SRCCON is a conference organized by Knight-Mozilla OpenNews launched in 2014 for developers and interactive designers that work in the news business. Last weekend, Minneapolis was host to SRCCON. (Full schedule here. Attendee list here.) Michael Grant, a digital designer and developer, and Aaron Williams, an interactive editor, from the San Francisco Chronicle shared their favorite SRCCON sessions and takeaways with Storybench.
Let’s Stop Worrying and Let Our Reporters Make Their Own Graphics
What happened: David Yanofsky from Quartz and Becky Bowers from The Wall Street Journal led a session on creating tools for reporters to build their own charts. They held brownbag lunches where they went over good data presentation and what made a good chart.
- Teaching reporters how to make good charts is hard, but while the overall chart strength went down, the number of charts and freedom gained from the newsrooms developers went up. The trade off led to making both newsrooms more cross-disciplinary and more productive.
- We should do brown bag lunches with data skills!
Taking Web Accessibility Beyond Assumption
What happened: Ryan Murphy from the Texas Tribune talked about designing projects and graphics for readers with visual and motor impairments. We had many awkward conversations about how none of newsrooms often design for these people and we’re frankly doing a disservice to many of our readers
Key takeaway: It’s fun to build big amazing projects, but we should make sure our products and projects serve everyone and not just able, affluent, tech-savvy readers.
Data Viz for All: Help Us Make Interactives More Usable for Mobile
What happened: Aaron Williams co-facilitated a session on mobile data visualization. We looked at different ways to display data visualization projects on mobile and looked at ways to get around certain problems.
Key takeaway: Mobile dataviz is hard. No one newsroom has solved this problem and it’s a space that’s ripe for solutions.
Big Ambition, Small Staff, How the F*** Do I Prioritize?
What happened: Two “lone coders” from different news outlets revealed how they get stuff done, then opened the floor to discuss how other lean departments manage to produce good work through constraints.
- Tempering expectations: disconnect between what editorial and development thinks is enough time. Early code samples help explain complexity.
- Annotated screen shots help Editorial explain something that doesn’t work, helps us “speak the same language.”
- Postmortem analysis should answer what can be used again. Record process.
- Make notes while angry.
- Devs should time when they will check email (example: 10am and 3pm)
- Open our approach/process to rest of Hearst papers (a Slack maybe?)
Let’s Create an Ideal Digital Workflow
What happened: We broke into teams and made workflows for 1) a digital product that accompanies an enterprise story that is weeks or months in the making, 2) a digital product that needs to be done quickly (either daily or short-term), either with or without a story and 3) a stand-alone digital-only product, such as a news app or tool which does not heavily feature a text component.
- 50 people in a single room talking about process certainly informed my view on workflow.
- Some parts of workflow take longer than others.
- There’s a place of entry for all involved. Understanding timing is key.
Designing Collaborative User Research for News Organizations
What happened: The New York Times broke down user research which informs much of their approach to news and solves common problems.
- Surveying + Qualitative research are the building blocks to changing design approaches.
- Interviews: recruit, guide the discussion, one-on-one observation.
- User diary: what users say they do vs. what they actually do.
- Personas are generalizations to test ideas about audience. Actual subject interviews are qualitative and also are revealing: both help test assumptions.
- The opportunity of breaking news: opportunity to help the late comer with content language like “What we know so far…”
- Ethnographic research and “Emerging Millennial” research can result in understanding of new audiences to attract.
- Maybe use students to test assumptions on
- Remove the “news” naming conventions – simplify to lowest common denominator in QA.
- Be curious about user needs.
Brainstorming: The Happiest (and Most Destructive) Place on Earth
What happened: Vox product challenged us to think outside of the box. The problem is most newsrooms follow standard protocol which makes it really hard to fathom a different approach resulting in a lack of “creativity in projects.”
- Try group exercises that break away from the board meeting
- Refine your process in your newsroom as you go
- Don’t introduce opinions early in the brainstorming process
- Let ideas be ideas and use them when as use for them is obvious
Surprises / final thoughts
- The Wall Street Journal has an enterprise Github account and publishes all graphics through it. They have a smart developer-focused culture that’s helped them recruit many smart and talented folks.
- Quartz is really open to letting reporters/developers experiment with their visual design. By letting non-experts craft charts, they rose the entire technical and data acumen of the newsroom. This allowed interested reporters to become smarter with data and their experts to focus on smarter work.
- We will not be good at our jobs unless we actually check the analytics of a products. If we make changes just because and not because we’re informed by data, we all lose.
- The Wall Street Journal also has a toolbox of sorts for reporters to create their own charts/timelines etc. It seems to me that the organization really spent the time (and money) to have a smart digital infrastructure for their coders/journalists and it shows.
- See: Politifact Chartbuilder (built in a similar fashion to our banner tool)
- Bloomberg Business creates amazing graphics, but it wasn’t until about a year ago that the company finally let the developers build things outside of the CMS. The result?
- Creating culture means a lot. We may not be attracting talent in our job descriptions. Treat them like editorial and follow a process with HR to develop the right description for the job. Be inclusive and don’t use “minorities strongly encouraged to apply” — especially when we have a woman EIC and an Asian American managing editor and two brothas running digital. We can be more creative in our language and make a post that feels inclusive.
- Everyone from Minneapolis is REALLY nice.