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.
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.
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.
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.
I’d like to know if any of the candidates and their wives use or have used contraceptives #unasked— Andrew (@IrrelevantStuff) February 22, 2012
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?
“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.
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.
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 Yahoo.com. 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 NYTimes.com 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.
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 guardiannews.com 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.
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 GoodHousekeeping.com 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 Artinfo.com 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 Mujaz.me 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
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 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.
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 omgimg.us - a final project from last year’s Conversational Spaces class for an example of what we’re hoping to achieve.
We’re in the middle of the make-it-or-break-it period for our Studio 3 projects. According to Jay, October should be our biggest month in terms of productivity. Each week we meet to discuss four projects as they progress and each one is as different as the next.
Here’s a look at what the 16 of us are working on this year:
Assia Boundaoui began this summer freelancing radio reports for the BBC and PRI in Chicago and New York, she moved on to working as producer for NPR’s On The Media at WNYC, and ended the summer working in Bahrain.
Assia’s Studio III project is developing, producing and distributing content for “Radio ProPublica” a new audio platform for the investigative journalism newsrtoom. Radio Propublica audio stories will address issues in the public interest and explain news in the current news-cycle, stories will be distributed via radio broadcast and online podcast. Crowd-sourced questions generated from users, via a Soundcloud app, will serve as both ideas for the creation of new audio stories and will be featured within the audio stories themselves.
This fall, Ruth is working for Jim Brady, Editor-in-Chief of Journal Register Company on a plan for how JRC can integrate data resources in its newsrooms to drive editorial and strategic decision making.
Tom Chen worked with Artinfo.com and created an original video series called “Artinfo Goes To China”, for which he traveled to China and interviewed Chinese contemporary artists, gallerists and designers.
For Tom’s Studio III project, he’s teaming up with Artinfo.com and design a video companion for its Gallery Guide section. It will be a video component that lives on different platforms (website, mobile app, podcast) and largely enriches the visitors’ interactive experience with the site.
Chelsea Stark spent the summer working at Mashable as a Community Management Intern, where she interacted with Mashable’s exploding community in all areas, including over social media, traditional written posts, and by assisting in organizing the annual Social Media Day meetup.
Chelsea is working with Forbes to explore how to make online video a better return on investment for companies that are traditionally focused on print media, both with working internally to better optimize content for search and social spaces, and by helping Forbes build its online contributor network.
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.
For his Studio III project, Dave is working with the New York Daily News to reinvent quizzes for the news room. The NYDN is looking to build a stronger community around the Daily News’ content while simplifying the work-flow for news quiz production.
For Studio III, he is producing an original newsgame that addresses the inefficiencies of game development in an online news environment.
Erin Evans was the weekend editor for TheRoot.com, where she produced daily e-mail newsletters, managed the site’s Facebook and Twitter feeds and completed other web production duties. She also freelanced for Howard University Magazine. As for the fun stuff? She ate at really great restaurants all over Brooklyn and re-joined a running group so she wouldn’t pack on the pounds.
For her Studio III project, Erin is working with the New York Times’ new education site, SchoolBook. She is helping to develop community outreach strategies to ensure that parents, teachers, principals and education advocates contribute to their questions, comments and perspectives to the site. By the end of the semester, she hopes to have produced and facilitated a series of contributions and also to provide what she’s calling a guidebook for community outreach.
This summer, Blair Hickman worked as a Senior Editor for Dowser Media, a news site that reports on social innovation and change, ie “Solution Journalism.” It’s a startup, so she got her hands in a little bit of everything: management, product development, e-mail marketing, social media strategy and execution, nitty-gritty tech work, partnerships, and business development and strategy.
The media focuses disproportionately on problems, often leaving the users to ask “Well, then what?” In an attempt to tackle this problem, Blair is researching, developing and prototyping a digital toolkit to help working professionals and journalism schools integrate solution journalism into their workflows. It will have several product components, and is being constructed in the spirit of open-source - suggestions and tweaks welcome.
Din Clarke worked with Picture Projects on a kiosk that will provide consumers with detailed information on the content of their food purchases. Din also started working at WBAI radio as a producer. Two audio pieces she recorded and edited aired on WBAI as part of a special program commemorating the 40th Anniversary of Attica.
Din’s project, Sight and Sound, has both a video and audio component. She’s building a prototype for a portable video recording booth to be used to collect stories/complaints/suggestions from residents who have limited or no internet access. For the audio component, