Notes from the future of news

Feb 14 2014

This past weekend I attended the Online News Association Digital Camp. Sponsored by the Gannett Foundation, the camp focused on problems occurring within mobile platforms.

Stepping through the doors of the Freedom Forum at the UNC School of Journalism and Mass Communication, I was extremely nervous and intimidated. The list of attendees included people of big-name news organizations and entrepreneurial organizations — CNN, Wall Street Journal, Knight Lab and Digital First Media to list a few.

I took a breath and relaxed into a sense of familiarity when I noticed the stacks of highlighter-colored sticky notes, black fine-point markers and plastic toy models sprinkled across the conference room tables. It was the Reese News Lab all over again.

Throughout the day I worked alongside experienced professionals to develop human-centered design solutions for mobile consumption of news. Our groups were formed for diversity; each included at least one student, journalist, media head and ONA leader.

After gathering our groups, everyone began to brainstorm. No one made judgments based off level of experience or previous knowledge. We all threw out wacky ideas. Kim Bui of Digital First Media proposed attempting to make news as addictive as Candy Crush while Eric Ulken of the Seattle Times suggested shaking your phone to receive news updates.

Once we settled on a product we began to identify the target audience. I sketched out user personas while the others interviewed group members for stand-in user testing. As a collective, the room had decided that no matter who you are or what organization you are connected to, your audience is the most important. “We have been building things for so long that are centered on what we (journalists) want,” said Damon Kiesow, an ONA aficionado who works for the Boston Globe, “and that is why we are failing.”

Using iPhone templates printed on paper, we sketched paper prototypes. Reggie Murphy, an ONA leader, said, “If you use paper, it is better. You can break it a thousand times coding.” So it’s true that any idea can in fact be sketched on the back of a napkin.

Finally, we had to pitch our products to the other groups. All of the pitches combined planted a question in our minds: Is promoting effective news on mobile platforms our only problem?

“Our goal is to figure out all of journalism’s problems in one day,” said Andrew Dunn of the Charlotte Observer.

“This wears you out,” Elaine Duignan of McClatchy Interactive added. And both of these points play out on the larger stage of journalism.

What I have realized is that there is no way to “fix” journalism after a ten-hour ONA Camp or even semesters at the Reese News Lab. What it takes to fix journalism is millions of people across the nation who are committed to making news habitual and personal again: readers who are frustrated by interactive graphics not fitting their screen or fonts being too small to read, students who witness the change in culture, journalists who have their hearts in the newsrooms and want to spread good stories, inventors who envision the future of digital platforms. We must all work towards the answer.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *