An Experimental Honor

What's so exceptional about the journalism innovation award The Takeaway won yesterday is that it's not for a broadcast, a series or a blog post.

It's for an experiment.

"Sourcing Through Texting" has been a process of immersion, exploration and rapid prototyping. Journalists and community leaders spend time in a neighborhood focusing on a simple question: How might reporters and citizen-sources make better connections through texting?


The answers are still emerging. We're still making prototypes. Yet, yesterday the concept won a Knight-Batten Special Distinction Award for innovation in journalism.

Since the award application went in, we've gone to Miami to run another experiment in Little Haiti, and Detroit's WDET aired a week-long series that evolved from the project.

That the award effectively predates those happenings is a huge jolt of support for experimentation, design thinking in journalism and everyone who contributed to this unique collaboration.

That includes folks from The Takeaway, Public Radio International, WNYC Radio, WDET Detroit, WLRN Miami, The Miami Herald, American Public Media's Public Insight Network, Mobile Commons, the Institute of Design at Stanford and the residents of Southwest Detroit and Miami's Little Haiti.

---

Sourcing Through Texting is a project of The Takeaway, which is produced by WNYC Radio and Public Radio International. It was made possible by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. 

Disclosure and disclaimer: I helped develop and produce this project. As always, the words here are my own and not those of my employer or any of the entities mentioned.

The Secret Decoder Ring

Today our education reporter had a bunch of data from New York State she was trying to match to schools in New York City. But the school codes used by the two governments look radically different.

For example, PS 15 on the Lower East Side is known to the state as 310100010015; the city calls it 01M015.

I once made a nifty formula to make the conversion(!), but a more straightforward and official approach involves the Excel spreadsheet found here. It lists all of the city schools, along with their addresses, various codes, and more. For a data cruncher, that's a secret decoder ring.

What made me smile was that the only reason I knew this document even existed was because of a little prototype I tried during the first swine flu outbreak. That experiment wasn't robust enough to make it beyond this blog, but it taught me a lot ... including where to find this ring!

Movies & Demographics

What a great visualization of Netflix movie-rental data from the New York Times! Love how you can see how different movies play across the city.

It's even more interesting when you know something about the demographic makeup of the zip codes. Look how the Harlem River between upper Manhattan and the South Bronx is a bright dividing line for almost every movie.

How about a mashup that would reflect this info and demographic data simultaneously?


(tip via Nate Westheimer @innonate)

Connecting Journalists and Technologists

Tuesday night I'll have the fantastic privilege of making a quick presentation at the NY Tech Meetup about our news-technology efforts at WNYC. I'll also invite folks to connect with us in the interest of, well, the public good.

Huge thanks to Nate Westheimer for his interest in our work and the opportunity to say a few words.

Acknowledgment where due: WNYC's public radio news-tech projects, including the Super Simple Mapping tool, are supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Corporation for Public Broadcasting.

Super Simple Mapping Tool

Making collaborative maps is easier than ever. But maybe not quite easy enough.

One of the projects I'm working on at the moment is a super-duper-simple tool to help public radio and television stations (and pretty much anyone else) collect and map local information from their audience.

We're in the design phase right now, and we've mocked it up for feedback. The video is below.

Whaddya think? Let us know!

Presenter's Notes

The person crafting the overall sound and content of your local public radio station usually is the program director, and I have the honor of speaking at an annual gathering of PD's from across the nation this week.

Uncommon Indicators

My first talk is about a WNYC community crowdsourcing project called Your Uncommon Economic Indicators, which began just about a year ago when the economy collapsed. It focuses on getting people to contribute insights about the economy from their neighborhoods.

It has grown to include some special side projects. One is Halted Development, a look at unfinished or vacant housing in New York City (link to big map is here). Another is a video contest, in which this video took first place.

The slides I used in my presentation are available as zipped PowerPoint and Keynote files (both about 30MB) and as a pdf (3.5MB).

Collaboration as Dating

The second presentation is with Tom Detzel of ProPublica about the great partnership WNYC has had with ProPublica, including how it came to be and how we've make some great journalism together.

Part of my discussion is stolen from my earlier blog post using dating as a guide to successful collaborations. The handout I'm giving to people in the room is here as a pdf.

I'll update this post if/when audio or video of the talks are made available.

Paint Sticky Data (Please)

I'm into info. I want it accurate, relevant and clear.

On the radio, we try to paint clear, understandable, and journalistically-sound images of the mind -- the vivid mental pictures you see while listening to good storytelling.

Actual images can tell rich stories, too. The best photojournalism certainly does. Some pictures hit you in the chest.

But images drawn from data -- infographics, or visualizations -- rarely tell a story so well.

And they almost never hit me in the chest.

Why not? With all of the technology available, why can't we create really good visualizations that project understanding, timeliness, utility and ... dare I say ... stories?

I'm on the lookout. And I'm defining what I want to see.

For that definition, I've made a checklist based on one of my all-time favorite books, Made to Stick, by Chip Heath & Dan Heath (Random House, 2007). The initial words come from their Six Principles of Sticky Ideas; the rest is my application of their concepts.

For me, the best information images are ...
Simple: Non-geeks can absorb it within a few seconds
Unexpected: It fills a gap in our knowledge
Concrete: It takes advantage of our senses and understandings
Credible: It is journalistically sound, from a trusted source, without bias
Emotional: It hits you in the chest, you feel the data
Story: It tells one
And I'll add one more:
Relevant: It is timely, current and useful
Got examples that ring all seven bells? Maybe even four? Share them in the comments here or email me: john (at) designAgitator.com.

-----

The map detail above is from my favorite example at the moment, which is on Slate. Jump over there, take a look, and then run it through the checklist:

Simple? Once you know that blue is jobs gained and red is jobs lost, you're set. Just press play.
Unexpected? Seriously so. The speed of change is amazing.
Concrete? The familiar map orients me at a glance; I respond quickly to the circle sizes, colors and densities.
Credible? Bureau of Labor Statistics, Slate.
Emotional? Oh yeah. I saw someone actually shiver while watching it.
Story? Definitely.
Relevant? Yup.
Rings my bell.