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#SNDMakes Boston: How Might We Improve the Content Creation Process for News? October 17-19 At the offices of Upstatement, 319A A Street, Boston, MA

If I have quoted you below but not credited you, please let me know. Twitter: @lisawilliams. Or fork this document and issue a pull request!

#SNDMakes hashtag on Twitter:

List of attendees:

Initial brainstorming session -- Friday, October 17, 10AM EST

Miranda Mulligan, Chief of KnightLab: "I want to make audio a more compelling experience in browser-based environments."

  • What's the audio version of an animated GIF? Simple, short, easy, Vine-like but not beholden to any service or platform? (Lisa Williams)

Pete Karl, Upstatement -How might we better accommodate the myriad changes that a story goes through over time?

  • associated media -- audio and photo management
  • Individuals in a story and their relationships
  • How can we accommodate the story lifecycle?
  • How do we create connections between the content?
  • MM: OpenNews hackathon had a project that Jenny 8. and Eric Price did called NewsDiffs ( that tracked changes

Lisa Williams, INN: How do we take the institutional knowledge that reporters have and make that visible to news consumers and other reporters?

  • could we use something like Popolo to express the relationships between newspapers? Show a newsmaker's network -- and stories about them at a click.
  • Amanda Krauss, Texas Tribune -- "We started out with Popolo but ended up with something very different."
  • Steve McKinney, Vox (Vox uses "card stacks) -- we have streams, we can show a user where this article is along a timeline.
  • Alisha McKinney, Vox -- how might we reinvent the hyperlink -- how can we better give context?
  • Problem statement: at small news organizations, when people move on, the reporters do the same stories all over again because there's no effective way to

Kaeti Hinck, INN:

  • How do we bring end users into our editorial decision-making process, particularly around revision?

Adam Schweigert, INN

How could we build in docs and howtos into an interface, in a way that gives users gentle nudges to write or compose the stuff we want them to?

  • "Here's how to crop a photo"
  • "How might the content creation process create better journalists?" How can it help you make a better choice, rather than writing something that an editor will come to you and say, wait, write it this way?
  • How about building in headline testing?
  • Tito Bottita, Upstatement: At Buzzfeed, when you try to author an item, it will show you what makes a good Buzzfeed post or headline. (Lisa Williams: Mailchimp does this too -- it lets you test email subject lines and shows you how successful they'll be).
  • Jeanne Brooks: How can we bring in the community into the content creation process to make content creators more sensitive and culturally informed?

How can we make better tools for breaking news?

  • "During the Boston Bombing, I felt like the Boston Globe was super slow on things -- so I was going to Reddit. There's gotta be a better way to link those two, so that I have serious journalism instead of some rando's opinion.
  • During the bombing, there were a lot of people hanging around livetweeting the (police) scanner.
  • For breaking news, everybody's on Twitter, but then you're just making content for somebody else's company and they get all the money for it.
  • There's a lot of breaking news on Twitter, but as news organizations, the value we can add is the editorial vetting and added value on top of Twitter.
  • Adam Schweigert/Lisa Williams How can we make visible what the news organization is aware of, as opposed to just what they've published and verified?

Comments & community interaction

  • I think it's interesting how Medium does comments. They're like "We think comments are broken."
  • "So instead of a wall at the bottom for you to post graffiti on, you comment on particular paragraphs -- you're responding to the thing.
  • Amanda Krauss, TX Tribune -- or, to go back to Adam's idea, how can we design comment boxes to encourage civil behavior. We work with the Engaging News Project on this.

The Endless Grind of the CMS

**How might we allow creators to see their work in context -- in device context, in web context, as they compose."

  • Mike Swartz, Upstatement. At Upstatement, we deal with people who are expert content creators, but just trying to get text into the browser and bold things is such a struggle that they can't use their instincts because the technology is beating them down at every turn. There's a lot of unproductive friction in the content creation process -- they aren't thinking, how can I report this, they're thinking, "How can I get this to show up [on the web]?
  • Lisa Williams -- I'm fascinated by online learning environments. Like on Khan Academy, when my kids use it, they enter code on one half of the screen and immediately see the results on the left hand side. The feedback loop is so much shorter, than using Wordpress, writing into that box, and then hitting publish. What would change if you could see it live?
  • Show them how it looks when it gets shared on Facebook -- is the headline cut off? Does the photo look weird? You should be able to see a preview for lots of different platforms and devices.
  • "We just changed our content creation interface, and it looks like the control panel of the 747. Facebook has already solved this problem -- it's so simple to post a link to something."
  • Mike Workman, Boston Globe: "Facebook has solved the problem because they have to get content from their users for free -- so of course they make it easy. But what would it look like if we could make it that easy in the newsroom?"

