Maybe your site should be home to a Studio 20 project

by Jay Rosen, Director of Studio 20

Studio 20 at NYU is a graduate program in journalism that thinks project-based learning is the best way to teach students about the hard work of innovation. This post explains to potential collaborators why they might want to work with us. That is, why they might want to hand a problem in innovation over to one of our people. 

More than 20 editorial sites have done just that since 2010; maybe yours should too. We’re looking for possible partners now for projects that would officially start in September, 2012, but could also begin with a (paid) summer internship, if you were so inclined.

We dispense with cliches like “Why didn’t the news industry invent Facebook?” and plunge our diversely-talented students into real world projects where they can test their ideas against all the practical constraints that make it hard to do new things in journalism. Of course they also learn why it is necessary to do new things in journalism.  You can find a fuller description of this approach here.

A key part of the program unfolds in the students’ third and final semester. Working with a media partner (that’s where you might come in) they each have to design and execute on their own project in innovation. Sort of like a consulting gig, but no money changes hands. Our currency… is good problems.

Meaning: some new and improved thing your site should be doing, or could be doing, but isn’t doing now, probably because it’s difficult to pull people off the production schedule to figure out the best approach.

Here’s a simple example of a project from 2010. We considered this a “good problem.”

Amir Shoucri developed a video component for the New York Observer’s website.  This included creating a signature “Observer” visual style, devising a workflow for posting video, and producing a variety of original video content. Here’s an example of a feature posted on the home page.

Studio 20 graduate students are trained to understand the partner’s editorial strategy and business model first. They then conduct an extensive best practices search, asking “who’s doing something like this now?” In that search they do not limit themselves to other news or information sites; they look across the entire digital landscape. They also look at your competitors.

You don’t have to teach them to use existing tools and services whenever possible; they already know that. They understand the connection between keeping costs low and being able to try stuff, iterate and improve. They’re not programmers—they’re new media journalists—but they will have absorbed the principles of agile development. They’re always thinking about user engagement as well as quality journalism.

They know they have to deliver. They know they have to meet your quality bar. They know the work must be useful to your organization. When they graduate they want to make change happen in newsrooms and help solve problems in adapting journalism to the digital age. Can you use someone like that?

Their projects last for one semester (always in the fall) so they have to study the problem, do their research, design an approach, test it, troubleshoot, execute, finish and present the work by December 15— all while coordinating closely with the partner. These projects are one third of their academic program, or about 15 hours a week. Minus class time that’s about 160 person-hours devoted to the project: the equivalent of 4 weeks of a full-time staffer.

A few more examples from 2011:

Ruth Spencer explored how data literacy is emerging as a necessary journalistic skill. She created The Datamaster for Jim Brady, Editor in Chief of Journal Register Company. The Datamaster is a comprehensive plan for how Journal Register can integrate data resources across its network; it includes a corporate strategy and staff training guide.

Niel Bekker helped manage and produce social gaming content for the Huffington Post. For Studio III, he is produced an original newsgame that addresses the inefficiencies of game development in an online news environment. 

Chelsea Stark partnered with Forbes to explore how to make online video a better return on investment. She focused on optimizing its video content for search and social spaces and built up its online contributor network. She also created guides and repeatable work flows to allow Forbes to repeat these processes in the future.

Todd Olmstead collaborated with Mashable to grow engagement through their comments. Mashable already has a highly active commenting community, and Todd’s goal was to optimize the quality contributions that these readers make on the site

What makes a good Studio 20 project?

* The partner is a news organization, a journalism non-profit, an editorial company or a news start-up. (Advertising, marketing and PR firms are not eligible. Consulting firms might be.)

* The project involves innovation in some way. Dead simple definition: something you’re not doing now but should be doing.

* The project is both “big” and “small.” Small and contained enough to be completed within the time frame (Sep. to Dec.) and with about 160 hours of hard work. But “big” in the sense of strategically important to the site, or containing within it challenging problems, the solution to which would be great to have. 

* If successful the finished work will be become part of how the site operates. Meaning: no routine content production, please! Better: a new routine.

* Also: this is not an internship. It’s a project. However, the work is done for course credit. The students are enrolled in a graduate workshop taught by Jay Rosen that serves as a brain trust and feedback loop. They have to present their work 3 to 4 times to this peer group with instructor. This keeps them on track. We also hire technical consultants to that class to make up for skills the students may lack.

* Sometimes the projects start with a summer internship, which allows the student to get to know your operation and work out with you what a good Fall project would be. This is our recommended approach.

* There is no dollar cost, but there are attention costs: supervision time, planning meetings and an approval process. Partners should be prepared for that. This is not a “set it and forget it” thing. However, we do respect your time and when there is a meeting our people are hyper-prepared. 

* We’re most interested in partners in the New York City area because there is no substitute for in-person coordination. However, we are open to partners elsewhere. In 2011 one of the projects was based at a news site in Egypt.

We currently have ten students looking for projects for Fall, 2012. Some of their interests are described below. But we are also open to partners who have “good problems” to work on, or a nifty project in mind, regardless of whether it coincides with the ideas you find here.

If you think you might want to work with us, just email me: jr3[at] Here’s our current group…

Silva Shah: Multimedia journalist with international business reporting background, interested in how to make business coverage more useful and how to use data visualization, social games or any other interactive way to refresh coverage’s templates. Specialized in Processing (Java-based programming), data analysis and Adobe Creative Suite.

Tracy Levy: Especially interested in news coming out of the Middle East as well as issues of human rights and social justice. After working for 2 years for an Israeli newspaper, she is looking for a partner that wants to engage with users on a new level surrounding the debate over what is happening in that region. She is especially interested in photo and video journalism. 

Patrice Peck: Would like to develop or improve upon the online multimedia strategy for an online publication or media company, ideally one targeted towards a black female audience.

Laura Edwins is interested in working with a beat reporter to build a network of contacts and community contributors. She would like the focus of her project to be extremely narrow, to hone in on one reporter, one beat, one hyper-local look at networked journalism.

Khwezi Magwaza is especially interested in pop culture and finding new ways to engage young people in current affairs.

Katherine Patke wants to use social media to create crowd-sourced, women’s magazine-style content that is open to all readers of all sizes and ages. She would love to partner with an online publication or magazine web staff that is either a woman-specific publication or similar vertical within the site.

Tando Ntunja - a bi-lingual mobile tech enthusiast - is interested in collaborating with an online news media partner to build South Africa’s first indigenous language tech news service. Having worked as a bilingual national radio journalist for three years before starting at Studio 20, Tando speaks, writes and translates fully in English and isiXhosa: South Africa’s most widely distributed language.

Ana Maria Benedetti: Multimedia journalist with a background in immigration. Especially interested in combining video and data visualization in order to create a more complete understanding of immigration issues in the US. Specialty in Processing (Java-based programming), data analysis, Adobe Creative Suite and Final Cut Studio. 

Yoo Eun Lee is focused on international news (especially Asia), video production, and news games.

Nadja Popovich wants to use digital tools to foster public discourse and engage users across platforms. She’s especially interested in data projects and explanatory journalism. 

First Year Studio 20-er Anjali Mullany Makes Moves

Anjali Mullany, part of the first Studio 20 class back in 2009-10 has made her mark on the media world already. She’s been a major driver behind the New York Daily News’ push into social media for the past two years. Now, she’s making the jump to Fast Company. We caught up with Anjali while she has a bit of down time for a quick chat about social media innovation in journalism.

So, you got a job with the Daily News right out of Studio 20. How’d you manage that?

Actually, I got the job while I was still a Studio 20 student! At the end of my first semester, our Studio 20 professor Jason Samuels brought Scott Cohen, the executive editor of New York Daily News Digital, to our class. He had really interesting things to say about online news, and I decided to study what the Daily News was doing with social media. And they weren’t doing much yet, so I wrote a social media strategy specifically for them—workflow, projections, etc.—and went to Scott’s office to pitch it to him. Scott liked my pitch, and said I could start trying things out for them. I couldn’t believe my luck! 

Before the end of my second semester, they hired me. It’s kind of a magic New York story—I was new to town, but got to pitch my idea to the big editor at the big city newspaper, and he gave me my big break. 

What were your main responsibilities at the Daily News? What was the day-to-day?

I’ve been responsible for real-time reporting, engagement, and crowdsourcing efforts at the Daily News since late 2009, though as time went on it became a newsroom-wide effort. One of the things I’m most proud of is helping to imagine and institute a live, social, breaking news workflow at the Daily News that continues to grow stronger—from breaking and following up on stories via social platforms to organizing huge multi-day live reporting projects on our website with reporters, photographers, and editors during big events like Hurricane Irene and Occupy Wall Street. These things required an incredible amount of coordination, thought, and effort throughout the newsroom. But I got to be involved with many different aspects of newsroom life.

It was the best possible real-world education. I think that we made our newsroom more transparent and accessible to readers, that we made social engagement and a spirit of live reporting part of the fabric of the organization. At the Daily News, that will only continue to grow.

Now you’re making the move to Fast-Company. What caused you to make the jump?

One thing I’m particularly excited about is that I’ll get to do more social thinking around longform journalism. Fast Company is, obviously, all about innovation, and the editors there are imaginative and savvy—they have exciting ideas about what we might pursue.

I start my new job as social media editor at Fast Company the end of April. I’ll be heading up their engagement efforts, working with their innovative team as they continue to make their publication even more interactive and creative, coming up with ways to strengthen their already-robust audience. I believe the “live” sensibility the Daily News instilled in me is going to be an asset for me there. Fast Company is a great environment for someone who wants room to experiment and expand their repertoire—a very cool place.

You were a part of the first Studio 20 class, what was that like? Miss it sometimes?

