Digidave http://blog.digidave.org Journalism is a Process, Not a Product Mon, 22 Sep 2014 16:43:44 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=3.9.2 2015 SXSW Accelerator: Entry Deadline Nov. 7 http://blog.digidave.org/2014/09/2015-sxsw-accelerator-entry-deadline-november-7 http://blog.digidave.org/2014/09/2015-sxsw-accelerator-entry-deadline-november-7#comments Mon, 22 Sep 2014 13:00:28 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4271 Once again I am humbled to be a SXSW Accelerator advisor.

What is that? It’s the chance to showcase your startup  in front of industry leaders.

From the organizers:

“SXSW Accelerator returns for its seventh edition to showcase some of the web’s most exciting innovations – could your company be one?  This event provides an outlet for companies to present their new online entertainment or gaming products, social media / networking technologies, or mobile, news, music, or health technology to a panel of industry experts, early adopters, and representatives from the angel / VC community.

Past judges have included Tim Draper of DFJ, John Sculley of Apple/Pepsi, Tim O’Reilly of O’Reilly Media, Paul Graham of Y Combinator, Naval Ravikant of AngelList, Guy Kawasaki of Alltop, Chris Sacca of Lowercase Capital, Chris Hughes of New Republic/Facebook, Mark Suster of Upfront Ventures, Albert Wenger of Union Square Venture, Scott Weiss of Andreessen Horowitz, and Bob Metcalfe of Ethernet/3Com.

We invite your company to join us for this incredible event, as we highlight the technology market’s most impressive new innovations.  The application deadline is Friday, November 7, and the event itself will beMarch 14 & 15th, 2015 in Austin, TX.   Please apply sxsw.com/interactive/accelerator

If you do apply – let me know!

Deadline to apply

Friday, November 7, 2014. 

Applicants must be within one of the six categories:

  • Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies
    The Enterprise and Smart Data Technologies category encompasses applications and technologies that facilitate comprehension and application of information. These startups seek to improve productivity and management of data, analytics, text, documents, and engagement for business and individual use.
  • Entertainment and Content Technologies
    The Entertainment and Content Technologies category highlights applications and technologies for gaming, music, film, television, video, news and publishing, streaming and digital storytelling, as well as new and hybrid forms of entertainment. These are reinventing the ways in which we learn, relax and enjoy our time. This category also contains technologies that focus on other cultural sectors such as sports, travel, mapping, publishing and food as they pertain to entertainment
  • Digital Health and Life Sciences Technologies
    The Digital Health and Life Science Technologies category involves patient-centric health applications and technologies that connect patients, families, physicians, pharmacists, care providers (hospitals, clinics) and benefit providers. These products and services enable people to collect and share timely, relevant health data and drive better outcomes at affordable and sustainable cost levels. These may include Internet of Things and wearable devices, but such devices may be more appropriate in the Wearable Technologies or Innovative World categories (see below).
  • Social Technologies
    The Social Technologies category includes applications and technologies that enable personal connections. With this category we’re looking for new and interesting uses, cases, products and services, as well as messaging that push the boundaries of how we find, follow and share our lives with others. If your business or service has a social component but is primarily focused on Entertainment, Health or Wearable Technologies, then you should enter one of these other categories instead.
  • Wearable Technologies
    The Wearable Technologies category focuses on technology worn on, in, or around the body. As this major technology cycle advances we are seeking all types of wearable products that advance human performance and wellness, as well as those involved in apparel, accessories, fashion and lifestyle. If your product is focused on patient/clinician information, please apply in the Digital Health and Life Sciences Technologies category.
  • Innovative World Technologies
    Any creative and innovative technology that does not fit in another category is encouraged to apply here. We are currently seeing lots of innovation in the Internet of Things, payments and virtual currencies, data security and privacy, transportation such as autonomous vehicles, energy, space, robotics, and artificial intelligence, If your business / service / application applies to one of these fields (or something not on this list that is even more ground-breaking), then this is your category.


