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Digital Innovation: ReportingOn.com

May 1, 2010

“One part of our media universe is becoming far more robust than it’s ever been: the discussion part of the media, the part in which people get to interact and comment on the news,” media analyst Tom Rosenstiel said during a speech in November 2009.

Ryan Sholin has taken this development one step further: fostering discussion among journalists themselves at his award-winning project Reporting On. The director of news innovation at Publish2, Sholin founded Reporting On as a discussion-based site where journalists could pose questions about stories they’re working on. Fellow journalists respond to offer tips, sources, and their own experiences working on similar topics. By sharing their resources, the site aims to allow journalists to add context to their stories and find out if their topic is part of a broader trend.

As a concept, it’s brilliant. Crowdsourcing is becoming an ever more important strategy for journalists to discover sources and stories – so why not crowdsource other journalists? Reporters have always depended on input from their fellow newsroom staffers on how to approach certain stories or deal with a specific source. Opening up the pool of knowledge by using the Internet’s vast social networking ability is the next logical step. Furthermore, I feel that we’re seeing a lot more freelance journalists, due to news organizations cutting back and the ability to work remotely, and the site can give them the support and community their newsroom previously would have provided.

Journalists by their very nature love learning and sharing information, especially about their work. I think the project will certainly succeed. The site in its current form has been up since July 2009, with 90 questions posted as of May 1, 2010. New questions appear on average about once a week; as more people learn about the site, I’m sure discussion will increase. Especially pleasing is the fact that the site isn’t just for English language journalists – many questions are written in Spanish or Portuguese. Journalism is practiced all over the world, and more stories have global implications than ever before. It’s only fitting that a journalism community should be welcoming to all journalists.

I do think the site could use some improvement in its design. The questions are pretty easy to navigate, but their layout mildly reminds me of Yahoo Answers – not a comparison a serious site wants to make. I’m also not quite sure what the large grey number in the upper right of the question boxes signifies. I think it might be referring to the number of people “watching” the question for an answer, or perhaps the number of “points” the question has received – but it’s never explained and I don’t know what the points mean, either.

Finally, although I like the idea of letting people post with their avatars, the truth is that most people still don’t bother with avatars online. This leads to long columns of the same default image, making it look like only a couple people are actually using the site. Until avatar use becomes more widespread, I think sites like Sholin’s should avoid generating a default image if the user hasn’t uploaded one. It looks like more and more journalists are using Reporting On – and the site design should certainly reflect that.

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3 comments

  1. You raise some good points here. Publish2 is a really great resource, but you’re right about it looking like Yahoo! Answers. Could use some work.

    But all in all, it seems as if these innovative Web sites are mostly here to save journalists time — to help them out in their search for story ideas and their reporting process — and Publish2 does just that.


  2. Reporting On does indeed look like a very useful site for journalists, and one that takes good advantage of the Internet. You make a good point about the need for Reporting On in an age of freelance journalism – feedback, comments and suggestions from one’s reporting peers are always helpful, and I can see how Reporting On could sit in for the camaraderie of the newsroom (or journalism classroom).


  3. Karen and Laura, I really like emphasizing the point of creating a sort of digital newsroom with this website. Fictional Baltimore Sun city editor Gus Haynes from “The Wire” said in one episode that a healthy newsroom is a “magical place where people argue about everything, all the time.” With newsrooms downsizing and scores of journalists left without somewhere to discuss (or argue about) ideas, Reporting On seems like a viable, if imperfect, solution.



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