The program was incredibly rewarding. While I was a Studio 20 student, one of our class projects was coming up with social media recommendations for The Economist, and I was Jay’s project manager for The New York Times’ Local East Village before it launched. Much of what I learned about social journalism, I learned from Jay—and I don’t mean how to tweet or what a hashtag is. I mean, how to think about my responsibilities as a journalist in a collaborative, open, and accountable way. He spent a lot of extra time on his students, is invested in their work and in their intellectual development. 

The Studio 20 website basically promised us that if we came to New York and joined Studio 20, we would get to work with major media partners, learn new skills, and get jobs. Studio 20 kept its promise to me—all of that came true. Joining that program was one of the best decisions I ever made; it definitely changed the course of my career.

The Man Behind the News Songs

Studio 20 grad David Holmes just might be king of the “newsical” genre. Or at least a prince. 

Last year, at Studio 20, Holmes came out with the “Fracking Song” for the class’s joint explainer project with ProPublica. It went viral in no time. Since then, he’s been busy writing, composing, and playing more explanatory songs for various newsrooms. 

His latest song—another hit for ProPublica—covers the shady dealings of Super PACs, a new supercharged breed of political action committee. Watch below: 

We interviewed Holmes about his newfound success and what it feels like to be working in a relatively new news genre. 

What inspired you to start doing news songs in the first place? 

It started my first semester at Studio 20. I was in Mitch Stephens’ innovation class and I was in a group with fellow Studio 20-er Niel Bekker. He had this idea to write a rock-opera about bed bugs, and he didn’t even know I was a musician or anything. So we threw it together real quick. And though the visuals were really dumb, it was a ton of fun.  When the “Building a Better Explainer” project came along with ProPublica, I figured, “well people really like the bed bugs song, so I’ll make a song about fracking and see what happens.” We found some great animators, and everything that could go right did. 

Do you think that the song format is a good way to reach people who wouldn’t otherwise be engaged with the news? 

In the best case scenario, like with “The Fracking Song” which did really well, you have people listening to the song more than once. You probably don’t get that as often with an essay or written article. Listening to it over and over again allows people to retain the knowledge so much more.  If you can take a boring issue and add a fun beat to it, a catchy chorus, people will be more likely to share it and you can raise more awareness of important issues.

The new song is about Super PACs, again for ProPublica. What inspired you to cover this topic? 

Part of it was actually a tumblr post by Jay Rosen about how, at one of the Republican debates, David Gregory asked a question about Super PACs that sort of made it sound like he didn’t quite understand the issue himself. Now, I’m sure Gregory understands Super PACs, but the way he asked this question was very confusing to the average viewer. Basically, it just made me think this topic was really ripe for explanation. 

Did you pitch this idea to ProPublica yourself or was this something they were already working on and they wanted a new song? 

They have their PAC Track, an interactive that tracks all the Super PAC data. So, I figured they’d be down to do a song about Super PACs, since they’ve done a lot of reporting on the topic. 

You have a company now, right? 

Andrew Bean, a friend from high school who lives in New York, and I started a company called Explainer Music. He co-writes the music and lyrics with me. He and I worked on all the songs so far. For this last video, Krishanan Vasudevan, and Sharon Shattuck, both graduates of NYU’s News & Doc program, did the animation. Some other friends had done the graphics on the previous videos, but didn’t have time to turn this one around as quickly as we needed for ProPublica. So we went with these new animators and they’ve been great. 

This song has a 70s funk theme. Is there a reason you chose that musical style in specific? 

Someone mentioned the song “SuperFly” By Curtis Mayfield when we were talking about this idea at ProPublica. So that was sort of how the 70s theme started. I also just really like that genre of music, it comes easily in terms of song writing. 

What are the other topics you’ve worked on for your explainer songs so far? 

We did a “Euro Crisis Song” for the Guardian last summer, which was a lot of fun. There was the “Redistricting Song” for ProPublica, which went up in early November. I liked that one because it had more of a narrative to it than some of the others. It started off with a really naïve explanation of how redistricting works—like what you’d learn from high school—and then it goes into how the system has been corrupted. Then there was the big “Fracking Song,” of course.

Professor Samuels at SXSW: Black in America/Silicon Valley, the Aftermath

You may remember the debate that broke out around CNN’s Black in America 4 Silicon Valley doc last year—a “war of words" between the show’s producers and interview subject, tech blogger and investor, Matthew Arrington. The show itself made quite a splash too. The conversation it sparked over diversity—or lack thereof—in Silicon is still being hashed out.

This year at SXSW, Studio 20’s own Professor Jason Samuels, producer of the documentary, took part in the panel discussion: "CNN’s Black in America / Silicon Valley: Aftermath."

"Attending SXSW was a great opportunity to connect face-to-face with many people I admire in the digital journalism space," says Samuels. "To my surprise our Black In America documentary panel was standing room only. The documentary continues to resonate far beyond my expectations in terms of impact and awareness. In essence it has forced an industry to look in the mirror.”