Where can I get more information:

Visit the Accelerator website at sxsw.com/interactive/accelerator

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Nothing is in a name when we attack industry tribes http://blog.digidave.org/2014/08/nothing-is-in-a-name-when-we-attack-industry-tribes http://blog.digidave.org/2014/08/nothing-is-in-a-name-when-we-attack-industry-tribes#comments Fri, 01 Aug 2014 20:43:52 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4255 There’s no need to defend “entrepreneurial journalism” because it doesn’t exist

Is anyone else tired of pointless journalist on journalist attacks? They persist because of the labels/divisions we create amongst ourselves. Most of these labels are meaningless outside of our industry. It’s tribalism at its worst. In the end — we are on the same team.

How different types of journalists see each other

I did an eye-roll when I came across Corey Pein’s piece in the Baffler: “Amway Journalism.”

The tl;dr version: He doesn’t like “entrepreneurial journalism” (E.J.) because it is being promoted by folks like Jeff Jarvis.

Arguments why Corey doesn’t like “entrepreneurial journalism” include [my tl;dr responses in brackets]…..

  1. E.J’s are more concerned about personal brand/twitter than journalism [Straw man]
  2. “At its most ambitious, it means …. perpetual paid speaking invitations and … entree into the exclusive grifterhood of future-of-media experts.” [Straw man]
  3. Kara Swisher, Ezra Klein are referenced too much and aren’t good examples. [They aren’t?]
  4. They “exude disdain” for traditional reporters [I’m sure there are anecdotes, but overall this is a straw man. To be an “E.J.” doesn’t require disdain for traditional reporters.]
  5. They have no ethics and will trade money/popularity at the expense of their work. [Straw man]
  6. It’s not as good or guaranteed of a salary/career as journalists used to have [Cry about it]
  7. Jeff Jarvis talks too much [Who cares?]

This bit about Jarvis ends up being the entire second half of the piece. I’ll ignore it since Jarvis is a big boy and can respond himself if he wants. But I will say — while I was never an official “student” of Jeff’s I’ve learned a lot from him. My career has benefited from having him as a resource and mentor.

I think Corey’s intentions were good. When I responded on Twitter, we had a small and polite exchange. Bottom line, he sees himself as trying to protect journalism from snake oil salesmen, people with lots of talk and no walk. That is an admirable goal, even if he targets somebody I would defend from that claim. But in his attempt at this, he seems to attack all “entrepenurial journalists.” Somehow, I felt accused of being un-ethical, having disdain for other reporters, and more.

Why would we throw everyone in this space under the bus?




I agree with some of Corey’s sentiment, but what I wanted to respond with was something like:

We better hope an entrepreneurial journalist figures something out or hope the “shills” take care of us better. Let’s hope no anti-entrepreneurial journalism rants are taken too literally to do any harm.

Again: I don’t think Corey wanted to throw “entrepreneurial journalism” under the bus. Instead, I think he just wanted to write a hit piece on Jarvis and since Jarvis talks about this stuff, there was collateral damage. He is obviously a fan of some entrepreneurial efforts: Spot.Us, Beacon, Byliner. I’m sure he was a fan of Demotix where he was the lead editor for awhile. I’m willing to bet there are others Corey is a fan of. I’m sure he doesn’t think these organizations or its leaders are devoid of ethics, have disdain for tradition or any of the other arguments above.

One of my favorite responses was from Ryan Chittum:

Corey doesn’t like people who coin buzzwords. Neither does Chittum. They have different names for those types of people. Ryan’s colleague Dean Starkman doesn’t like people who think about the future of news or coin buzzwords either. He calls them part of the “Future of News consensus” orFONers for short.

Stop me when you see the irony.

The real heart of the matter

Something to note throughout this piece, I’ve put “entrepreneurial journalism” in quotes most of the time. I hate that term. I hate “journopreneur” as a term. I hate most terms we use today to describe new things in journalism or what I consider myself to be. The tl;dr version of why — these terms are anachronisticThey describe little. We call a chef a chef whether they own their restaurant or not. We might call one an “entrepreneur” but that wouldn’t define their cooking. It just means they have more control over the menu than somebody who works for another chef or owner.

Nobody says: “Honey, let’s stay in and order entrepreneurial cooking today.” And that’s not how readers think about the journalism they consume.

The quibbling that goes on amongst journalists about this stuff feels like internal office politics. The kind of petty bullshit that feels so real and important, but isn’t. Except for the fact that it leads to real consequences of people getting fired and promoted.

