NewsFoo 2012: What we learned, where we're going

We wanted to take advantage of the great brains assembled at last week's News Foo event, so we proposed a panel to suss out "big questions in journalism" that the lab should tackle. As might be expected from an unconference, the conversation ranged a lot more widely than our official topic.

For starters, a number of folks had general questions about how the Lab works: Who are your stakeholders? Will your tools mostly be journalist-facing or audience facing? How will you know if you're getting it right?


We don't have all the answers at the moment, but we'll definitely answer these questions more with our actions than our words. From project to project, the specific audience may change, but any time the Lab builds software, we'll follow best practices in user-centered design and iterative open software development so that we can "fail fast" and correct accordingly.

In the course of the discussion, we encouraged people to bring us ideas in the future. This led to a good question about ownership of tools created in the Lab. Forgive another imprecise answer, but this one too comes down to "it depends." Northwestern University is accustomed to retaining intellectual property rights for software developed by its staff. The Knight Foundation is accustomed to steering its grantees to use free software licenses. So, the ownership conversation will be part of any development project.

We'll have a strong preference for openness, which pleases me as a developer with a decade of experience contributing to open source projects, but there may be cases where a different model is more appropriate. In any case, we'll make sure anyone who brings us ideas isn’t taken by surprise.

A thread of conversation arose around the idea of creating a "Journalist's Notebook," possibly in analogy to software for novelists, but perhaps even more ambitiously something which extracts facts, or even approximates a "corkboard which connects the strings for you." We talked about how some of these ideas are partly served by existing tools. (I think Document Cloud lead developer Ted Han wrote a feature ticket or two inspired by the conversation.) But also, textual analysis and information extraction plays directly to the intellectual foundations of Knight Lab faculty Larry Birnbaum and Kris Hammond.

A few people called for capacity and community building efforts. Can we make law more intelligible to journalists, or to the general public? After Unicorn Camp, can we put on a math camp for journalists? Can we produce guides—"lays of the land"—explaining best practices of working journalists? Can we convene journalists to eliminate redundant data processing, for example, with election and campaign finance data? (As an aside, kudos to the folks from the New York Times and Sunlight Foundation who are doing something like that already with federal legislative data, as Derek Willis showed us in another session. <https://github.com/unitedstates>)

We're grateful for all the good ideas and conversation generated in the session, but one thing your input verified: good questions usually lead to more questions before they lead to answers.

We're working on extracting the big themes from this and other input we've gotten from friends of the Lab. The themes will provide a focus and a filter for the lab's software development, events, and analysis, for a season, or a year.

We'll try some things. We'll discuss them with you. And we'll turn the new questions that come up into the theme for the next cycle.

Photo courtesy of Elise Hu-Stiles

About the author

Joe Germuska

Chief Nerd

Joe runs Knight Lab’s technology, professional staff and student fellows. Before joining us, Joe was on the Chicago Tribune News Apps team. Also, he hosts a weekly radio show on WNUR-FM – Conference of the Birds.

Latest Posts

  • Introducing StorylineJS

    Today we're excited to release a new tool for storytellers.

    StorylineJS makes it easy to tell the story behind a dataset, without the need for programming or data visualization expertise. Just upload your data to Google Sheets, add two columns, and fill in the story on the rows you want to highlight. Set a few configuration options and you have an annotated chart, ready to embed on your website. (And did we mention, it looks great on phones?) As with all of our tools, simplicity...

    Continue Reading

  • Join us in October: NU hosts the Computation + Journalism 2017 symposium

    An exciting lineup of researchers, technologists and journalists will convene in October for Computation + Journalism Symposium 2017 at Northwestern University. Register now and book your hotel rooms for the event, which will take place on Friday, Oct. 13, and Saturday, Oct. 14 in Evanston, IL. Hotel room blocks near campus are filling up fast! Speakers will include: Ashwin Ram, who heads research and development for Amazon’s Alexa artificial intelligence (AI) agent, which powers the...

    Continue Reading

  • Bringing Historical Data to Census Reporter

    A Visualization and Research Review

    An Introduction Since Census Reporter’s launch in 2014, one of our most requested features has been the option to see historic census data. Journalists of all backgrounds have asked for a simplified way to get the long-term values they need from Census Reporter, whether it’s through our data section or directly from individual profile pages. Over the past few months I’ve been working to make that a reality. With invaluable feedback from many of you,......

    Continue Reading

  • How We Brought A Chatbot To Life

    Best Practice Guide

    A chatbot creates a unique user experience with many benefits. It gives the audience an opportunity to ask questions and get to know more about your organization. It allows you to collect valuable information from the audience. It can increase interaction time on your site. Bot prototype In the spring of 2017, our Knight Lab team examined the conversational user interface of Public Good Software’s chatbot, which is a chat-widget embedded within media partner sites.......

    Continue Reading

  • Stitching 360° Video

    For the time-being, footage filmed on most 360° cameras cannot be directly edited and uploaded for viewing immediately after capture. Different cameras have different methods of outputting footage, but usually each camera lens corresponds to a separate video file. These video files must be combined using “video stitching” software on a computer or phone before the video becomes one connected, viewable video. Garmin and other companies have recently demonstrated interest in creating cameras that stitch......

    Continue Reading

  • Publishing your 360° content

    Publishing can be confusing for aspiring 360° video storytellers. The lack of public information on platform viewership makes it nearly impossible to know where you can best reach your intended viewers, or even how much time and effort to devote to the creation of VR content. Numbers are hard to come by, but were more available in the beginning of 2016. At the time, most viewers encountered 360° video on Facebook. In February 2016, Facebook......

    Continue Reading

Storytelling Tools

We build easy-to-use tools that can help you tell better stories.

View More