ReportingOn: Phrased in the Form of a Question

    by Ryan Sholin
    March 26, 2009

    When I last wrote here to report on ReportingOn progress, I talked about the work I was doing with my development and design team to define the terms of the RO pitch.

    A dozen or so whiteboards later, the Lion Burger team is actively putting together mockups and the beginnings of the database for what we’re calling “Phase 2” of the project.

    And it’s a huge rethinking of what a “back channel for your beat” looks like. While it’s been easy to tag the initial version of ReportingOn as simply “Twitter for journalists,” journalists already have a Twitter. It’s called Twitter. And the goal was never to create a database of journalists working a certain beat for the benefit of public relations practitioners and social media managers, although that unintended use certainly has a few influential folks interested.


    No, the goal was always to give journalists — whether they’re a neighborhood blogger or the Baghdad bureau chief at the Washington Post — a place to ask questions about what they’re reporting on.

    The shift that we’re making is a move from asking “What are you reporting on?” to asking “What do you need to know about what you’re reporting on?

    That’s where influences like Stack Overflow come into play. What’s the best way to organize and surface questions from journalists about a given topic? That’s a question ReportingOn (Phase 2) hopes to answer.


    In my post about Michele Ellson and The Island of Alameda I heard an important question, or at least a great example of the problem we’re hoping to help solve.

    Michele was answering my question about advice for other journalists with thoughts about covering their own neighborhood online, when she wrote this:

    “I’ve found covering local news to be a lot more challenging than I expected, and in some respects a little more challenging than covering an issue beat. For one, you have to be able to speak intelligently on everything from education policy to municipal finance to, in my case, environmental cleanup issues.” [emph. mine]

    Although it’s a different path — former beat reporter turns general assignment blogger — than we might expect, Michele eloquently voices a need: She’s working a new beat, and she has questions about issues that are new to her.

    But those issues might not be new to you. Think you can answer her questions?

    I’ll be looking for newsrooms and individuals to help test Phase 2 of ReportingOn soon. If you’re interested, let me know.

    Tagged: bloggers neighborhood networking questions reporting reportingon social networks
    • Ah, I think this gets closer to something really useful: finding ways for people to share knowledge intelligently.

      Part of the challenge, to paraphrase a former defense secretary, is that we don’t know what we don’t know. More than that, we don’t always know what we know.

      A few months ago, I was working a Saturday shift with a reporter recently relocated to the education beat. We started talking about sources and where to find data and how to make sense of NCLB and API indexes (a particularity of California) and I started to realize how much I’d learned covering schools for two years in a completely different community. I’d just never been asked to lay it all out. On the other side of the coin, I pretty much learned Django by mining community knowledge on the users group listserve and asking dumb questions of smart people.

      Finding a way to structure those kinds of conversations, from both a technical and cultural standpoint, could be enormously useful.

      This is a long way of saying, nice work!

    • Chris, do you have any idea how often I use “new education reporter” in my examples? It’s like you’re reading the whiteboards…

      The *question* in that reporter’s case, is something like “Hi, I’m new to the education beat here in Santa Cruz, and the API scores just came out. Anyone have a good idea of how to translate this data?”

      And with any luck at all, that reporter would at the very least self-identify as a reporter on the education beat, or s/he would tag the question as “education” where another reporter with more experience dealing with that API data might find it.

      Motivating that reporter with all the answers to participate might seem a little more difficult, but along with a moderate dependence on an individual’s altruism, we’re also counting on their ego to get involved. And maybe they’ll get cute little badges, too. We’ll see…

    • That’s funny, I often say we can’t build a business model on altruism and ego, but I guess this isn’t trying to be a business. Or maybe I’m just wrong. It happens.

      This culture of helping each other out, mutual benefit, rising tide lifting all boats and such, seems to be the key. Every time I ask a dumb question on the Django listserve, someone far smarter answers it, without even calling me a moron. It’s astounding sometimes. And always humbling. Might be worth asking about it next time I see one of the core developers.

    • Why not just a forum?

    • @Peter — While conventional forums and message boards powered by free open-source software can be great places to bang around ideas, ReportingOn will have some more modern features that should make it more useful to journalists looking for information about a narrow set of topics.

      For example, that hypothetical education reporter in the comment thread on this post might stop by the site once a day and check on the beats she’s watching, which can be as specific as the users of the site make them. So maybe she’d watch “education” and “API scores” and “standardized testing” beats, plus a few people who often post good answers to questions on the education beat.

      Or maybe she’d subscribe to e-mail notifications or (possibly) even Twitter direct messages for all the answers posted on her own question about the API scores.

      Or maybe she’ll search for questions about API scores, find a reporter who posted a good answer to a similar question a few days ago, contact them privately, and end up forging a relationship with a new mentor for her career.

      Maybe a forum can do some of these things, but not in a way (and with UI) that makes me want to ever show up in one, post anything, or follow up on the answers.

      What about you?

    • My wariness of forums has more to do with the quality of the advice dispensed than any deficiencies in the UI.

      If you can crack that, you’re in.

    • @Peter — Cracking that is definitely the goal.

      We’ll have some basic authority/reliability measures built in, so that a journalist who provides “good answers” to questions from their peers will be noticed, floating to the top of beat pages, and generally walking around with some big happy numbers, colors, and badges attached to them.

      Is that the sort of system that’s been easily gamed at places like Digg? Maybe. But if ReportingOn has a large enough userbase and people love it so much that they want to find ways to artificially inflate their own authority, that sounds like a good problem to have, and one that we’ll address if it comes up.

    • An ambitious and worthy goal Ryan. For me tinged with nostalgia harking back to the halcyon days of Final Cut Pro 1.0 and the first iteration of 2-pop.com.

      The reasons that 2-pop failed were I think 3 fold:

      1. Other resources started appearing providing more reliable/accessible/concise info. Many of these from the original 2-pop crew, turning away from “attaboys” towards $$$.
      2. The questions became more repetitive.
      3. The answers became less reliable, as an increasing number of attention seekers were drawn to parrot answers they had read without understanding what they were talking about.

      All contributing to a situation where the noise to signal ratio rendered the “free” resource way too expensive.

      All the best in yr endeavor.

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