I don’t want to pretend this is one-sided either. Like I said above re: disdain for tradition, I see a lot of bullshit preached about how “traditional” journalists “just don’t get it” and I want to raise my hand and ask: “What is it that they don’t ‘get’.” I don’t find that kind of generalization helpful. My experience has been: In traditional organizations, the individuals get everything and very much want to push forward, but the structure of the institutions are often at fault, not individuals.

I’m also not giving everyone a free pass from criticism. What I’m looking for is direct criticism based on the merit of ideas/execution. But criticisms that cast aspersions on entire swaths of people based on the “type” of journalist they are is disheartening. It’s internal “othering.” We should judge somebody based on the content of their work, not what caste we put them in. Some entrepreneurial journalism is bullshit. I’ve called some out. I try to do so diplomatically.

Some traditional reporters are bullshit. Some are great. But we need to get over the idea that “the problem in our industry isn’t people like me…. its them!”

It’s all of us. It’s you reading this, it’s the technologists, it’s the beat reporter. It’s me. If we can all collectively step up and take responsibility for our little roles as stewards of journalism/news, then we can push forward better, faster, stronger, harder.

If all of the old models are failing, and all of the people trying new things can’t be trusted, what’s left? Little more, it seems, than frustrated thinkpieces about the death of journalism.

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The San Francisco Public Press – the news nonprofit that could http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/the-san-francisco-public-press-the-news-nonprofit-that-could http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/the-san-francisco-public-press-the-news-nonprofit-that-could#comments Wed, 25 Jun 2014 21:37:41 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4188 I’m on the board of the San Francisco Public Press. I’ve been associated with them since the beginning and helped raise a ton of money for them while I was running Spot.Us.

They currently have a Kickstarter up. They are past their original goal, but they have an opportunity to make more. If they get to 500 donors (even if the donor just gives $1) the Knight Foundation will contribute 5k over their Kickstarter goal. If they get to 750: they’ll throw in $7,500 and if they get to 1,000 contributors, even if they just give $1- the Knight Foundation will give them $10,000 over their Kickstarter goal.

I have the spare $1, you are thinking to yourself, but I am also giving this blog post side-eyes David. Who are these Public Pressers and why do I care.

The SFPP is, by its very existence, a phenomenon. When I first met Michael Stoll, the Executive Director, and he told me about his plans to start a noncommercial, nonprofit, nonpartisan, newsPAPER – I thought he was crazy. But he went ahead and started it. How could I not join that ride – even if it was just to give my .02 (which sometimes was not in harmony with the SFPP ethos, but they would listen to me nonetheless). He has managed to inspire folks like Lila Lahood (Publisher) to join him in the most contrarian of startups. The SFPP is an interesting experiment and one that bucks the trend. That alone deserves our attention and admiration.

Remember the McSweeny Newspaper stunt, The SF Panaroma. Their cover story was powered by the San Francisco Public Press’ journalism. In fact, almost all of the SFPP’s investigative stories have later turned into front page pieces at the Chronicle or elsewhere. If you are a journalist in SF, you pay attention to what the SFPP writes. They set the agenda. They do the hard work and digging that nobody else does. They know this and don’t toot their horn enough about it. So here I am.

Remember the Bay Citizen? They had an operating budget of $5 million a year. Without going into the details, it didn’t last. And even though it sucked attention and funding away from the SFPP, the nonprofit kept going. They kept doing hard hitting work and…. the organization, which has an operating budget that wouldn’t even support the salary of the Editor in Chief of the Bay Citizen, outlasted the Bay Citizen itself. (CIR absorbed the Citizen).

During that time I wrote about the SFPP (and others like it) as the most efficient means (dollar for dollar) of informing the public.

I see the strength of these players as efficiency. The SF Public Press (disclosure, I’m on the advisory board and Spot.Us has raised money for them on several occasions) is operating on roughly $70,000 this year. That is up from roughly 30k last year.

(NOTE: All of these are 2010 numbers – but the point still stands)

That gives it a burn rate of about $5,800 a month. Average unique visitors is around 12,000 a month. Divide one by the other and and we can crudely say they spend about .48 cents to acquire each reader.

Compare this to The Bay Citizen which has an operating budget of over $5,000,000 a year.

That makes for a burn rate of $400,000 a month. At a booksmith event Lisa Frasier said their traffic was about 175,000 (note: This is probably growing since they are a young organization. This also doesn’t count NY Times traffic).