Samuels was joined on the panel by his colleague CNN anchor/reporter Soledad O’Brien, and several of the documentary subjects and participants of the New Me accelerator project, Hajj Flemings, Hank Williams, and New Me co-founder Wayne Sutton. You can listen to the full audio of the discussion on the SXSW event page.

The Citizens’ Agenda Round 1: #unasked Questions in GOP Debates

You may remember our announcement last December that Studio 20 is collaborating with the Guardian US on how to improve election coverage. “The Citizens’ Agenda” as the project was christened, was meant to amplify the user’s voice in a media sphere overrun with insiderism.
Our own Jay Rosen and the Guardian’s Amanda Michel summed up the idea in a co-authored column:

It starts with a question: what do voters want the candidates to be discussing as they compete with each other in 2012?

But to get at what voters wanted the candidates to be discussing, we first had to know what had and hadn’t been discussed at all. And what better place to look for what’s been talked about than the 20 GOP debates that took place from May 5 2011 to January 26, 20212?
We set to it, digging through the 800+ questions asked at the debates. Here’s what we found:   

But what was more important than what was asked, was what wasn’t, as Rosen put it:

Small business got one question. Women’s rights (beyond the abortion battle) got one question. How to prevent another crash like the one in 2008: one question. Super Pacs, a huge factor in the 2012 campaign, were asked about twice.

We also found only two questions about climate change, four mentioning the Arab Spring, and one on women’s rights beyond abortion. And we wondered: were people eager to hear more about these scantly covered issues?
In our inaugural post, we asked readers to Tweet their “unasked” questions to John King before last week’s big—possibly final—debate using #unasked, and we got some pretty good responses.

We also partnered with Scientific American, Grist, Mashable, Wired, and TechPresident, among others, to solicit #unasked questions from different communities who’ve been underrepresented in debate questions so far.

 Turns out they had a lot to say. 

Noting that the Internet and mobile technology play an increasingly large role in our daily lives, TechPresident’s Andrew Rasiej asked why tech was rarely covered across the debates, and came up with three questions of his own he’d ask were he handed the mic:

1) Do voters have a right to know what data candidates and political parties are collecting on them and what happens to this data after the election?

2) Should American companies be free to sell surveillance and internet technologies globally even to totalitarian or non-democratic regimes?

3) How should America increase low cost access to high-speed broadband in order to all Americans to effectively compete in the 21st Century Internet economy?

Meanwhile, Grist turned to its readers for comment and got some great questions back in return, ranging in topics from environmentalism to the economy to food safety concerns:

“Do you still consider fracking to be a ‘renewable’ and ‘clean’ source of energy?” — Lindsay McNamara via Twitter

“How do you plan to sustain an economy that demands infinite growth upon a finite resource base when we are already well beyond our means?” — Edward Markie, via Facebook

“Do you personally like knowing what is in your food and/or where it came from? What is your opinion on food labeling?” — Sewassbe, via comments

Thanks to a stellar interactive feature from the Guardian team, readers could also vote up what topics they wanted to hear more about on site. Perhaps unsurprisingly, “Campaign Finance & SuperPacs” shot to the top of the pack pretty quickly.
We have to admit, we’re slightly disappointed that Wednesday’s debate proceeded according to business as usual: no new questions were asked about climate change, technology, SuperPacs, or most other underrepresented fields.
Still, we know the study was read inside CNN. San Feist, Washington bureau chief and the producer of the Feb. 22 debate, was  asked about our study by a reporter from the Huffington Post. He said he found it “interesting and valuable.”
That’s a start.

(More) Studio 20 Grads Settle into their New Jobs!

The recently graduated Studio 20 class has been so busy getting right to work that we had to write up a second installment of our jobs post. Here’s a sampling of a few more alums who are making their mark on the news world:

Niel Bekker | Social Products Editor for The Huffington Post

What does your title mean?  I work with the tech and editorial teams to produce interactive features and tools that improve the news experience for users. Is that a bit vague? I’ll go further: I get to help build things that people will use on our site.

What’s the best part of the job?  It’s all still very new, but the fact that I get to work with ideas, to be involved at the inception of things that The Huffington Post’s many, many users will either love or hate, is very exciting.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? I’d say that the program’s laser-like focus on iteration—improving your ideas again and again until they’re almost perfect—has helped me to produce much better work.

 Ruth Spencer | Community Coordinator at The Guardian US

What does a Community Coordinator do? I create user-driven features for The Guardian US (stuff like this and this and this). Overall, my job is to make The Guardian’s news coverage as open and social as possible. The Guardian is all about taking conversation as seriously as content so one of my biggest priorities is finding active discussions across the web—both on and off our site—and integrating them in our work.

What’s the best part of the job?  Working with an awesome group of people who are just as excited as I am about digital news. No one is talking about “the transition” at The Guardian—everyone’s already crossed over to the other side.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? Thank god my job requires me to work with so many different kinds of people (staff, partnerships, users) because at Studio 20 I learned the value of collaboration. I know that the best work happens when multiple perspectives and ideas come together.

