Homework Week 3: Life in the Newsroom

Week three and we’re given a new perspective on our challenge. Shazna Nessa presented a clear and candid portrait of life as a hacker in a modern newsroom. It was a picture of compromise and politics but also of the great opportunity that being in such a position at a time like this affords. This impression was reinforced by Oliver Reichenstein who had some invaluable tips for navigating newsroom politics.

On Wednesday, Mohamed Nanabhay talked extensively about the the impressive advances being made in Al Jazeera’s online department. Of particular interest was their work around citizen journalism. It is encouraging to hear of a major broadcaster having such an enthusiastic approach to the subject.

From the talks, I got the impression that the role of the hacker in the newsroom is fundamentally to support the journalists, who’s work tends to keep their focus in the moment, at the expense of long term planning. It becomes easy to see how some news organisations always seem to be behind the curve of technology, caught out by advances in the web and social networking. I guess that’s where we come in.

Over the past week I’ve been refining my approach to my project, which I’m calling Discoverer. The Discoverer toolset sits on top of, or replaces, existing content creation tools. It is designed to enable all manner of interaction between users on the system. Any type of discussion can spin off from anywhere and the browser can favour contributions from people in your own social network.

The Discoverer browser is designed to enable exploration of content by providing many different routes through content from your social circles and interests as well as from a global perspective.

It also supports any type of operation on articles, for example a new article could be tagged as a modification of an old article, or a combination of other articles. This can be used as a basic versioning system. Although not up to the realtime collaborative editing provided by something like Etherpad, it should allow for documents to be worked on openly within the newsroom before they are delivered into a public facing page.

The Discoverer toolset adds standardised semantics at the point of content creation.

An important aspect of Discoverer is that it provides several distinct types of interaction with content. This is to encourage engagement by as broad a range of people as possible. It is intended to replace or augment the software tools of the newsroom, not just in relation to reporting, but also all aspects of the editing process. In theory, it would allow people who have never even met and only communicate through Discoverer to collaborate on news production.

The feed creator makes it easy for anyone to bring together their favourite content, whether by crude aggregation or by personally approving every single article.

The overall objective of Discoverer is to create an ecosystem in which professional and citizen journalism can thrive side-by-side, growing out into the blogosphere and social networks in a way that is beneficial to the host, bringing active, engaged users into a dialogue that centres around the agenda of the newsroom.

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