This means The Bay Citizen spends $2.2 to acquire a reader. Even if we double their traffic numbers, assuming the NY Times brings in another 175,000 unique readers, their cost is $1.1 per reader – still twice that of the SF Public Press.

With this latest project the San Francisco Public Press has a chance to grow. The journalism they do speaks for itself. If there is ever to be a Voice of San Diego, a MinnPost, or a Texas Tribune in the Bay Area – it will be because the San Francisco Public Press scaled up. And this is their chance to do it. And all it will take is $1 from you and 2minutes. Don’t wait – there’s only 6 days left in the campaign.

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A new metric to count in News: The follow – #jcarn http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/a-new-metric-to-count-in-news-the-follow-jcarn http://blog.digidave.org/2014/06/a-new-metric-to-count-in-news-the-follow-jcarn#comments Mon, 23 Jun 2014 14:00:00 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4184 This month’s Carnival of Journalism is hosted by Prof. Jonathan Groves. You can read the full blog post from Jonathan here: What is the best way of measuring meaningful content? 

For this month’s prompt, I [Jonathan] offer two related questions:

  • How do you define meaningful content that has long-lasting value?
  • What is the best way to evaluate content that fosters deep engagement with the audience?

I am cheating a bit by re-blogging (with some a bit of an intro) a post that I wrote for Circa’s blog about this very subject.

The key thing to keep in mind about Circa is that we don’t write “articles” we tell stories. And some of those stories last a long time. A court case could go on for a year or more. The recovery after a natural disaster, a missing airplane, an influenza outbreak, a legislative process, an election. All of these are stories that can go on for weeks, months or longer. And at Circa we create one object at one URL that persists over time for us to track the story as it evolves. Because we atomize news, we are able to present the story differently to somebody who is returning to the story (and wants the latest information) versus somebody who is brand new to the story (and needs to start at the beginning). It’s all about presenting the atoms (the facts, quotes, stats, images, etc) in a different order depending on the reader’s relationship to the story.

And that’s the “follow.” This is the most important thing at Circa. It’s the foundation of our relationship with readers. It’s how we get readers to return (often to the same URL/Story with new info for them) and it’s how we build trust with readers. It’s also something we measure. It’s our metric of how valuable a story is over time and how engaging a story is.

(From the Circa blog post)

“If you hopped into a time machine that spat you out sometime between 1996 and now, you could almost pinpoint the year by the words used to describe an organization’s Web traffic. Hits? That would be 1998 or so. Page views? 2003-2005. Unique visitors? 2006-2007. Odds are that 2008-2009 is going to be the year of ‘time spent,’ as in, ‘an average user spends four minutes and thirty-five seconds on our site.’”

Much has changed since I wrote that for Columbia Journalism Review in April 2008. I applaud efforts that are trying to push the boundaries in what we count and how we count it. The social web has made “sharing” often called “engagement” a new and important metric.

In any case – metrics matter because what you count determines what you sell to advertisers and how you make money.

Engagement, even if we have trouble defining how to measure it, has value either because it bolsters a bottom-line metric (that can be monetized) or because “engagement” helps advance the relationship between the publication and readers. Some in the media space say relationships formed through “engagement” are more valuable than other metrics like “clicks” (eyeballs). If you ask journalism professor and media pundit Jeff Jarvis; journalists are in the relationship business.

So what does it mean to have a relationship with a reader? Can this even be measured?

At Circa we’ve created a unique relationship with readers through the “follow” feature. The feature creates a unique measurement of a story’s performance and it is at the very heart of how we try to serve readers.

The “follow” is a metric of what our readers know

Our “leaderboard” has classic stats based more or less on “eyeballs” but it also includes a “follow” count. We can see how many people have “followed” a story in the last hour, the last 24 hours and how many have unfollowed (happily always our lowest number). The follow count doesn’t represent “eyeballs” to monetize with banner ads but rather relationships. Each follow is a decision by a reader to keep in touch, for us to keep track of what they know and alert them when something new happens they aren’t aware of. From an editorial perspective – that’s valuable information which allows us to serve a reader better. It also lets us know exactly how many devices will be alerted when we update a story. It’s not a theory about what we need to do to make something “engaging” – it’s a number and each number is a unique person that will get the update.

