of the best stories, discussions, personalities, sources, etc. on a given topic and then we would send out a weekly newsletter to either help people catch up or to give them some further reading on that topic. We also tossed around the idea of hosting a weekly QA with the host or particularly active contributors, experts on that topic, etc. so that the activity on the page each week would drive to some capstone event which could then also be recorded and offered as a podcast or on YouTube.

At the end of the week we would also announce the topic for next week and again invite the community to send us the best content, conversations and personalities they've found on that topic to help inform our reporting. And we would have an archive page that would allow you to see previous topics if you wanted to go back and reference them.

The team consisted of:

Cultivate: Unearthing Community Leaders

cultivate

Team Zilker created project Cultivate, which sprang from the desire to find and foster community advocates or leaders by analyzing the activity of community members on social media.

We used Twitter for our proof of concept since its API is relatively straightforward to work with and would provide enough data to make a real-world judgement using our algorithm.

The algorithm, as it stands after the event, is pretty naive. It assigns a score to individual users based on their mentions of a particular keyword (something associated with our brand or organization), their total number of followers and how many times their mentions are interacted with by other Twitter users.

The use case: team member Chris Coyier works for Codepen.io and is visiting New York. He wants to find Codepen community leaders in town and offer to take them out for dinner. With cultivate, he enters keyword "Codepen" and location: "New York, NY." He gets back a list of users ranked using the algorithm described above.

The team consisted of:

INN Heads to Portland for OpenNews Code Convening

We're thrilled to attend the OpenNews Code Convening at Write the Docs in Portland, on May 17, 2015.

In anticipation of the event, teammate Ben Keith and I spent some time thinking about and writing down what we want to accomplish this Sunday.

Here's a quick rundown of our plan.

Our audience:

Our primary audience for the work we aim to complete this weekend is the group of developers using Largo as the base/parent theme for their news site. We want to pay special attention to INN's members that are short on time, money and technical experience.

Our goals:

  • We're aiming to start filling out the API docs/function reference, which means LOTS of cleanup of Largo source code.
  • We need technical docs for those people looking to use Largo as a framework to customize and/or enhance their site.
    • Homepage layout system.
    • Child themes (partially covered in Largo Sample Child Theme).
    • Custom Largo functionality that can be used in widgets and child theme.
    • How to setup a development environment to work on your child theme.
    • Teach people how to work with us more effectively.

Assumptions:

  • Our audience has some background in programming. They are familiar with the high-level components of computer programming (e.g., variables, functions, conditions, etc.).
  • Our audience may not be familiar with PHP, WordPress or Largo. We should use plain language and be as explicit as possible in order to help them reach their goals.

Other thoughts:

It's important to set realistic expectations for this sort of event. With 140+ open issues in the Write the Docs milestone for Largo, I'm sure there will be work left to do after the event.

Of course, even if we manage to close every last ticket in the queue, there will always be more work to do and other ways to contribute.

If you're interested in helping improve Largo, checkout our docs on how to work with us and our contributing guidelines.

And if you'd like more information on the work we'll be doing at the code convening this weekend, we also have a doc for that!

How Your Small Team Can Have A Big Impact: Lessons From ONA 2014

Making things happen with limited resources and a small team can be a challenge. It can also be an opportunity to experiment and think creatively. During our ONA panel on Friday, John Keefe of WNYC succinctly captured this sentiment with the sage advice: Do crazy sh*t sometimes. (In his case, that meant roadtripping to a cabin in the Catskills with his team in order to finish a major project.)

John, Adam and I share the experience of building and leading small news apps teams within our organizations and we've learned a lot along the way. We wanted to talk openly about our biggest obstacles and how we've tackled them — in order to make our work more effective and our working lives happier.

Here are a few of our ideas:

  • Break down ambitious projects and iterate. Figure out the most essential part of the project/idea and start by solving that problem. You can add features and build on the project in the future.
  • Check in regularly and be honest about obstacles. We can't get things done if we can't talk about what's preventing us from doing the work.
  • Attend the daily news meeting. If possible sit in the newsroom. Being present during the editorial process will encourage collaboration and make your news apps team more accessible.
  • Don't make people feel stupid. If you want to build momentum for news apps and special projects in your org, try not to talk down to your colleagues just because they have different skill sets. Instead, encourage skill sharing across departments, talk about what you're learning, and reach out to those who may be shy about approaching the team.
  • Say no and explain why. Inevitably you will have to say no — you're on a small team, after all. But when you do, explain why and include people by explaining your decision making process. Affirm ideas even you can’t immediately execute them.
  • Automate repetitive tasks. Think of it like a word processing macro. Anything you do over an over again can probably be automated, saving time and making your process more consistent. Writing simple automation scripts can also be a great way to learn some basic programming even if you’re not very technical (or at least is a way to start thinking like a programmer). Check out IFTTT for some ideas.
  • Document all the things. It can feel like a waste of precious time but it will save your butt in the future. Keep a simple txt file for a project and keep notes about what you've learned, bugs you've solved and your general process. This documentation will help you share your work with others and help you remember how the heck you built something.
  • Look to the community. There are so many excellent resources out there. Check out IRE/NICAR (and subscribe to NICAR-L). Explore some of the open source code that newsrooms are releasing. Read about how other teams make things over at Source. You don't have to reinvent the wheel, and this community is full of people who want to help.

