Digital Newsroom Wireframes Available

    by Anthony Pesce
    February 26, 2009

    I’m happy to announce the availability of annotated wireframes for the Digital Newsroom portion of the Populous Project. The functionality, as eloquently described by Gary Kebbel at the Center for Future Civic Media Conference, is being able to “edit from the beach.” I’ll never forget that description because it elegantly describes the core of what we’re trying to accomplish with this software: allowing editors and reporters to get out of the office and into the communities they’re covering more often.

    At UCLA we’ll probably have to forgo the beach and just attend class more often, or after 10 hours of work leave the newsroom and finish from home. But there’s also a lot more to it. The vast majority of collegiate editors I’ve spoken to over the past year said a large impediment to their ability to plan and manage a collegiate newsroom effectively is something to connect a bunch of busy editors outside of the office.

    For example, as the editor of the UCLA Daily Bruin I manage 10 departments and am tasked (with a great deal of help) with making sure 40 plus editors can communicate and coordinate their content on a daily basis. The result is a File Maker Pro dump for our story planning, three whiteboards for our photo planning, a whiteboard to plan our sports coverage, a whiteboard to plan our multimedia content, a whiteboard for story ideas, a few whiteboards for copy tips, a whiteboard for video coverage, a few google docs few people have access to, dozens of email threads, and countless thousands loose sheets of paper.


    If that seems like too much to keep track of it is. We also have daily meetings to tie it all together, and somewhere in there we try to foster video and multimedia convergence efforts. The bottom line is that our system doesn’t work as well as I need it to. We need a way to see everything at once, neatly tie it together, and collaborate in real time in and out of the office. And we’re not alone, because there is currently no free and easy way of accomplishing this that is specifically tailored to a college newsroom.

    Two weeks from now we should have a working prototype of the Digital Newsroom, the part of the Populous Project that will solve the issues I’m talking about in this post. At the start of UCLA’s next academic quarter on March 30th the Daily Bruin will be using it full time to plan our content and collaborate. It will also be released open source for anyone to take, add to, and adopt.

    I’ve written about the conceptual foundation of this software before, so rather than getting into a detailed description of what it does I’ll let interested parties take a look at the wireframes. Something I do want to note, however, is that the Digital Newsroom is not specifically designed to support copy flow. Editing versions of stories is something we would love to be able to accomplish, but just is not in the scope of this project. Instead, we’re offering a suite of features that can be used to plan and coordinate almost anything that would appear in a newspaper.


    Some of the things it will do:

    • Plan stories, photos, graphics, video, and anything else.
    • Link coordinated content
    • Integrate a staff list
    • Notify reporters when they have an assignment
    • Allow the newsroom to post editable documents and files
    • Allow comments on any entry to facilitate collaboration

    In the future, once we have a usable demo, I plan on doing a screen cast and writing a post that will incorporate that as well as a few nice screenshots of the product. For now please keep in mind that the wireframe is to demonstrate functionality and not design, and that the final product will be fully skinable.

    Follow me on Twitter @anthonyjpesce and visit my blog at www.anthonyjpesce.com.

    Tagged: college media collegiate newspapers community news network populous
    • I’ll be holding you to that screencast… :)

    • Ben

      “It will also be released open source for anyone to take, add to, and adopt.”

      What license will you be releasing it under? What technologies is it built on?

    • @Daniel: I’ve promised my staff a screencast as well, so you should be seeing one in the next few weeks.

      @Ben: It’s under a BSD license, built on the Django framework.

    • Does this plug into the CMS component?

    • @Greg: We’re seeing if we can make it appear as a tab in the CMS admin, but if we can’t do that it will be separate. Is that what you meant?

    • I have been working with similar problems in the past few years working for news21. I also applied for Knight funding with very similar goals as populous, http://code.google.com/p/django-newsroom/ .

      Couple things that strike me looking at the wireframes:

      1) No cms integration. This is a major thing and should not be overlooked. One huge problem we had with people working in separate systems is they get confused as to where to go for what … everything looks different. It is very important for this technical problem to get solved. One login and one system that hooks into everything the journalist needs, all the online tools in one place. This is a huge selling point.

      2) Release early and release often is your friend. I don’t know what the development process is like but I recommend not doing wireframes as much as running real code and seeing how the journalists use the system and what they react to. You mention that the system is fully skinnable. That is not as important as the default skin being very user friendly. So my experience has shown me that time is better spent on working code than on static wireframes. Otherwise assumptions are made and time is wasted going in the wrong direction. I’m making some assumptions here about your process, but hope this helps.

      3) No dashboard. So there looks to be many moving parts and places to interact with the digital newsroom. There is a “post login” screen but there needs to exist one screen that displays the history of the user and activities that they should be interested in and following. Including all objects they have created or edited in they system, topics they are subscribed to, or discussion posts they have contributed to, etc.. a digital news rooms needs to be as alive as a real newsroom. This is another thing of upmost importance to help the stressed journalist not get sidetracked from whatever part of their story they are investigating. Think Google Chrome’s default page that gets displayed when you open a new tab. This is what I am referring to as a dashboard, not sure if populous has an equivalent.

      4) No chat. As lovely as all the project managing stuff is, one killer feature that it all comes down to is real-time chat. When it comes down to the wire, the journalist has a question or some critical issue and should be able to communicate via chat, especially if the issue is something techinical. Every project I have ever worked on has always in its final lap come down to me holding someone’s hand through something technical. You might say that is what phone is for, but chat actually works better. Because the key is posting links, when people are working online together they point to things by pasting links. You can’t do this with a phone and now with jabber and lots of python code out there is no reason a web based chat should be left out. http://delicious.com/milo/chat

      So this project is obviously very exciting to me. I hope to help however I can.

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