It leads to counterintuitive examples of success. With each push during the week of the Boston Marathon bombing we found a rush of readers come back to the app. But we also found that the time they spent on the app decreased after their first visit. This makes perfect sense, however, since we highlighted the new information and the readers understood that if it wasn’t highlighted – it was information they already knew and didn’t need to spend time on. If we were a publisher that had to monetize time spent, we’d be in trouble and might come up with listicles, “analysis” or other tricks to increase eyeballs and return visits. But if we are an organization that puts value in the ongoing relationship – we are in luck, because we found with every push the reader came back trusting that we would provide just the latest information and wouldn’t waste their time.

To the extent that Circa is an experiment in changing how we deliver news, it has also required us to rethink and experiment with what metrics are of value and why.

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The @HiddenCash Twitter phenomenon is bullshit http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/the-hiddencash-twitter-phenomenon-is-bullshit http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/the-hiddencash-twitter-phenomenon-is-bullshit#comments Fri, 30 May 2014 20:52:51 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4173 In recent weeks the Twitter account @HiddenCash has received several hundred thousand followers. As of writing this, it’s over 345K. And most of the feedback it has received is positive.

I hate to be the old-timey Scrouge to the loveable Scrouge McDuck that is this account, but I think it’s bullshit. Considering the class tensions in San Francisco, this kind of social experiment is not what the city needs. It is tone deaf.

 The Premise

The premise is clever, no doubt. An anonymous rich person hides envelopes of money ($100-$200) and hides them. The Twitter account provides scavenger-type hints and the hunt is on. Find the money, take a photo and spread the word about how awesome @hiddencash is!!

I can’t knock the people looking for the hidden cash. Who doesn’t like money? Who hasn’t thought about finding the pot of gold? Who doesn’t like a fun mystery/hunt and this one with a treasure at the end! Huzzah!

But I do not see this as a social experiment for “good” as it is self-described.

1. The people finding this money benefit, but they aren’t the people in San Francisco who are truly in need.

I can imagine the Onion satire of this account. A hint would read: “Find the latest cash drop under the sleeping homeless person!!!!” (Insert Susie Cagle comic image here. Joke credit Greg Thomas from Circa)

Anyone following this account on Twitter with the free time/energy to go for a wild goose chase to find $100 is probably not somebody who needs the charity in any REAL life/death manner.

This is San Francisco. We have a very real and very serious poverty problem. I find it incredibly sad that this rich individual would throw money away without thinking about where it could make a real impact on a person’s life (*taking a selfie with found money is not a real impact*). Even if this person does already give to established charities (and the I believe that is the case – at least according to the word of an anonymous account) thousands of dollars is literally being thrown away. And while it might be insignificant to them, it could mean the difference between a fulfilling life for those in need.

2. A “Good” act is not for entertainment or to build social media credentials.

The German philosopher Kant argued that a truly good deed has no ulterior motives except to be good itself (or to perform one’s duty).  Similarly he thought that anytime we treat somebody as a means and not an end in themselves – the act is immoral.

At the very least @HiddenCash is spreading the wealth for their own entertainment, not because they want to help people.


An even more malicious interpretation is that @HiddenCash is building up a Twitter account with massive followers to serve his/her own purpose some day in the future. Twitter accounts with 300k followers is worth….. money. Or at the very least power and ego-serving.

Look, I’m not saying this isn’t an interesting experiment. It is. But it’s not an experiment in charity or doing good. Instead, this looks like the experiment of a rich person in SF who is out of touch with what it is to struggle in a city where a class divide is stark and growing.


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Defining Product: The next decade long battle of journalism http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/defining-product-the-next-decade-long-battle-of-journalism http://blog.digidave.org/2014/05/defining-product-the-next-decade-long-battle-of-journalism#comments Thu, 15 May 2014 17:58:34 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4166 The tagline for my blog since roughly 2008 has been: “Journalism is a process, not a product.” I believe in this to my core. Journalism itself is not a product.

When the main product sold was a newspaper – that was not journalism. That was the final product that contained the finished journalism.

Journalism, as many have described before, is the process of collecting, filtering and distributing information with the caveats that the information is true and accurate to the best of one’s ability (and perhaps other caveats of ethically collected, etc). This is why there is truth to the statement “journalism with survive the death of its institutions.” What this captures, is the idea that journalism’s fate is note tied to past products.