Todd Olmstead | Community Assistant at Mashable

What are your responsibilities at Mashable?  On a daily basis, I’m engaged in managing our presence on different social networks such as Twitter, Linkedin, and Foursquare. I spend a lot of time interacting with our commenting community and moderating comments. I’m trying to build up our Tumblr as a community presence and aggregator of interesting bits on Mashable and across the web. I also get to write about stuff that we want our community to specifically respond to, whether that’s live chats, contests, open threads, or polls.

What’s the best part of the job?  Being part of a dynamic news environment is really great, but being part of one with a lot of young, energetic, intelligent people is even better. You might guess that Mashable is a really social news organization, and that comes from having really fantastic colleagues.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? I think that Studio 20 teaches you how to be independent and quick on your feet. I don’t write a lot of news, but often the question that I have to answer is: “What’s the best way to connect with our communities?” That requires judgment similar to the way an editor makes news judgment. It also requires a really deep understanding of what’s going to be meaningful to a certain user base, which means you can’t post exactly the same things to Facebook as to Google+.

Lately we’ve been working on personal branding training for our reporters and editors, where we really get to inform them and help them understand how to optimize the ways that different networks are used. I think that’s a big picture, critical thinking skill and that’s what Studio 20 is all about.

Colin Jones | Associate Community Producer at New York Daily News

What do you do?  I do a lot of things at the Daily News. My responsibilities vary from day-to-day depending on what news is breaking and what projects we are working on. Right now, I help our Social Media Editor Anjali Mullany* manage our Twitter, Facebook, and other platforms too. I regularly help brainstorm ideas with Anjali about how we can better engage and inform the Daily News community as a whole.

What’s the best part of the job?  I get to work with one of the greatest news organizations in the world in a time of definite flux and change. One of the best aspects of working at the Daily News is that I engage with a lively and diverse community of users on a daily basis. Community interactions are different every day and that is thoroughly exciting.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? Studio 20 taught me to think on my toes in this time of change in the media world. I am able to adapt, strategize and focus at a moments notices, which is crucial at an organization like the Daily News.

*Anjali Mullany is herself a Studio 20 grad, class of ‘10.


All photos courtesy of Nasry Esmat.

Studio 20 Grads Settle into their New Jobs!

After graduation this December, the second Studio 20 class has wasted no time getting themselves in with some of the top media companies around. From ProPublica to the New York Times, you may see Studio 20 alums popping up all over the news world. Check out where some of last year’s class have landed and what lessons they’ve taken with them to their new jobs:

Blair Hickman | Social Media Producer at ProPublica

What does a Social Media Producer do? Right now, my primary   responsibility is to run the Facebook/Twitter/Google+ accounts and research best practices. But ProPublica is so open that any idea goes. I’m able to pitch, write and create content that ranges from written stories to video to graphics.

What’s the best part of the job? The people at this office are really open to ideas. That was the top priority for me in whatever job I ended up taking after Studio20.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? Best practices research, assembling guides, thinking outside the box, and video editing skills.

Chelsea Stark | Multimedia Producer at Mashable

What are your responsibilities at work?  I do a LOT. I create graphics, slideshows (which Mashable calls “galleries”), manage photo and video assets, and shoot and edit video. I really do anything that can fit into the multimedia gap. I’m also going to begin helping Mashable redesign their gallery tool so it will be more attractive and easier to use.

What’s the best part of the job? I get to get my hands into a lot of different projects, so the work is never routine. It’s also such a great environment to work in. It’s a very young company and very focused on trying new things.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? A lot of the multimedia skills I picked up during Studio 20 have helped me. I’m also doing a lot of explainer-type galleries, which relates to our class’s second semester project with ProPublica. Also, understanding project management and wireframes will help me here—thanks to Zoe!

Nasry Esmat | Senior News Editor, Yahoo Middle East

What are do you do as Senior News Editor?I am the head of the news property in Yahoo Maktoob, the Arabic edition of I lead a team of editors to write, edit, blog, publish, and curate news that interest our audience, Arabic language speakers all over the world.

What’s the best part of the job? The best part of the job is that I am using lot of skills and knowledge I got during my Studio 20 days in my daily work. This job helps me develop more and more as a an individual, and it keeps me hungry for more knowledge in the digital journalism field.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? Project management and leadership, social media, multimedia, Web analytics, SEO

Brittany Binowski | Audience Development Associate at Forbes Media

What are your responsibilities at Forbes?I do a lot. of different things. The job is a mix of marketing, consulting and strategy for the entire company. A big part of it is keeping an eye on the website’s numbers—the page views, unique visitors, top stories, etc.—and then seeing how we can use that data to create better, more engaging content.