How might we improve the process of pitching stories?

  • This idea was from Sean Dillingham of KPCC

How might we imagine the editorial output of news organization in different ways -- making more immersive content experiences?"

  • This one is from Jeanne Brooks of Hacks/Hackers

11:06 AM ET -- wrapping up the initial brainstorming session.

12:45 PM ET -- Lightning Talks

Amanda Krauss, Texas Tribune. How the Texas Tribune approaches its architecture. One big CMS? Use third party services?

  • We started out in Pangaea, a vast Django application we ran everything in -- event reservations, which didn't work well, data apps with 250,000 URLS -- when we updated it pulled down our whole site.
  • If you're complaining about the content creation interface of Wordpress, this is much worse.
  • Eventually they broke things appart -- eventbrite for events, Mailchimp for newsletters, maybe WP for content creation (but not publishing) Style guide in Jekyll on a Github page, Sched for event schedules.
  • "There's a discussion happening on Twitter about whether or not news organizations should be tech companies. My answer? If your tech team is four people, the answer is no."
  • [Lisa Williams, thinking: the dream of extra advantages of building a CMS from the ground up didn't pan out. In what circumstances does it pan out?]
  • Even nontech people were nervous about us outsourcing so many of our processes, but we kept coming back to the question, "Can we do it well?" and the answer was no."

Chris Plummer, Dockyard

  • The Past: In the beginning, Nolan created Atari, and it was good. They made $2B, but then they ran out of runway in 1983, losing $583 million dollars, shrinking from 10k employees to 200 and then they died.
  • This was an industry wide extinction phenomenon.
  • What made them fall apart? He presents an adjusted for inflation revenue chart. Love.
  • Some people blame ET -- a huge flop. But the actual crash was way more complicated than that (shows huge flowchart)
  • Did a thesis on the great video game crash. Video Games industry never recovered -- never became as big as it was in 1983.
  • Telling this story was challenging -- there were a lot of parallel stories. How could I let readers read these in a parallel way, or give them incentives to return?
  • Makes a high level view where a timeline is the navigational interface for the content. Clicking on something brings you to text that I wrote -- then there are side notes with supplementary materials. Side notes also show you where something appears elsewhere in the corpus of material.
  • Animated sprites illustrate things in the story.
  • Wants contributors -- journalists, historians Gamers, insiders
  • Wants developers to help with animations. Front end and back end.
  • Need to figure out the money -- crowdfunding, etc.
  • Is built on the Craft CMS with much added code -- so people can create side notes, media galleries.
  • It really affects how you're writing. Is this primary, or secondary?
  • Q: Does this industry collapse tell you anything about the industry contraction in news? A: News has been around for a long time. There was no business model in the 70's for video games -- they'd do things like produce 20 million cartridges on a platform with 10 million consoles.

Miranda Mulligan, Knight Lab

  • We want to make tools that people use. There's a lot of work showing people what's possible, but doesn't work its way into the workflow of content creation in newsrooms.
  • It took a little while to get everyone on board with that, but we started with something that had a little momentum -- Timeline.JS. (
  • One of the feature requests we always get is "can we make it vertical?" and the answer is always, "No." (Why? -- LW)
  • Timeline is not designed for hundreds of nodes. Our mission is to support storytelling, and part of storytelling editing. Nobody's going to read a story with 400 nodes. Reporter's Lab's Timeflow is something more for that.
  • Soundcite lets you overlay short audio clips on top of text. Text with attached audio appears highlighted.
  • The only weird feature request we get is "can I use it for really long audio?" You can, but we don't think it's the best use for the tool.
  • Storymap ( is a friendlier way to create story maps or overlays of gigapixel image. "I like the idea of putting a map over an audio file)
  • Creating the authoring tool for storymap was pretty complicated. Timeline, interaction (This looks super cool. -- LW)
  • The metaphor for storymap is a presentation builder -- you just put slides on particular places.
  • Snapmap makes a map of your geotagged Instagram photos. Then you can export it into Storymap. You can add foursquare checkins, etc.
  • Juxtapose lets you do those sliders, like the ones NYT had for before & after Fukushima.
  • People had unexpected and uses of it, not always ideal. WE need to build into the tool a way for people to be better visual editors.
  • Timeline has been used by 350,000 storytellers and gets 100,000 uniques a month.

