At IdeaLab: Paul Bradshaw on crowdsourcing investigative journalism

Over at IdeaLab, I’ve been way past deadline for a post, after (again) making all sorts of promises about helping out more over there.  Until now.

After playing the modern equivalent of phone tag (Twitter DMs and e-mail across two operating systems and one ocean) for a week or so, Paul Bradshaw and I landed on Skype at the same time for 15 minutes for a quick chat about his freshly funded project, Help Me Investigate.

Here’s the post at IdeaLab, where you’ll find the full video interview.

If you want to head directly to the background on this, read Paul’s post about the funding and the next steps for the project.

Here’s why I’m so interested in this project, and in my Knight News Challenge project ReportingOn, and David Cohn’s efforts with Spot.Us, and in the Collaborative Reporting tools we launched at Publish2 recently:

I really, REALLY, REALLY want there to be easy ways to gather structured data from readers, users, journalists, and editors, and I want that data to be attached to their identity whenever possible.  I want that data to be portable and exportable, so it can be displayed in any and all useful formats. I want profiles for everyone so I can track their participation, reliability, and levels of knowledge about different topics, beats, locations, and stories.

I’m becoming more and more passionate about this, with my level of surprise that no one has built the right tools for this job yet growing by the day.  But we’re getting closer.  Platforms are emerging.  Standards will follow.  Collaboration is key.

October Carnival of Journalism: How to move the needle in your newsroom today

Journerdist-In-Chief Will Sullivan hosts this month’s resurgent Carnival of Journalism, asking the following:

“What are small, incremental steps one can make to fuel change in their media organization?”

I’ve mentioned some incremental steps you take to grow a little revenue at a time recently, and there’s a list of free or cheap tools for online news sitting around here somewhere, but here are a few general recommendations and specific ideas for things you can do on Monday morning to get the ball rolling and needle moving into the future in your newsroom.

In General:

  • Engage your readers. Don’t be a faraway mugshot at the top of a column once a week; use blogs, comment threads on stories, microblogging tools, and every other tool at your disposal to foster a relationship with the actual human beings at the other end of your delivery routes and Intertubes.

To Be Specific:

  • Start a blog, or a story with a comment thread, or a Twitter account on Monday morning, depending on the technology you have on hand.

The purpose of this blog/thread/Twitter account is to ask readers questions, and answer the questions they ask.  One staff member (probably you if you’re reading this) takes the questions from readers and routes them to the logical reporter, editor, photographer, graphic designer, etc.  You don’t need 30 staffers to sign into the account and type into the CMS, you just need to send them an e-mail and get their answer and post it yourself.  Do encourage them to read the comments and follow up by participating in the thread.

In General:

  • Shoot more video. This isn’t as complicated as you think it is.  Get cameras in the hands of your reporters; don’t wait for your squadron of photographers to get the equipment they requested or for your editors to decide on which approach to newspaper video makes the most sense.  Skip the step where you try to produce video that looks like local TV news, and go straight to the step where you end up with a YouTube-like page with tons of video for your online readers to browse through.

To Be Specific:

Importantly, this is *primarily* a video camera, which means it’s not going to be monopolized by well-meaning reporters who “need” it to shoot stills for print.  Start a rotation, one reporter per camera per week.  Shoot three videos a week, maximum two minutes each, and edit as little as possible.  That’s how you get started shooting more video, regardless of what other long-term high-budget plans you might have in place.

In General:

  • Spend less time in conference rooms. If you feel like you’re spending too much time in meetings, you probably are.  Give yourself and your staff more time to get their jobs done and keep moving that needle in the right direction by not wasting their time.

To Be Specific:

  • Use online productivity and project management tools as an always-on meeting place that anyone can drop in and out of as their day allows.  Google Docs, Basecamp, Prologue, Yammer, — choose a flavor and try it out.

Have more meetings, asynchronously, online, and spend less time locked in a conference room trying to figure out why you didn’t know that story or package or project was on the schedule for this weekend.  Use these tools for scheduling, budgeting, staffing, tracking long projects over time, story counts, accountability — as much or as little as you want.  Refer back to these documents instead of having meetings to talk about what sort of form you should print out to refer back to later.