What’s the best part of the job? Coming up with new ideas to improve the magazine, the website, and the numbers. I enjoy working with a lot of really smart, nice and innovative people and having my ideas and thoughts about the future of journalism taken seriously.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? Studio 20 definitely taught me how to think in new and innovative ways, how to come up with ideas and “pitch” ideas to companies that maybe no one else has thought of before. The program also taught me to think strategically about journalism and come up with ideas and strategies that are really practical, useful and effective, that create more value for the news, the organization and the users, and can be put in place in the real world.

Matt Diaz | User Experience and Product Research Analyst at The New York Times

What do you do? I work on a small team that conducts something called “user research” in order to help make our digital product offerings better. We work across as well as our various device-specific apps. Our job is to collaborate with internal design, development, newsroom, product, and marketing teams to figure out what users want and need and how better to create innovative products, services, and experiences for them. We do all sorts of research from sitting down and talking to your users one-to-one and watching them use our products, to launching surveys, running diary studies, and conducting both moderated and unmoderated user experience testing.

What’s the best part of the job? Far and away the best part of the job for me is being around so many smart and engaged people. The Times is facing unprecedented challenges but it’s clear across the organization that there’s tremendous opportunity ahead in serving our users.

What skills that you picked up from Studio20 have come in handy so far? The program’s focus on not just doing great work, but being able to express your ideas clearly about that work has been invaluable.


All photos courtesy of Nasry Esmat.

A student reflects on her time at Studio 20.
Chao Li (she’s the one on the left, seen here working at the Apple Store…) graduated in December, 2011. Shortly after, she wrote this post: My Time in Studio 20. 

“With newly established programs, you can either come out of it with a type of education no one has had before, or you can have an awful experience of a program that’s not well thought out.”

 Read the rest.
Photo credit: Kevin Lim. Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

A student reflects on her time at Studio 20.

Chao Li (she’s the one on the left, seen here working at the Apple Store…) graduated in December, 2011. Shortly after, she wrote this post: My Time in Studio 20. 

With newly established programs, you can either come out of it with a type of education no one has had before, or you can have an awful experience of a program that’s not well thought out.”

 Read the rest.

Photo credit: Kevin Lim. Creative Commons License CC BY-NC-SA 2.0

Studio 20 Will Collaborate With The Guardian on How to Improve Election Coverage

On Dec. 8, Studio 20 and The Guardian US jointly announced that they will collaborate in the development of a “citizens agenda” approach to election coverage during the 2012 campaign for president.

Jay Rosen and Amanda Michel, The Guardian’s Open Editor, explained it this way in a co-authored column that ran on The Guardian site: 

The alternative to “who’s going to win in the game of getting elected?” is, we think, a “citizens agenda” approach to campaign coverage. It starts with a question: what do voters want the candidates to be discussing as they compete with each other in 2012? If we can get enough people to answer to that question, we’ll have an alternative to election coverage as usual…

Social media and the two-way nature of the Internet make it possible to ask that question of many more people than you could reach in a poll, although polling is important for reliability.

The answers that come in form the basis for the citizens agenda. It won’t be a single issue, of course, but a basket of top concerns broadly shared by respondents – six to ten, or perhaps as many as a dozen priorities that originate not with journalists or campaign managers, but with voters. Some may be different from the issues the operatives see as advantageous to their candidate, or maybe not. The point is that we won’t know until we ask.

Once synthesised, the citizens agenda can be used as an alternative starting point for the Guardian’s campaign journalism. When the candidates speak, their promises and agendas are mapped against the citizens agenda. Reporters assigned to cover the campaign can dig deep on the items that make up the citizen’s agenda. In questioning the candidates, the Guardian will ask about things that flow from that agenda. Explainers should try to clarify and demystify the problems named in the citizens agenda.

A key course in the spring 2012 curriculum, Studio Two, will be devoted to the project. That course, taught by Jay Rosen, will have a technologist and newsroom developer as part of the team, Matt Terenzio.

“Studio 20 students will work alongside the Guardian’s journalists in brainstorming, designing and managing features on through early May 2012,” Michel and Rosen said. “Together, we will arrive at the picture of how people want journalists to cover the election through a number of traditional and non-traditional methods, including sampling science, internet polling, web forms, social media, old fashioned reporting, discussions and debates, experimental features, plus staff and user-generated content.”

The announcement was covered by Nieman Lab, where Megan Garber wrote:

Studio 20′s role in the project, Rosen told me, will be in part to act as an interactive team that will help with the inflow and engagement of users; students in the program will also conduct research and analysis and think through — perhaps even invent — features and tools that can foster that engagement in new ways, testing them out on The Guardian’s U.S. site. (Michel calls the students a kind of “independent brain trust.”

For more background and context on the project, see the post at Jay Rosen’s blog, PressThink.

Open Studio: An Open Invitation

You are cordially invited to the Studio 20 Open Studio, a presentation of innovations in journalism by the students and innovators of Studio 20. These final projects are the both the capstone project for students enrolled in the NYU Arthur L. Carter School of Journalism, and a survey of cutting edge advances in journalism today.