Check out all of the slides below. Find our notes (and contribute your own ideas) on the Hackpad we put together. We know our ideas are only a small piece of this important topic and we'd like to keep building on the conversation.

The Official INN Nerds Guide To ONA14

We're excited to head up to Chicago next week for the 2014 Online News Association Conference.

The entire INN Nerds team will be up there all week working on some exciting election projects and then we're sticking around for the conference itself, so make sure to find us and say hello!

INN member organizations are also well represented at the conference this year so we compiled a convenient list of all the sessions featuring our members so you can turn out and support them (if we accidentally missed your session, let us know so we can add you).

We also have a Twitter list of all the speakers listed below so you can follow along with the conference at home.

Wednesday

Thursday

Friday

Saturday

Overcoming The Anxiety of Conference Speaking, Tips From A First Time Speaker

I accidentally fell into my first speaking engagement last week at WordCamp Columbus 2014. I have many friends who are well-known speakers in the software development and design community but I've never stepped up and submitted a talk myself. I've had a crippling fear of public speaking since I learned it was a thing people do, and I allowed that to dictate a lot of my decisions over the years. And I nearly let it keep me from accepting this opportunity as well, until I didn't.

What made this time different was that everything came up so quickly and naturally that it just seemed kind of silly not to do it. With only a couple days to prepare, nobody expected us to have a well-polished slide deck or even a solid talk. My co-presenter Deborah Edwards-Onoro and WordCamp organizer Angie Meeker were both very encouraging. I felt supported, and when I thought about it, there really wasn't any reason to be anxious about it. Not to imply that anxiety is ever really reasonable...

And I felt better after I agreed to do it. I remembered my awesome speaker friends and the Accessibility experts I know and reached out to Jon Gibbins, who I had a great Accessibility discussion with at Brooklyn Beta last year, and asked if he had any suggestions. He pointed me toward the WP Accessibility Plugin and mentioned that many WordPress sites still use tabindex badly and it would be good to address that. Deborah had a lot of that info in her post that we used as our reference point for the talk as well. I summarized some of the other things we talked about in my post earlier this week.

I also drew inspiration from this great post from Kathy Sierra I read a while back about focusing on the message rather than your presentation skills:

When you design for a user experience, you quit focusing on your skills and start focusing on their skills. What experience can you help them have? Can you give them a more powerful perspective? Can you give them a new idea with immediate implementation steps they can't wait to work on? Can you give them a clear way to finally explain something to others that they've been feeling but could not articulate? Can you give them a new tip or trick that has such a high-payoff it feels like a superpower? Can you give them knowledge and insight into a tough topic, so they can have more interesting, high-resolution conversations in the hallway?

It's hard for me not to quote that entire article. It contains the best advice I've ever read on public speaking. Essentially, it's not about you. It's about facilitating a good experience for your audience members. As in the quote above, "good experience" covers a LOT of ground. There's no need to micro-manage the experience you want people to have in your talk. Let them get out of it whatever they want. And if they vote with their feet and leave your session, don't take it personally and focus on why they left. Focus on delivering your message to the people who decided to stay and listen and do the best you can.

But I'm not an expert!

This trips a lot of people up, myself included. What if an audience member asks a question and you don't know the answer? What if you wind up not knowing something that people feel is really basic to the subject matter? So what?! It's fine. "I don't know" is an acceptable answer. So is "That's outside the scope of my talk." Even if you are an expert, it's not like you can convey all of your knowledge to audience members in a single conference talk.

What you do have to share is your perspective on whatever it is you've decided to talk about. And your perspective is unique and informed by the collection of experiences and knowledge through which you interact with and understand the world around you. That's what people show up to your talks to receive: your perspective.

Jen Myers also has a really great talk on How To Not Be an Expert that addresses a lot of this. That link includes the slide deck, video of the talk and a transcript as well as most of her other talks. There is a wealth of goodness there. She also has virtual office hours available mentoring new speakers, especially women.

And finally, there's a great book I would recommend to new speakers that guides you through a self-paced workshop on every aspect of conference speaking by Russ Unger and Samantha Starmer called Speaker Camp. I'll be going through that as I write my first actual talk, which is coming up sooner than expected.

I'm planning to submit a talk for CodeMash 2015 by the end of the month. It's a pretty ambitious talk that has been brewing in me since CodeMash 2014 and will likely center around the (sad) state of tech support in general and my ideas to improve it. The work I'm doing with INN right now will likely be a large part of it as well, and I'm really excited about all of it.

So to summarize, if you've got a message to deliver, there are likely people who want to receive it. And if you have a lot of anxiety around public speaking, you certainly aren't alone. Many people fear public speaking more than death! Every speaker who gives a talk has gone through this to some extent (and most of them still do). So ask them about it. The best advice I can give for overcoming the anxiety is to reach out and ask for help. I'm sure you'll be surprised by the support you receive when you do.