Shop Notes

SRCCON Highlights

Posted: July 9, 2015 | Tags: computer-assisted reporting, data, interactive data, journalism, NICAR, SRCCON

“These are my people,” I heard many attendees at SRCCON (pronounced "source-con") say during the two-day conference in Minneapolis last week.

SRCCON, first conceived at NICAR, and now in its second year, wanted to feature the hallway conversations, skillshares and collaborations that happen naturally at bigger conferences and make them the highlight of the event. The small conference, organized by Knight-Mozilla OpenNews, drew 225 people — news developers, data journalists, designers, editors and reporters from The New York Times and Quartz to local NPR stations and freelance journalists.

I went to the conference as a volunteer, helping people register and running around making sure session facilitators had everything they needed. In between running around organizing the rooms, I attended some of the sessions and learned from talented journalists who are trying to change how stories are told online.

The first session I attended was Designing Digital Communities for News. It was led by Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Fellows Francis Tseng and Tara Adiseshan, who have done research on The Coral Project, a joint venture of The New York Times, The Washington Post and Mozilla to create engaging communities online.

The goal of the session was to come up with guidelines to create the worst and best online community to ultimately talk about the importance of engaging with readers online. To begin, participants got in groups of four to six people to make lists of qualities for the worst communities: commenting systems that ask for too much personal information, hostile environments, no discussion threading, no moderation. When asked about the best online communities, a lot of those who answered said that meant good community moderation — having a way for the community to flag comments that are inappropriate and having moderators who can delete comments, lock-out users, and engage the community. Creating these communities is important for news organizations, and many are looking to elevate their readers.

One of the most interesting sessions was Every Part of the Pig: How Can We Make Better Use of Reporting in Long Investigations? The session focused on how journalists could share more of the work they did during investigations with readers, using structured journalism. The goal is to share as much of the story as possible — documents, interviews, reporting notes and data — and make the reporting process as reusable as possible. In small groups, reporters were asked to break down a recent investigation they worked on. What tools would they use if they had no obstacles in their way? How could they change the culture of their workplace to be open to the idea of open sourcing their research and code?

The main takeaway of the session was to think of every part of the investigation as something that could be published. Reporter notes could be organized in case an organization decided to post them online, and extended interviews could be uploaded as extra resources as Q&A's or edited transcripts. While some journalists were hesitant to upload all their research and notes online while the investigation was ongoing, many were open to the idea of publishing notes after the investigation was published. This helps news organizations build public trust and accountability as well as helps other journalist pick up from where they left off. Creating reporting processes that can be replicated could make future investigations easier.

Another session I found to be useful was Let’s Stop Worrying and Let Our Reporters Make Their Own Graphics, led by David Yonofsky from Quartz and Becky Bowers from The Wall Street Journal.

Those attending evaluated 15 graphics created by non-graphics staffers using Quartz’s open source Chartbuilder. We were asked to choose whether we would “kill, run or fix” the graphic. Yonofsky and Bowers wanted to demonstrate that by doing the same exercise in our own newsrooms, we could teach reporters how to build easy-to-understand graphics with some visual-literacy training. This would free up graphics editors to work on bigger projects and also teach journalists how to interpret data by using open-source tools that can be customized for each newsroom. 

The two-day conference also had sessions on how to hire and create teams that are diverse; a lunchtime conversation about women in tech; and ways to make the hiring process easier for everyone. Plans are under way for next year’s conference and the location will be announced by the end of the year. Documentation and notes from the sessions can be found here.

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