Time: 5:30 PM, December 14th, 2011

Place: Arthur L. Carter Journalism Institute, New York University 20 Cooper Square, 6th Floor New York, NY 10003


Chelsea Stark partnered with Forbes to explore how to make online video a better return on investment. She focused on optimizing its video content for search and social spaces and built up its online contributor network. She also created guides and repeatable work flows to allow Forbes to repeat these processes in the future. @chelseabot

'Chao Li spent the summer prepping Future Journalism Project for the work she is doing for them this fall. Chao’s Studio III project is to create tutorials for people interested in digital journalism. A part of that includes interviewing CEOs of startups and helping them create tutorials while they are busy launching their App or service. @cli6cli6

Niel Bekker helped manage and produce social gaming content for the Huffington Post. For Studio III, he is producing an original newsgame that addresses the inefficiencies of game development in an online news environment. @nielbekker

Brittany Binowski drew inspiration from many innovative social feeds on Twitter as well as CNN’s In America documentary unit to help create a list of best practices and suggestions for investigative news organizations. The suggestions aim to better connect sources with reporters and producers in the newsroom and, therefore, create better and more informed journalism.@binowski

Blair Hickman is developing a digital toolkit to help journalists report on social change more effectively. Her partner, Dowser Media, is trying to broaden the scope of typical news coverage by pioneering thoughtful, critical coverage of social innovation—what they call Solution Journalism.@amandablair

This semester, Colin Jones worked on developing a live video chat project with the New York Daily News. These chats took user comments, submitted through Twitter, Facebook and other platforms, and had them answered live on the site by reporters and guests. @Colin_Jones

Radio ProPublica is an experimental audio project that Assia Boundaoui is developing for ProPublica. The project included producing narrative-driven investigative podcasts that seek to explain news in the public interest and engage users by soliciting UGC and crowdsourcing questions in need of explanation. @assuss

This fall, Rachel Slaff is working with to solicit and showcase user-generated videos. She’s thrilled to experiment with the traditional journalistic framework of narration by allowing users to share their own stories. @rachelslaff

For Tom Chen’s Studio III project, he teamed up with and designed an interactive video companion for the website. It will be a video component that largely enriches the visitors’ interactive experience with the site. And it will live on different platforms (website, mobile app, podcast). @tomstation

For Studio III, Nasry Esmat worked with on creating the first social media news page in Egypt. Mujaz is an Egyptian news aggregator and the created page aims to tell news stories by curating social media posts that challenge the official narrative of traditional news sources. @nasry

Erin Evans worked with the New York Times’ education site, SchoolBook, on an experiment in community outreach. She produced a case study based on her findings at a school in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. @heyerinevans

David Holmes is working with the New York Daily News to implement automated news quizzes while developing a workflow model for algorithmic journalism. @David_M_Holmes

This past summer, Matt Diaz interned with the User Experience and Product Research Team at the New York Times doing both qualitative and quantitative user research. This fall Matt is continuing his work with The Times. His Studio III project is an original research effort centered on the digital identities and behaviors of young adults with a focus on how they produce and consume news on mobile devices. @mgdiaz

This fall, Ruth Spencer explored how data literacy is emerging as a necessary journalistic skill. She created The Datamaster for Jim Brady, Editor in Chief of Journal Register Company. The Datamaster is a comprehensive plan for how Journal Register Company can integrate data resources across its network; it includes a corporate strategy and staff training guide. @onthewag

Din Clarke ’s project, Sight and Sound, has both a video and audio component. She built a prototype for a portable video recording booth to collect stories from residents who have limited or no internet access and taught audio recording/editing to young adults at Reel Works. The pieces will air on local radio station WBAI. @dinclarke

Todd Olmstead collaborated with Mashable to grow engagement through their comments. Mashable already has a highly active commenting community, and Todd’s goal was to optimize the quality contributions that these readers make on the site. @toddjolmstead

Studio 20 has been hosting an “Open Workspace” every Monday night at 20 Cooper Square from 6pm - 12am. We want to encourage the journalism school here to adopt more of a collaborative vibe and we’re off to a good start. Tonight we hosted the first co-working session with Studio 20 and ITP (Interaction Technology Program at Tisch, where many of us take electives). Pizza, wine, chocolate, beer and were served. Success!

Introducing… Zoe Fraade-Blanar

Zoe Fraade-Blanar is Studio 20’s secret weapon.

Since September 2010, Zoe has worked with Studio 20 as we try and solve the big puzzles in journalism. In Studio II, She introduced us to the skills and tactics we need to execute our long-term project with ProPublica. Zoe taught us the value of iterative project management and agile development, and also lead weekly workshops on everything from photoshop to public speaking. This semester in Studio III, Zoe is working with each of us to make sure we’re on track and prepared to deliver our final projects on time and with confidence.

Zoe has been a resource (even a life saver) for the last year and it’s about time that we give her a proper introduction.

