Monday, August 01, 2011

Baking a Journalism Cake...Together

When Mohamed Nanabhay said this, he was talking about creating an environment for readers of news. But I think the same principle can and should be applied to and creating an environment for journalists and gatherers, tellers and sharers of news.

Simultaneous serendipity and purposefulness is the heart of any creative process. This is especially true for collaborations. Collaborations are so powerful - that is, when they don't succumb to hazards - because:
  1. The sum truly can be bigger than the parts. (This is where purposefulness comes in.)
  2. News ideas proliferate when disparate elements (people, ideas, circumstances, experiences) collide. Unexpected juxtaposition fuels creativity. More people, more new ideas.
Here’s the really exciting part: These features of the creative process happen whether collaborations are in-person or online.

This was my serendipitous Sunday.

My project - The Infinite Story, GitHub for Storytelling, whatever you want to call it - revolves around collaboration. It’s about freeing the journalism process from things that bind stories to one person or one team or one publication, ending stories' lives when that person or team or publication moves on to the next project.

So how do technology skills come into play? In a great (spontaneous and directed) Twitter-sation with @ChrisLKeller and @knowtheory last week, we discussed the collaborative processes and tools that teams of journalists use.

We realized: In journalism, in order to share the storytelling process, you have to share the news gathering process. You can’t bake a cake if you don’t have he ingredients. (You might still be able to frost a cake, but that’s a discussion for another day.)
data cake
Image by EpicGraphic

In my experience with collaborative investigative journalism, we've used a muddled system of Google Docs to aggregate reporting materials. It wasn’t a “new” technology for anyone on the reporting team. But logging and sharing all of our reporting material in it was new.

Adopting a new technology-based newsroom tool isn't necessarily a question of technical capacity, but a question of time and workflow.

If a tool is useful, usable and desirable, newsrooms will take the time to incorporate it into their workflow. If it's not, they won't. Infinitely more important than how technical you have to be to learn it is whether it enhances journalistic processes (does it reinforce the good habits, eliminate the bad ones).

So that is how I hope to address varying technical capacity. Yes, I want to make a tool that's as easy to use as possible (I'm thinking of a visual organization for story materials, plus a visual way to share/fork them), but ultimately the tool must enhances the newsroom flow:
Another project sketch...does visual = easy to use?

If adopting a new technology - and adapting your process to it - takes so much time that it doesn’t afford room for spontaneous discovery (and the targeted exploration of those discoveries), than it does more harm than good. But if it frees up time for spontaneous discovery, it's an invaluable addition.

No comments: