Tag Archives: reporting on

So long, ReportingOn

In 2008, I was awarded a Knight News Challenge grant to build ReportingOn, a backchannel for beat reporters to share ideas, information, and sources. The goal of the project was to provide journalists of all stripes with a place to talk about content, not craft, or process, or skillset.

I taught myself enough Django — and sought out advice from friends and coworkers with little regard for their interest or priorities — to launch the first iteration of the site in October 2008. In July 2009, with fresh design and development from the team at Lion Burger, ReportingOn 2.0 launched.

And almost immediately, I stepped away from it, buried in the responsibilities of my day job, family, and other projects. To grow and evolve, and really, to race ahead of the internal and external communication tools already available to reporters, ReportingOn needed far more time, attention, and dedication than I could give it.

Yesterday, I shut down ReportingOn.

In its last state, it only cost a few bucks a month to maintain, but it has more value at this point as a story, or a lesson, or a piece of software than it has as a working site.

To head off a couple questions at the pass:

  1. No, you can’t export your questions or answers or profile data. None of you have touched the site in about a year, so I don’t think you’re that interested in exporting anything. But if you’re some sort of webpackrat that insists, I have the database, and I can certainly provide you with your content.
  2. Yes, the source code for the application is still available, and you’re more than welcome to take a stab at building something interesting with it. If you do, please feel free to let me know.

And a few recommendations for developers of software “for journalists:”

  • Reporters don’t want to talk about unpublished stories in public.
  • Unless they’re looking for sources.
  • There are some great places on the Internet to find sources.
  • When they do talk about unpublished stories among themselves, they do it in familiar, well-lit places, like e-mail or the telephone. Not in your application.
  • Actually, keep this in mind: Unless what you’re building meets a very journalism-specific need, you’re probably grinding your gears to build something “for journalists” when they just need a great communication tool, independent of any particular niche or category of users.

As for the problem ReportingOn set out to solve, it’s still out there.

Connecting the dots among far-flung newsrooms working on stories about the same issue is something that might happen internally in a large media company, or organically in the wilds of Twitter, but rarely in any structured way that makes it easy to discover new colleagues, peers, and mentors. Sure, there are e-mail lists, especially for professional associations (think: SEJ) that act as backchannels for a beat, but not enough, and not focused on content.

(Prove me wrong, kids. Prove me wrong.)

As for me, I’m working on another (even) small(er) Knight-funded side project a few minutes at a time these days. Watch for news about that one in the coming weeks.

Here’s what a “beat” page looked like. Note the PR/spam in need of a “flag as PR/spam” button.

Here’s a single question page. (Thanks Joey, Chris, etc.)

Here’s a profile page. (Thanks, Greg.)

Notes, links, and recent entanglements

A bulleted list of things that have caught my eye over the past few days, or things I’ve been involved in, or things I’d like to be involved in…

OK, that’s five things. I’ll try to do this often-ish for those of you that don’t see me going on and on sharing links to this sort of thing every day on Twitter, Publish2, FriendFeed, or Google Reader.

New at IdeaLab: What’s new in ReportingOn 2.0 and what’s been left undone

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve got a post up that circles back to the first version of ReportingOn, my Knight News Challenge project.  In the post, I revisit some of the problems the 2.0 release was intended to solve, and I do a bit of scorekeeping on RO’s progress.

Here’s a bit from the post about one of the challenges I faced in building a backchannel for beat reporters to help each other out:

Twitter is faster than me

Right, so 140-character limits are long-gone in RO 2.0, and the straight question/answer session should (theoretically, at least) make for longer conversations with more depth to them. As has been pointed out more than a few times, Twitter is a good place to start an argument, but a really poor place to finish one. Although I’d hesitate to frame the sort of exploratory, qualitative Q&A that could happen on ReportingOn as “argument” or “debate,” I’d like to believe that highlighting a “good answer” as noted by the person who asked the question will help lead to a permanent archive for reporting resources in a way that Twitter simply doesn’t do.

To put a finer point on it, if I ask a question of my followers on Twitter and I get a great answer, I get it in a stream of replies that are useful to a certain subset of Twitter users at that moment, but fly right by in the stream and never come back unless I pull them out of the flow of Twitter and display them somewhere. At this particular moment in time, Twitter’s search functionality is highly ephemeral in nature, as it starts and stops indexing from time to time, and rarely dips back in the chronology as far as might be useful. So where the quick-answer utility of Twitter stops, the long-term archive of ReportingOn begins.

There are four or five more points of navel-gazing analysis like that over in the post, which I hope you’ll check out.  If nothing else, they should provide a useful roadmap for the next person who tries to build something similar.

Meanwhile, the crew at BeatBlogging interviewed me recently — you can listen in as I answer some questions about ReportingOn 2.0, the launch, development, and what happens next.  The audio file is at the end of that post, or you can hear it in iTunes.

