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.

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