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  • Reporters don’t want to talk about unpublished stories in public.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  • When they do talk about unpublished stories among themselves, they do it in familiar, well-lit places, like e-mail or the telephone.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.)

8 thoughts on “So long, ReportingOn”

  1. Sorry to see it go, but kudos for having the guts to try something new, innovative and risky to begin with. Rather than kvetching about the state of the industry, or pining for the good old days, you rolled up your sleeves and freakin’ did it. In the immortal words of Ali G — respect. Journalism needs 10x more people like you.


  2. It was a cool project, and I remember when you talked about it at Bar Camp Philly 2009. It sounded like a great idea then, and I don’ t think anyone saw the pitfalls you would encounter with it then. Thanks for writing the wrap up about lessons learned.


  3. Thanks, everyone. Follow the trail back to my other posts about ReportingOn here and on IdeaLab for a bit more of the lessons I learned along the way, if you’re into that sort of thing.


  4. I am former print and television journalist here in Cleveland. I do civil rights and civil liberties work ( mainly advocating for open records) now and while your software might not have gained traction with journalists I think it would be perfect tool for our organization and organizations such as Please excuse my ignorance but when I logged into Google projects I could not find a means to download the source code.


    1. Hi Richard, if the following line from the Google Code source page makes sense, then you should be able to download the project:
      # Non-members may check out a read-only working copy anonymously over HTTP.
      svn checkout reportingon-read-only

      If it doesn’t, I’d recommend working with a developer with some rudimentary knowledge of Django and/or Python. They’ll be able to set up an instance of ReportingOn as a Django project, and modify the files as you see fit.


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