Announcing: ReportingOn 2.0 is live

ReportingOn 2.0 is live and ready for your questions. And answers.

It’s still the backchannel for your beat, but it’s an absolute re-imagining of the network.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping score, ReportingOn is a project funded by the Knight News Challenge, and it’s a place for journalists of all stripes to find peers with experience dealing with a particular topic, story, or source.

ReportingOn 2.0 on the morning of launch, July 2, 2009.

(You can catch up with our progress reports from year one and related concepts at the PBS Idea Lab blog.)

The first time out, I built it to be quite Twitter-esque in the hopes that journalists would use it like Twitter, asking questions of their followers and sharing ideas about stories they were working on.

That didn’t happen organically, or if it was going to, it was going to take years. So, with the help of a professional development and design team, we’ve rebuilt the site from the ground up, framed around the act of asking and answering questions.

There’s no 140-character limit, but what you will find are lots of basic features that make sense in this sort of social network.

You can ‘watch’ users, beats, or a particular question, viewing everything in an activity feed that brings you the latest questions and answers from the journalists, topics, and particular issues you’re interested in.

I think you’ll like it.

And, as the grant year for ReportingOn comes to a close, we’re also making the source code for ReportingOn available here under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3. You can use that to build your own backchannel question and answer tool for the journalists in your news organization, or even let your readers ask and answer questions.

I want to repeat that and extend it a bit…

Here are four things that could happen next:

  1. ReportingOn.com itself is a stunning success, with thousands of journalists asking and answering great questions every day, finding peers and mentors, improving local news by adding context and insight gleaned from others working similar angles on stories in far-flung locales.
  2. A media company uses ReportingOn’s open-sourced codebase to build their own internal backchannel, probably on an intranet, or requiring authentication so they can limit it to members of their own organization.
  3. A single news organization uses ReportingOn to do the same thing — build an internal backchannel.
  4. A single news organization uses ReportingOn’s open-sourced codebase to build a public tool that allows readers, sources, and reporters to ask and answer questions in a sort of open forum.

What else could you do with ReportingOn? Give it a shot, and let us know.

What’s next for 2.01 and beyond? We’ll let the dust settle over the next few days and figure out which additional features we want to build first, then we’ll take a look at our budget and consider the options. Feel free to check out feedback.reportingon.com to get an idea of where we might go next, and add your own ideas, too!

Thanks to everyone who helped get this launch out the door on time and on budget, especially the Lion Burger development and design team, all the friends and colleagues who gave me their input over the last year, those of you that answered my last-minute call for beta testers, and the Knight Foundation staff for supporting the first year of ReportingOn.

So… Any questions?

Upcoming proof of my physical existence: Boston and Pittsburgh

I’ll be showing up in person in at least two different places outside the lush springtime confines of Western New York over the next few weeks, believe it or not.

The rough details

Next week, I’ll be in Cambridge, Ma. at MIT for the Future of News and Civic Media Conference, including the announcements of the 2009 Knight News Challenge winners.

What I’m psyched for: Hanging out in Barcamp-esque sessions with the brilliant squadron of past and present Knight grantees, with the added salt of supergenius MIT grad students and their professors.  Oh, and I’m planning to pressure at least a couple people into designing mockups or developing prototypes — on the spot, in the hall, or back at the hotel — for some cool idea that starts out as a conversation in a session.  So, beware, if you speak the words “wouldn’t it be cool if…”

Later in June, I’ll be unleashed on the APSE conference in Pittsburgh for an afternoon, where I’ll lead two sessions on networked journalism.  I still like that term, because it gets straight to the point: Use (social) networks as a reporting tool.  I’ll talk about Twitter, share my recommended social media guidelines for reporters, and touch on some tools for collaboration, like Ning, and beatblogging.

What I’m psyched for: Hanging out with sports writers, finding ways to take cheap shots at the Red Sox, showing off how simple it is to get started with lightweight tools to engage your community in conversation.

Meanwhile…

My new gig at Publish2 has kept me extremely busy, and it’s likely that many of you reading this have heard from me about it lately, usually trying to get your newsroom involved in one way or another with the set of tools Publish2 has to offer.  But, I still do get a lot of questions about what we do.  So here’s my entry-level explanation:

  1. We build tools to help journalists bring the best of the Web to their community.
  2. We build tools to help journalists and their readers collaborate on reporting the news.
  3. We build tools to help journalists collaborate with each other, inside their newsroom, across news organizations, even across media companies.

Double meanwhile…

Those of you who have been keeping score (hi Dad!) know that my Knight News Challenge grant for ReportingOn hits the one-year mark — and its end — at the end of June.  The Lion Burger crew has been building all sorts of tasty goodness into what I still like to call Phase 2, and I’m planning to flip the switch on a few things as the clock strikes July 1.

What you can expect: A brand new focus on questions and answers, a new design, some cool UI features, a lot of transparency about the process of building this iteration of the network, and the full KNC-funded codebase as a ripe Django project, open-sourced for anyone and everyone to try out for themselves.

How to find me

Yes, there’s a lot going on, not to mention the awesome stuff the two-year-old does these days, but I’m still pretty easy to find.

  • I’m @ryansholin on Twitter.
  • I’m always on IM as ryansholin on Google, AIM, and sometimes even Skype if you’re lucky.
  • Questions about Publish2? Hit me at ryan@publish2.com and I’ve got answers.

Grad school update: I think I’m done

For those of you keeping score, I started blogging, more or less, when I started graduate school at San Jose State University back in early 2005.

As of Monday, April 6, 2009, I’m finished with my M.S. in Mass Communications at SJSU’s School of Journalism & Mass Communications, after turning in my project report and presenting my findings to the department and my peers in the program.

ReportingOn, my Knight News Challenge project, did double duty as my Master’s project, and the scope I presented in my report covers the first iteration of ReportingOn, through Feb. 1, 2009 or so, when the development of the next version began.

When I have some time (ha!), I’ll put a screencast equivalent of Monday night’s presentation up here, although it will be harder to get across all the good and important questions that the faculty and students asked.

Congratulations to all my friends and peers at SJSU who presented their research on Monday, and of course, to all my friends from MCOM 210, 250, 270, 290, and 295 — you know who you are.

Meanwhile, development of the next phase of ReportingOn continues.  I’ll have more news about it soon.

On IdeaLab: ReportingOn, rephrased in the form of a question

Over at the PBS IdeaLab blog, where I write about the development of ReportingOn, my Knight News Challenge project, I just posted something that starts to get into what Phase 2 of the “back channel for your beat” is going to look like.

Well, not what it’s going to *look* like exactly, but how it’s going to be framed.

Here’s a snippet:

“…the goal was always to give journalists — whether they’re a neighborhood blogger or the Baghdad bureau chief at the Washington Post — a place to ask questions about what they’re reporting on.

The shift that we’re making is a move from asking ‘What are you reporting on?’ to asking ‘What do you need to know about what you’re reporting on?

That’s where influences like Stack Overflow come into play. What’s the best way to organize and surface questions from journalists about a given topic?”

Check it out, and let me know if you think we’re on the right track.  Things are really starting to come together, and some of you should start to hear from me privately soon, as I nose around for newsrooms and neighborhood bloggers to test out Phase 2.

On IdeaLab: DIY development, design, community management, and marketing isn’t for me (this year)

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve posted an update on what’s going on with ReportingOn, which is to say, there’s not much going on with ReportingOn.  For now.

My Knight News Challenge-funded project to connect journalists on the same topical beat with their peers launched on October 1.  I continued development work on it through the month of October, and then was completely tackled by a pack of wild bears known as my day job, life at home, and a need for some brief moments of sanity in between the rest.

Head over to IdeaLab to read about where my head’s at right now when it comes to this project, and what I’m planning to do next.  Feel free to beat me up about it over there.

IdeaLab: Microblogging tools for your newsroom

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve posted a rundown of some of the internal Twitter for Enterprise type services that are out there at the moment, from the Prologue theme for WordPress (free!) to Backpack Journal from 37signals (not free!).

Plus, there’s a bit about the feature inspiration I picked up yesterday at blip.fm.

The evolving list of features I intend to add to ReportingOn is over on at blog.reportingon.com.  Check it out and let me know what you want to see happen there next.

IdeaLab: One week of ReportingOn, international style

Yes, yes, I know I haven’t written much here lately, but my reading and blogging time is mostly getting happily occupied with development on ReportingOn, which has been open for a week now in a public beta.

The most noticeable thing about ReportingOn so far is the strong Spanish- and Portugeuse-speaking turnout.  Seriously, North America, where are y’all at?

The awesomeness that is the Spanish-speaking media blogosphere has been kind to me so far, though.  Yesterday, Pablo Mancini, who works at the beautiful El Comercio in Peru, interviewed me by e-mail.

I’ve posted the English version at IdeaLab. Check it out:

Q: It seems there are quite a few non-US journalists, several of them from South America, among the first 100-odd users. Had you counted on so many non-Americans joining so fast?

A: The biggest surprise of the first week, which you and your colleagues are the evidence of, is the huge turnout from Spanish and Portuguese-speaking journalists. I’m scrambling to come up with an intelligent way to deal with the different languages on the site without creating too many divisions between users based on their location. As a researcher, it’s really exciting to me because it’s what we might call an “unintended use” of the site, and as a developer, it’s exciting to have a sudden need to push something up the feature queue in a hurry.

So, tell a journalist or blogger with a beat about ReportingOn, and I’ll keep working on adding features like comments, better profile pages, and an assortment of other things on my list.