Overstating the Obvious:

None of this will work if you’re not interested in making progress, passionate about taking giant leaps forward, and curious about the range of tools out there in the wild.  Try any of these, and if it doesn’t work, fail fast and move on to the next idea.  Unless you have time to waste, in which case, I wish you the best of luck.

My obstacles to innovation question, abandoned and rediscovered

From my living room at the crack of dawn on Sunday, getting ready to catch my flight to SNDVegas, it seemed like a good idea to give myself a reporting assignment.

I said that I would ask lots of people a question, on video, and post their replies.

Well, fail.  Epic fail.  Why?  Because, frankly, I was having too much fun learning from everyone, going to sessions, and spent my time talking to people about ideas and workflow and comparing notes, and usually, these moments were in loud places.

So, there’s no finished assignment to post here, and frankly, the amount of work and non-work I have on my plate between now and a few days from now is pretty much insane, so I wouldn’t have had the time to finish it anyway.  This way, instead of feeling guilty about having interviews in the can, unposted, I can feel guilty about not having done the interviews in the first place.


Someone else asked the first question, on Seesmic, to a different audience and is getting some great replies.

The surprise connection: It’s the Knight News Challenge asking the question.  Here it is:

What are the obstacles for innovation?What have been your obstacles to turning a great idea into a great startup? http://www.newschallenge.org

The question I’m going to ask everyone at SND and APME

I’m off in a few minutes to the airport to SND and APME in Las Vegas for a few nights.

Here’s the plan I’m cooking up for a little video interview project:

  • Carry my point & shoot camera.
  • Ask lots of people I meet to answer one question on video.
  • Post all the answers.
  • Edit together the best into a short promo.

So what’s the question?

That’s where you come in. Help me refine this angle, or come up with your own:

“In the media blogosphere (and media in general for that matter), we tend to talk about the problems of ‘newspapers’ as if every single publication were exactly the same.  But we all know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.  What’s the biggest obstacle you face, at your job, to innovation?”

What do you think? Am I on the right track? The goal here is to get real boots-on-ground answers from working journalists — in this case, I’m expecting most of them will be print and online designers or editors of some stripe at major metros.

I’m most interested in obstacles to innovation, but there might be a better way to word that — or even a more positive way to frame my question?

[UPDATE:] Commenters and tweeters want something more positive, something along the lines of this:

What are you doing in your organization, right now, to drive innovation?

Help me work on the question here.  Post a Seesmic video comment for super extra bonus points, and you might show up as a talking head in the video stream later this week.

The best newspaper webcast I’ve seen yet: Ledger Live

Remember that time when I spent two hours out of every day, five days a week, writing, shooting, and editing a daily newspaper webcast?

It stunk. It was no fun, a waste of time, and a poor way to engage online readers with video.

No one — and I mean no one — wants to watch you read from a script for two minutes.  It’s a good start, and adding photos is the next step on the way to adding actual news video to the bit, but what you really need to do is leave the newsroom.

That’s right, get out.  And take the camera with you. And do some reporting instead of reading.

Coincidence: Two people asked me about daily newspaper webcasts in the last hour, and I told them both the same thing.  Then I spotted yesterday’s Ledger Live, from

At about 2:40 into this one, which is good and fun, and has personality and life to it, even if there’s some desk-sitting involved in the process, Brian Donohue takes a typical crackpot reader comment about immigration and does the fricking reporting.'s Ledger Live

Check it out.  When I worked in California, we had some regulars, the crackpot immigration people who would leave some racist comments and blame every single problem in town on the Mexican community.  And more or less, we found is better to not engage them.  Just don’t look.

But, of course, the right thing to do is to debunk their claims, or at the very least, depending on your opinions about objectivity, demonstrate how complex the problem can be.

So, Brian took the crackpot question and the camera and went out to find some answers.

And the result is a great piece of journalism.

I hope my friends in Newark are posting some of the individual stories coming out of this webcast and archiving them in some sort of SEO-friendly way, because this is great evergreen content.  I want to see this piece on immigration and housing show up every single time those two keywords show up in a story on their site.  That’s the long-term value of a great Local Explainer.

Watch the webcast, and if your newsroom reads the headlines into the camera and/or fields crackpot reader questions on a regular basis, think about the opportunity you have to get away from your desk and shoot some answers.

via John Hassell