I think this mantra: Journalism is a process, not a product, was the defining debate from 2001 – 2010 or perhaps all the way to 2011. But just as the best tenets and practices of “citizen journalism” and “social media” have been absorbed by media companies, a new battle ground has emerged.

“Battle” might be the wrong word. I don’t see this as two-opposing forces colliding – so much as a new frontier that is being explored in the ongoing evolution of journalism and the business of news. It is only a “battle” in the sense that the stakes are high. The companies that “win” will lay claim to the product that will define how journalism is consumed on platforms, be it desktop, mobile, wearables and beyond. 

That’s right: Journalism is a process, not a product, but I think the current frontier for journalism is around product. It started before the New York Time’s “Snowfall,” but that was when minds were blown and flood gates opened. If the New York Times can re-think the product it uses to transmit its journalism – then everyone can.

Questions that become relevant: What is the best product for journalism to be consumed? How does digital not just enable more people to do journalism, how does digital fundamentally question what journalism IS from a consumer’s point of view.

I would argue the “citizen journalism” debate was often mistakenly put in this context (if it is not from a journalism organization, it must not BE journalism to a consumer) but I think history has shown this debate to be false. And it’s not that the new frontier of “product” will make us question whether something “IS” or “IS NOT” journalism, instead it will fundamentally free us up to think through the experience of consuming news and it is here (defining the experience of journalism in digital context) that fortunes will be made. This is where you get Vox, Circa, NowThisNews, Rookie.com, Scroll Kit (now acquired by Automatic) and more.

Historically a journalist didn’t think about product. They focused on the journalism and traded edits back and forth with an editor and/or copy-editor. And eventually the copy, combined with a photo was handed over to somebody in charge of layout. This person was the first in the chain of things to think about product: About what the paper would look and feel like that day. But the reporter was removed from this. They didn’t have to think about it (aside from ego-front page connotations).

Today, journalists have to think about product, because it defines how the journalist goes about their work. The journalism itself is a separate act (a process), but if you know what you are going to produce is a video (product), that certainly steers what direction you will take in your process. While this is an obvious (and not new) example, this kind of product influence is becoming more pervasive and subtle on the front end (the look/feel/function) as well as the back-end (the CMS, workflow and production cycle) as the industry re-thinks what its core consumer experience is. The organizations above (and countless others) are leading the way through product. And it is in the development of their product that they lead the company. It is at the level of product where all stakeholders (design, development, editorial, business) should have a seat at the table. It is by managing these relationships that a company can navigate forward (an entirely different post here about internal leadership through product).

The content must be there too. Make no mistake, journalism is a process – not a product. But we have to ask ourselves – if journalism happens in a forest and nobody consumes it, did it really ever happened? But if you can define the platform experience/product upon which people consume the news, there will be no doubt about the process you went through to produce the news, it would be right there on the “front page.”

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My advice to J-schools: Start a tech reporting class http://blog.digidave.org/2014/03/my-advice-to-j-schools-start-a-tech-reporting-class http://blog.digidave.org/2014/03/my-advice-to-j-schools-start-a-tech-reporting-class#comments Wed, 05 Mar 2014 20:16:52 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4141 I’m adjunct faculty at Poynter this year, so I’ll be writing the occasional piece for them. My second piece is advice to j-schools.

Almost every journalism school either has or intends to revisit what they teach. Even before Knight Foundation’s Eric Newton led the call for a reformation of journalism schools, the momentum was clear: there was going to be educational disruption, and every school needed to position itself as the J-school of the future.

In recent years, much of what has happened falls into two categories: bringing “entrepreneurship into the curriculum” or using the “teaching hospital” metaphor. Both have merits. And the recent Knight education challenge fund administered through ONA is a great way to continue to push boundaries. And in that vein, I want to offer a third option, one that I haven’t seen widely adopted but that I think could bear fruit.

Your J-school should have a technology reporting class.



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Design Thinking and where creation happens http://blog.digidave.org/2014/02/design-thinking-and-where-creation-happens http://blog.digidave.org/2014/02/design-thinking-and-where-creation-happens#comments Mon, 24 Feb 2014 22:03:39 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4135 This month’s Carnival of Journalism asks about Design Thinking and if we’ve used it or how we get our creative juices flowing. Our host is Donica Mensing.

