Starting from scratch, where would you start?

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Last Friday was my last day as program director of DocumentCloud, a catalog of primary source documents and a tool for annotating, organizing and publishing them on the web. I’ve got a few more talks lined up (I’ll be showing off DocumentCloud at SEJ in Miami and talking about our work at MobilityShifts), and I’ll still be part of DocumentCloud’s advisory group, but it was time to hand the reins over to the (very capable) staff at IRE. For my next trick, I’m helping get a new accountability journalism project off the ground.

I’ve been thinking, as I navigate this new project, about a couple of good questions.

Real Collaboration

One is this: What does an honest collaboration between bloggers and reporters look like? Local bloggers are a great source of story leads, but they deserve at least a nod of gratitude when their footwork yields a real report. Take a look at Miss Heather’s roundup on New York Shitty of unattributed reporting if you don’t believe me.

I’m not convinced that traditional media is refusing to enter the link economy. I suspect that traditional media is intensely competitive and the creative legwork of reading some blogs doesn’t get you the credibility in the edit meeting that pulling a story out of thin air gets you. But I don’t know that.

I do know that neighborhood blogs are a great resource, spot some great stories, and often don’t dig past a post or two. So they’re ripe grounds for finding leads worth following up on. Giving local blogs credit when you take a lead of theirs and run with it is a great first step, but could we do more?

Starting from Scratch

Another is this: We’re starting from scratch. Where do we find the balance between building the perfect content management system and overbuilding? I don’t think the CMS in general is broken, outright, but the news CMS? Broken.

Erik Hinton, TPM’s technical fellow, has been writing about the problem and taunting us with tales of Baroque, which not just anyone can use. (Or is Baroque available in the wild?)

Journalism is different from blogging, but most days we’re trying to squeeze a news CMS out of blogging software. News organizations have data to map and documents to annotate. Every story has context, and when we hit our stride, old stories will start to have followups and new stories will have histories. Our work will be reproduced, reprinted and translated, and we want readers to be able to find those conversations and read those translations. Stories are updated and corrected: We’d like to be responsible and show those changes. As our archives grow, we want people to be able to navigate them without frustration.

So I’m wondering, if you were starting your newsroom’s website from scratch today, how would you do it?

Image courtesy of flickr user mujalifah.