When she’s not at Studio 20, Zoe is either at ITP (where she teaches a class on interaction design) or at General Assembly, where she manages Squishables, one of her many companies. (And yes, I am talking about these giant stuffed balls of fuzz).

Zoe is not the typical journalism prof and that suits us just fine; Studio 20 is far from your average journalism program. We asked Zoe to tell us herself about what it’s been like to transition from working with programs and code to stuffed animals and journalists.

S20: How do you see your role in Studio 20?

My job is to make sure everyone involved in Studio 20 has the skills and connections to do any kind of innovation they can dream up, without regard for technical issues or inexperience.  Journalists stereotypically run the risk of fearing change - I can’t fix that but I can prove to them that change is a lot easier than they thought (and also a giggle). 

S20: What did you do before joining Studio 20?

Most recently I was at ITP, NYU, and these days on top of the teaching I do a lot of consulting work for existing Media Outlets, news startups, and nonprofits involved with freedom of speech.  Usually they’re projects involved in Data Visualization or Meme-Tracking (in one instance, both). And of course I also run the ecommerce startup Squishable (Snurfle us on Facebook).  

Before then I was doing web architecture at a large financial regulatory institution, and before then I was consulting for a company involved with running free elections in unusual places.  Prior to that….the US Department of Labor, and also did a stint for the US Postal Service. Going way back in time, I was a briefly a researcher in Human Computer Interaction at Brunel University, a Runner at the BBC, and before that I worked for a nonprofit on creating eBay’s Giving Works Tool.  Before that, like everyone else in the early 00’s, an internet startup that went under.   And before that I worked for the Hubble Space Telescope. 

And at one point in 2005 I worked for a couple weeks on a kangaroo farm in Australia. So there’s that.

S20: What attracts you to working with journalists/journalism students?

Folks involved in startups often come at life from this POV: I have a cool idea and if I develop it a bit I bet I can get some people who want to use it.  But journalists have this amazing situation going on right now:  A lot of people want to use my product, if only I could think up a cool idea how to let them.  It’s just a more powerful, more rewarding way to think about the world.  More fun too.

S20: What has surprised you about Studio 20?

Surprises on working with Studio 20 - hmm.  I didn’t necessarily expect the level of dedication I found here. Because of the three-semester layout it seems like the students are incredibly involved and supportive of each other.  It’s amazing the advertising agencies aren’t banging in their door demanding to know how they do it.

S20: How do you compare your work at ITP with your work at Studio 20

 ITP and Studio 20, they have very different institutional feels, but it’s interesting to notice how convergent evolution has kicked in here.  From originally coming from such divergent POV’s, the drive for innovation and experimentation has linked them up in a way I’m not sure anyone expected.  It would be as if Birds and Butterfly’s suddenly realized they were both good at the same thing.  And decided to help each other modify some wing structure. And hold races. I can keep going with this metaphor if you want.

The Redistricting Remix

The Studio 20 singer/songwriter in residence Dave Holmes, the man behind The Euro Debt Crisis Disco Song and The Fracking Song, is back with another hit.

The Redistricting Song is Dave’s third music video explainer and the second he’s created in partnership with ProPublica. As he’s done before, Dave has combined clever lyrics with a catchy beat and awesome animation to bring users into a highly complicated subject: redistricting. 

ProPublica’s most recent investigation, “Redistricting: How Powerful Interests Are Drawing You Out of a Vote” examines the opaque methodology behind the process and how its effects can hurt voters. ProPublica has created a “Devil’s Dictionary” to break down the complex jargon and a primer, “The Story so Far” along with the song, to bring users into the investigation itself.

“The song isn’t going to tell you everything you need to know about redistricting. But it is a gateway. It’s catchy; it has the potential to go viral. Because of all that, it has the potential to draw people in,” Dave recently told The Nieman Lab.

As we learned last year, the best explainers give users what they need to understand the latest news. The Redistricting Song definitely does that, with a backbeat. 

Studio 20 students are Designing Conversational Spaces at ITP

Last spring we were thrilled to announce that Clay Shirky joined the Studio 20 faculty. This Fall, seven third-semester Studio 20 students elected to take his Designing Conversational Spaces class at ITP.

The class addresses a very specific problem: how to design online environments that support or encourage good conversation? Through studying the trade-offs and dynamics present in existing web communities and reconfiguring them as we build our own, the Conversational Spaces class aims to figure it out.

In Clay’s own words,

"The ITP student population is split between technologists who care about aesthetics and artists who aren’t afraid of machines”.

We like to think that Studio 20 adds a third ingredient to the mix, journalists who live and breathe the web, and we can’t wait to see what we build together.

We’re nearly half-way through the semester and work on our final projects is in full swing. Our assignment was to create a conversational environment built around a single piece of content. Check back in a few weeks to see our progress. This week we’ll be testing our project’s in class but we will soon be launching them online.

Check out - a final project from last year’s Conversational Spaces class for an example of what we’re hoping to achieve.