[I'm going back to the proverbial drawing board for ReportingOn, working with the development and design team at Lion Burger to build the next iteration of the backchannel for your beat from scratch, more or less. Here's some of what we're talking about in front of the whiteboard...]
I've been pitching ReportingOn using the same set of phrases for more than a year now, but until I sat down with my new development team earlier this month, it hadn't occurred to me that the entire scope of the project was actually encapsulated in those little slogans.
"It's the backchannel for your beat."
What's a backchannel? What's a beat?
"...for journalists of all stripes."
What's a journalist? Which stripes?
This is the shorthand I used when we started talking about who we're building this network for, and how we hope they use it.
It's a place where you can connect with people behind the scenes. Think of an IRC channel (or Twitter hashtag) for a conference, or a message board full of photojournalists critiquing each other's work, or even truck drivers connecting via CB radio to talk about road conditions and speed traps.
We just see the trucks rolling down the highway; we don't hear the conversation.
(Unless we listen in via our own radio, an analogy that I'll have to extend in a later post...)
So in the case of ReportingOn, a backchannel is a place for people to connect based on common interests or needs.
In the most traditional newspaper sense of the word, a beat is the topical or geographical area a journalist covers. In a university town, a reporter might cover higher education. A neighborhood blogger might consider a radius of a few blocks their geographical beat. Connecting journalists covering similar topical beats across all barriers and borders remains one of the key goals of ReportingOn.
This is always a tough one. If we're going to invite professionals and so-called amateurs to collaborate, it's important to decide where to set the barrier to participate. I like asking the question "Where do you publish?" because it implies that the user has some intent to share information or ideas with others. But what about readers? Are they welcome here? The answer -- for now -- is probably not, but a different track of development could easily lead to a space for journalist/reader interaction. A more pressing concern, given the interest expressed by public relations practitioners in the project, is how much access to give potential sources to the network of journalists.
"...of all stripes":
Defining the stratified, almost hierarchical layers of journalists has been a critical step in forming expectations about who might actually use this thing. Here are a few of the types of journalists we might expect to show up:
- Specialized reporters at national news organizations
- Beat reporters at major metro news organizations
- Small town community reporters
- Topical bloggers
- Neighborhood bloggers
Which journalists on this list are most likely to ask for help or offer it to a peer? That's the sort of question we're asking to help determine how big a role some sort of 'karma' function should play in the application. When I mentioned Stack Overflow in an earlier IdeaLab post, my mind wasn't just on news commenting systems, but on how to rate and reward ReportingOn users as a motivational tool.
With these definitions in hand we're moving on to writing up use cases and narrative ideas about how these users might interact with the information on the site and each other. That's the step that will get us close to making a list of actual development tasks to be completed. And that's what's next.