ESPN team on the ESPN Redesign

Stephen Clancy, Dheerja Kaur, Kamal Grey

Dheerja Kaur is the presenter.

  • Redesign took place over 2 years and coincided with a CMS overhaul.
  • The beta version is now live to about 60,000 users.
  • Today's design really constrains editors. In the redesign, the idea is everything is a toolkit. We have a huge amount of content types -- live and on demand audio and video, headlines, stories, articles, etc. We tried to normalize that content so that all the metadata associated with all the content types is visible to the user.
  • Any content format can be dragged and dropped into the "stream" of the front page or other landing pages.
  • the toolkit shows Type, Colors, Icons, Buttons, Tables, Forms, Logos, Imagery, Toolkits, page layouts (I think this is what someone use to author it, the choices they have)
  • Inline player cards, game summaries, and polls can be dragged into an article page.
  • Kamal: We want our producers putting out as much content as possible. A perfect example is the "now" column.
  • Stephen: "Now contains 'snackable' news content. Short form content always playing on the site, like twitter. Tweets, ESPN content, graphics from SportsCenter, ESPN alerts. What we built for them is something we call the NOW tool.
  • It looks a lot like Tweetdeck. Streams show all the stuff from CMS, all the stuff from Twitter. From that an editor can flag certain content and create the curated "Now" stream on the front page.
  • Editors were constantly going to Tweedeck and copypasting stuff into the CMS, so we shortened the loop.
  • There are also "Now" columns for MLB, NFL front pages, as well as the front page of ESPN. We'll be able to automate feeds based on players and teams soon too.
  • Question from Jeanne Brooks. The Instagram column is all the people you follow, but can you follow a hashtag? A: Not yet.

2:30 ET. Teams report back with their ideas to work on.

  • Team 1: How can we make content creators stewards of the next click? (how can we let content creators suggest the next read to a visitor? Readers should be able to get more than just a list of headlines. (this reminds me of those little handwritten shelf tags in independent bookstores, written by staffers recommending a particular book)
  • Team 2: Previewing in multiple contexts; previewing based on social; making more content creation possible by modularizing content. (Looks like previewing based on social is the winning idea)
  • Team 3 How might we create a simple way to create charts or graphs from spreadsheet data? 2) How can we include institutional knowledge or style guides as part of content creation? 3) How can we better present breaking news -- let creators more quickly incorporate breaking news? No consensus as of now.
  • Team 4 How can we help writers come up with unique perspectives on their topics?
  • Team 5 How can we include better context in the story without detracting from it or distracting the reader? How can we make crafting that available to content creators?
  • Team 6

4:13 PM ET. Teams get together and announce refinements of their ideas.

  • Team 1 We're thinking about how we might foster the "next click."
  • Team 2 How might we help content creators optimize their content for the many distribution channels out there, while making them aware of who their audience truly is?
  • Team 3 How might we make it easier and faster to identify and verify information about a breaking news event on social media?
  • Team 4
  • Team 5
  • Team 6 How might we break the fourth wall in the context of news stories? How might we expose the reporting and the investigation process? Improve citation or annotation experience? In an audio story, I need to cite something a listener might or might not want to go into. How can it be really easy for me to pull up the citation?

