What excites me most about the Knight-Mozilla learning lab? The opportunity to foster the open source software community’s collaborative ethic in the journalism world.
This led me to a formative question: What would a GitHub for news -- a web-based tool for truly social information-based storytelling -- look like?
Next step? Doodling and brainstorming. Here’s how journalists traditionally create news stories:
That diagram is kind of a lie. Really, it looks more like this:
But what if it could look more like this:
It's journalism -- with forking! This diagram is messy. Downright ugly. But the point is: Stories aren’t discrete entities with a beginning, middle and end of life. That structure is an artifact of the 20th century news industry. (The marvelous Clay Shirky has some recent thoughts on this. Read them. Now.) Just like the post-artifact book Craig Mod proposes, I’d like to see a post-artifact news story.
Print narrowed our definition of news: The web can open it back up.
What web tools could support this updated workflow? For starters, a digital open reporter’s notebook for organizing information (notes, interviews, multimedia). Add to that:
- version control
- privacy control
- tracking of forked stories
My brainstorming came to a halt, right here. (See the skid marks?) And it’s Aza Raskin’s fault: The barrier to change in a system often isn’t technology -- it’s culture and behavior.
I stopped sketching features of a software tool and started thinking about behavior and culture. Are newsrooms ready (although perhaps readiness is a luxury) for collaborative storytelling?
My first reaction was newsrooms won’t be open to a GitHub for storytelling. A lingering sense of proprietary culture and competition pervades much of the industry. As Shirky notes, this has to change.
In the new news ecosystem, it's collaborate or die.
The good news: journalism is inherently collaborative. The bad news: newrooms are 30% smaller today than in 2000. As the pool of “in-house” collaborators diminishes, newsrooms have two options:
- Look outside for collaborators (journalists are doing this by integrating social media, made smoother by tools like Storify)
- Get better at collaborating with the resources they have left
To get there, I need to prototype the process not the product. How?
- Look at successful journalism collaborations (great collaborations exist within the investigative news community, like ProPublica and other members of the Investigative News Network). What are they doing right? What could they do better?
- Look at open reporter’s notebook projects. Or build one.
- Start testing the workflow -- What would forking a news story look and feel like? Is it intuitive?