Designing for human-centered journalism

Last night I attended a terrific panel discussion at the GlobeLab sponsored by the Boston chapter of the Online News Association and Hacks/Hackers Boston.

Titled “Human-Centered Journalism: Designing for Engagement,” the discussion focused on the idea that the right design for a news project can bring the community into the conversation.

There was, for instance, quite a bit of talk about The Boston Globe’s “68 Blocks” series, which included multimedia elements such as Instagrams and self-shot videos by teenagers in Bowdoin-Geneva, a poor, mostly African-American neighborhood that was the subject of the series.

Despite those interactive touches, “68 Blocks” was controversial within some elements of the community. I can’t speak for them, but the general complaint seemed to be that they resented outsiders coming in and observing them as though they were exotic specimens.

One of the panelists, Kenneth Bailey of the Design Studio for Social Innovation, put his finger on a possible problem when he said that too many journalists see themselves as “literary types” rather than fostering relationships with the communities they cover.

Another, Alvin Chang, a data journalist who was involved in “68 Blocks,” said, “The people we are covering are not necessarily the people who read the Globe.”

The third panelist was Laura Amico, co-founder of Homicide Watch and a colleague of mine at Northeastern. The moderator was Adrienne Debigare, the “new media catalyst” at the GlobeLab.

Tiffany Campbell of WBUR put together a Storify that does a good job of summarizing the discussion. Please have a look.

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At GlobeLab, hacking their way toward the future

Did you know that the Boston Globe employs someone whose business card reads “Creative Technologist”?  The holder of that card is Chris Marstall, who hosted a meeting of Hacks/Hackers Boston at the paper’s GlobeLab space Tuesday evening.

Several dozen of us gathered to watch demos of projects that GlobeLab is working on — among them a mash-up that displays geotagged Instagram photos on a huge, six-screen map of Boston, the Big Picture photo blog repurposed for the new version of Google TV, and a tool that makes it easy for folks to see what a page of BostonGlobe.com will look like on various devices.

To me, the most intriguing experiment involved a smartphone app that automatically calls up the online version of a story when you take a picture of a headline in the print edition. From there you can email it, tweet it or whatever. I’m not sure whom it will appeal to — if you’re reading a print newspaper, you’ve already made certain decisions about the place of technology in your life. But it was fun to watch.

I also think it’s pretty interesting that the Globe has committed itself to thinking about the future in ways that might not pay off immediately, but could yield something useful down the line.

Bob Brown of Network World has written a more thorough account of the evening.