Day 2, Lightning Talks

Jared Novack, Upstatement

  • I have been working on a "How might we" here at Upstatement here for the last year. My "How Might We" is...
  • "How might we empower designers within the CMS?"
  • The most common way this comes up is, "We want to do a Snowfall-like thing."
  • Example: The Boston Globe wants to do a 14-piece series on the Tsarnaevs (the family of the Boston Bombers).
  • We see a lot of code and think "Oh God, Don't Touch Anything!!" because you're afraid of screwing up your project, or even the whole site.
  • usually, we just ditch the CMS and build everything in a special, isolated environment.
  • Upstatement has built Timber -- a Wordpress Plugin that is aimed at letting you make immersive presentations within a Wordpress framework.
  • Individual Timber-based story packages are called "Twigs". (file extension: .twig)
  • Ideally, we want to make admin panels to let people manage intro/header files for feature stories or parts of feature stories.
  • Problem: "function stew" -- to get info out of Wordpress, you have to use all these PHP functions. It's a drag. Nobody knows how to call all the elements you want on the page so you can then style them with CSS or a framework like Bootstrap or whatever.
  • Solution: Object-based code.
  • Do it with Twig, which is an open-source template language like Handlebars or Moustache is in Javascript.
  • Instead of functions, you just do something like {{post.tamerlan_intro}} to call the intro for your story -- the same one you punched into an admin console earlier.
  • But when we do this, all the Boston Globe chrome and nav is gone.
  • But one of the great things about Twig is the idea of template extensions. You can make a basic "blank" template that brings in header and footer elements that you want.
  • Beta Boston, Crux, DailyOrange, Harvard Law Review and others use Timber.
  • You can find out more at and also available on Github.

Kawandeep ("Koven") Virdlee, Creative Technologist, Embedly

  • There will be a news hackathon at the Media Lab in January 2015
  • Making embedding easier is part of the mission of Embedly
  • NYT started this thing called "Watching" and it uses a lot of video embeds (and embedly)
  • Embedly also has a dashboard to show you how many people are watching a video embed, when it peaks over time.
  • You can see a dash of all the embeds across a specific site
  • But this isn't enough. You can't get data on Instagram or Vines.
  • Initially, it was just an API driven project, only developers could do it.
  • But we wanted to make something for bloggers and writers.
  • So now we have a service that lets end users embed and produces a really beautiful embeddable card.

Pete Karl: Harmony on Deadline

  • What are the things that are really important to creating an effective team?
  • It bums me out when you see a team that's just heads down typing all the time, being really productive, and that's it.
  • That's not a team. It's productive individuals in a team.
  • So I want to talk about the things that people don't talk about when we talk about creating team.
  • 1: Know your team. Understand what motivates him. It will help you make them more productive.
    1. Build fluency where teams touch. At upstatement we have design, and we have technology. But our teams are fluent in each others' language.
    1. Discipline yourself to speak in problems.
    1. Commitment increases velocity. If you have a project that's not going anywhere, decisive action and locking things down -- committing to something can really cause movement to burst out of that.
    1. Foster ownership. Figure out who owns a problem.
    1. Seek vision. No one talks about this -- what the hell does it even mean? The further you go up the title chain, the further the vision extends. If you go and talk to the CEO and ask, "Where do you want this company to be 5 months from now?" You should be seeking that vision going upward. By nurturing an environment of 'vision richness', people start marching in the same direction.
    1. Train your replacement. Not that you're going to leave, but it's a motivation you sometimes need to treat other people's growth as a priority. Treat the person below you as if they're going to replace them someday -- you're helping the company grow from the bottom up and giving someone else the help you probably would have liked 15 years ago.
  • Last remark: Tools are bullshit!

Miranda Mulligan, Knight Lab

  • There is a positive hive mind on Twitter where people ask for help and other people dive in and help you.
  • There's also a negative issue where it seems like there's an urge to be the first person to call another person out about it.
  • For example, let's say there's a Vox story with a credit missing, and someone tweets, "Look, Vox fucked up again."
  • When you could have said, "Hey, did you notice that something here is missing."
  • Jeanne Brooks: "I talk to women developers who see it as a mechanism for cliques developing."
  • Lisa Williams: Vivian Gussin Paley wrote a wonderful book called "You Can't Say You Can't Play," about what happened when she told her class of kindergarteners that the new rule was that no one could exclude another child from a play activity. The kids who hated it the most were the popular kids. How could we translate that value -- of building value through inclusion, rather than seeking social power by exercising whatever power we have to exclude? The primary way we exclude people is to express hostility or disapproval towards someone as a signal to your peers that they should do the same.
  • Miranda: even when their behavior is bad, I don't want my behavior to be bad.