Monday, July 25, 2011

Breaking down barriers and opening up reporters' notes

One of the many insightful things John Resig said during his lecture on the attitude and philosophy that has made jQuery successful was: You must remove the barriers between your users and your product. Make it as easy as possible for them to get in and stay in, starting with your very first contact.

Part of this has to do with making the technology work as smoothly as possible, but perhaps an even bigger part has to do with the way that technology is presented and the community engagement elements surrounding it.

In week 1, I realized that the biggest challenges surrounding my idea -- which is a tool for opening up reporters’ notebooks and encouraging others to re-mix, re-mash, and extend the stories that come out of them -- will be around behavioral processes, not technology.

So this week, I’m going to apply John Resig’s advice to last week’s and do some thinking about what some of the behavior barriers might be to using a GitHub for storytelling.

In reality, even though reporters’ notes are designed to be open and transparent (how else are we supposed to be able to trust a journalist as a primary source of information?) there are dozens of reasons reporters might object to sharing them. Some have to do with egos. Some have to do with laziness. But two “categories” are legit:

1. In some cases, sharing notes and interview recordings might compromise a story.

This could be because it would violate the trust or safety of a source. Or make it harder to continue reporting on the story because other sources clamp up.

Then there’s the pesky issue of competition. Publications don’t want to get scooped.

2. Reporters’ notes are often cryptic and hard for anyone other than the author to read.

Have you seen a reporters’ notes? They look like some sort of Proto-Indo European line form language, not English. By necessity, they need to write things quickly, and don’t always have time to type up notes or transcribe interviews.

Issues related to (1) aren’t something that could -- or should -- be addressed for my idea. Issues related to (2) can and should be.

So how do we make that happen?
  • Make new tools fit into the way journalists are already doing their work -- figure out what tools and processes they are already using to do reporting and integrate those as seamlessly as possible
  • If a tool can make it easier for journalists to take and share notes, then it would be a real home run.
Figuring exactly HOW to do that is the hard part. Ideas?


Phillip Smith said...

Suggestion: Start with a collection of reporters notes. Work from there. :)

Jordan said...


I totally agree! That's what I hope to do for my "prototype" and my final submission. Stay tuned for how it goes...