The quick answer to the design thinking question is: Formally. No. I’ve never used “Design Thinking.”

Since I’ve never worked with a professional “design thinker” maybe I’m misinformed, but the majority of what I understand about D-thinking is that it’s market research. Well, it’s slightly better. It’s the TED-talk of market research. And while I do love me some TED talks, they also need more scrutiny. Onion Talks are a perfect satire.

Staunch d-thinking advocates will probably push back on the “market research” label. And I admit, there is much more to the rich tradition of design thinking as a means for designers to solve problems. But I think as D-Thinking’s spread to other disciplines, what translates the most is the idea of sympathy for users and trying to identify their problems. To me, this is market research. It could just be a potato/potato (pronunciation) difference as opposed to apples and oranges.

At least from my observations: Design Thinking doesn’t come up with solutions. It’s just a means to clarify the problem. Post defining the problem, perhaps Design Thinking has a method of clearly exploring potential solutions through sketches, prototypes and mind-mapping, etc. But I don’t think these are specific to Design Thinking. If they are – then who isn’t a design thinker?

My experience with “getting creative juices flowing” is a mix of a few elements. There is the Aha moment. The spidey-sense moment and the ability to pivot. 

The Aha moment: It’s the most adrenaline filled. The initial idea is a spark and the goal during this period is just to take that spark as far as you can. It’s a phase of white board drawings, features upon features and ideas pouring out. The biggest problem with this phase is that  you can come up with features that would take your current resources YEARS or more to execute and it becomes harder to find the initial spark that started it all (which is what you have to execute on now). In short, the Aha moment is the time for dreaming. But you have to wake up and remember the kernel of your dream.  The minimal viable product – that’s what you have at the moment.

The Spidey-sense: In almost every project I’ve worked on, at some point, I get a “spidey-sense” that something is wrong about a specific aspect. The night before Assignment Zero launched, I couldn’t sleep. I knew deep down that one part of the project wasn’t right and wouldn’t work. We had to do a hard pivot in the middle to bring the project to completion. I was young at the time and I only wish now I had spoken up more about my internal spidey-sense. It’s hard to describe the feeling, but I think everyone has it.  I would call it “creative.” It’s your internal voice that tells you: “something new needs to happen here, because the current conditions aren’t working.” You don’t have to act on your spidey-sense ASAP. But you should follow it. Find out if others have that sense and if/how users are experiencing your product and if they have the issue you are imagining (or other issues) This part might also be D-thinking?

The Pivot: This is related to both the Aha moment (cutting down on the excess) and the Spidey-sense (redirecting when you realize things have gone wrong and users have a problem). It’s the low to the Aha’s high. It’s also the release of tension created from your Spidey-sense. It’s how projects iterate and push forward. And it is wholly creative both in that you are re-inventing the project and in the sense that creating anything is also about what you choose NOT to do.

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The CMS of the future – its main output isn’t “articles” http://blog.digidave.org/2014/02/the-cms-of-the-future-its-main-output-isnt-articles http://blog.digidave.org/2014/02/the-cms-of-the-future-its-main-output-isnt-articles#comments Sat, 08 Feb 2014 01:21:43 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4132 I’m adjunct faculty at Poynter this year, so I’ll be writing the occasional piece for them. My first piece is about the Content Management System, the assumptions that are baked into most CMSes, and what it means to re-think those assumptions. How can a CMS work not to produce “articles” but stories that persist over time and have structure. Read more at Poynter.


You sometimes hear what we do at Circa described as “chunkifying” — taking the news and presenting it in mobile-friendly chunks. And while on the surface this observation is correct, it misses the bigger picture.

Yes, each “point” of Circa is a single unit of news — something designated as a fact, quote, statistic, event or image. We thread these points together to tell stories. The end result is succinct and allows us to track which points a reader has consumed, powering our unique “follow” feature.

But I often respond to talk of chunkifying by pointing out that what we’re really doing at Circa is adding structure to information — and it could be the most powerful thing we do. Indeed, there’s an increasing amount of discussion around “atoms” of news. But the interesting thing about those atoms of news isn’t that they’re short — that’s another surface observation. The interesting thing is how those atoms combine.

