I’m honored to be selected as one of the inaugural AP-Google Journalism and Technology Scholarship fellows for the 2012-13 academic school year, and am excited to begin work on my project, LedeHub.
I believe in journalism’s ability to better the world around us. To fully realize the potential of journalism in the digital age, we need to transform news into a dialogue between readers and reporters. LedeHub does just that, fostering collaborative, continuous and open journalism while incorporating elements of crowdsourcing to allow citizens, reporters and news organizations to come together in unprecedented ways.
LedeHub in Action
Here’s a potential case study: “Alice” isn’t a journalist, but she loves data and can spot the potential for a story amid the rows and columns of a CSV file. She comes across some interesting census data illustrating the rise of poverty in traditionally wealthy Chicagoland suburbs, but isn’t quite sure how to use it, so she points her browser to www.ledehub.com. She creates a new story repository called “census-chicago-12,” tags it under “Government Data,” and commits the numbers.
Two days later, “Bob” — a student journalist with a knack for data reporting — is browsing the site and comes across Alice’s repository. He forks it and commits a couple paragraphs of analysis. Alice sees Bob’s changes and likes where he’s headed, so she merges it back into her repository, and the two continue to collaborate. Alice works on data visualization, and Bob continues to do traditional reporting, voicing the story of middle-class families who can no longer afford to send their children to college.
A few days later, a news outlet like the Chicago Tribune sees “census-chicago-12” and flags it as a promising repository — pulls it, edits, fact-checks and publishes the story, giving Alice and Bob their first bylines.
As you can see, LedeHub re-imagines the current reporting and writing workflow while underscoring the living nature of articles. By representing stories as “repositories” — with the ability to edit, update, commit and revert changes over time — the dynamic nature of news is effectively captured.
Fostering Open-Source Journalism
My proposal for LedeHub is to adapt the tenets of Git — a distributed version control system — and appropriate its functionality as it applies to the processes of journalism. I will implement a web application layer on top of this core functionality to build a tool for social reporting, writing and coding in the open. This affords multiple use cases for LedeHub, as illustrated in the case study I described above — users can start new stories, or search for and contribute to stories already started. I’d like to mirror the basic structure of GitHub, but re-appropriate the front end to cater to the news industry and be more reporter-focused, not code-driven. That said, here’s a screenshot of the upcoming LedeHub repository on GitHub (to give you a general idea of what the LedeHub dashboard might look like):
Each story repository may contain text, data, images or code. The GitHub actions of committing (adding changes), forking (diverging story repositories to allow for deeper collaboration and account for potential overlap) and cloning will remain analagous in LedeHub. Repositories will be categorized according to news “topics” or “areas” like education or politics. Users — from citizens to reporters or coders — will have the ability to “watch” different story repositories they are interested in and receive updates when changes to that story are made. Users can also comment on different “commits” for a story, offering their input or suggestions for improvement. GitHub offers a “company” option, which allows for multiple users to be added to the organization, a feature I would like to mimic in my project for news outlets, in addition to Google Code’s “issues” feature.
I recognize that the scope of my project is ambitious, and my current plan is to segment implementation into iterations — to build an initial prototype to test within one publication and expand from there.
Journalism needs to become more open, like the web. Information should be shared. The collaboration between the New York Times and the Guardian over WikiLeaks data was very inspiring, two “competing” organizations sharing confidential information for publication. With my project, LedeHub, I hope to foster similar transparency and collaboration.
So, that’s the proposal. There’s still a lot to figure out. For example, what’s the best way to motivate users to collaborate? What types of data can be committed? What copyright issues need to be considered? Should there be compensation involved? Fact-checking? Sound off. I’d love to hear your thoughts.
Editor’s Note: Katie hopes to launch LedeHub by June 2013, but a firm launch date is not yet set.
Katie Zhu is a junior at Northwestern University, studying journalism and computer science, and is particularly interested in human-computer interaction, data visualization and interaction design. She has previously interned at GOOD in Los Angeles, where she helped build GOOD’s mobile website. She continues development work part-time throughout the school year, and enjoys designing and building products at the intersection of news and technology. She was selected as a finalist in the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership in 2011.