The assumed output of a reporter is the “article.” That’s what reporters are supposed to produce during their work day, and it’s the default unit by which journalists organize their data. There’s plenty of information in the text that’s produced, but how much of that information is structured? In a typical content management system (CMS) you’ll find a headline field, a main text field, information about the article’s creator, a date of its creation and maybe a field for some meta-tags — usually basic nouns — included as an afterthought, often for SEO purposes.

If I just described 90 percent of the CMSes you’ve used, read on. (Full article at Poynter).

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The pull of technology, the push of entrepreneurship – using Willy Wonka as a metaphor http://blog.digidave.org/2014/01/the-pull-of-technology-the-push-of-entrepreneurship-using-willy-wonka-as-a-metaphor http://blog.digidave.org/2014/01/the-pull-of-technology-the-push-of-entrepreneurship-using-willy-wonka-as-a-metaphor#comments Fri, 10 Jan 2014 23:40:37 +0000 http://blog.digidave.org/?p=4109  What tech-utopianists posit is a world where institutions that were organized during the industrial age get re-structured for the information age.

Such a fundamental shift tickles the imagination. Pick any industry, cultural norm, social activity and re-imagine how it would function when the cost of sharing information is negligible and you have the ability to find like-minded people instantly. With the “internet of things” it is very much at your fingertips.

At its best, innovation expressed through entrepreneurship is a form of cultural critique. They are projects that take us one step closer to the new structure of institutions.

I like to think this is what I did with Spot.Us and doing with Circa.*

An entrepreneur in this way is a kind of renaissance person. They aren’t just building a company or website (or chocolate factory), they are making a statement about the world and we should hope it’s a refined, informed and well rounded statement. All code is political, all platforms define something about the purpose of the content it creates.  

This is why, when Zuckerberg says anything about privacy, even in passing, people take pause. We intrinsically know that as much as Facebook is a company, it is also a critique, a kind of statement about how things should be according to its engineers. Zuckerberg has control of the elevator and can push any button to take it in any direction he wants.

I think BitCoin may be the greatest technological critique of 2013. It is the Napster of capitalism. Even if it does not succeed – the genie is out of the bag. The critique has been made and understood. Society takes a step forward.

Of course for every utopia there is a dystopia. 

Technology companies in this view are a result of a bubbled industry. They rely on a temporal advantage of having knowledge of a relatively obscure skill (coding) to produce simple services. What do they do with this position of power?

I have seen the best of my generation spend their energy trying to create the next Angry Birds. 

Haters gonna hate, right? Well, I say kudos to those who are successful. To the creator of Dots, my hat is off (and please send me $20, I know you can afford it). But you cannot in good conscious turn around and hold the position that you’ve made a contribution to society. At best you’ve entertained people. But we have no shortage of entertainment and Dots doesn’t push the boundary anymore than Tetris did in 1984.

Too many startups aren’t interested in really pushing boundaries so much as a quick exit and there are few checks against their ability to do this. There is little passion or aim. And technologists wonders why there is a class clash happening in San Francisco.

Now I don’t want to be the judge of what startups are making a cultural critique and which are utterly pointless. We get into gray territory when we examine the copycat startups (We are X for Y: i.e.: “We are Uber for dry cleaning!”) where it’s debatable if they are critiquing an institution – or just shipping code quickly to corner a market. I’d argue it’s often the latter – but the point of this post is not to point fingers but to think through a general dividing issue.

What is the value of entrepreneurship and the San Francisco culture where it is seemingly bred? Are we the sages, the explorers going out ahead of the rest trying new and interesting things, leaving signs along our trail for the rest of society to follow? Are we “the music makers and we are the dreamer of dreams”?  Or are we merely the pillagers, gun-slingers making our own rules until civilization catches up? What we undertake could be the “egregious exploitation of technology and individual’s hopes for a better world for the sake of personal financial gain.” (credit) 


*Spot.us was partly a comment to the larger journalism community. A way to say: Hey, let’s fundamentally re-think the flow of money in our industry. Here’s what it looks like if we make it more transparent and more participatory. Discuss…..

Circa is making a different kind of critique: Hey, what happens when we re-think assumptions about “articles” as the default and finite container for news. Discuss…..

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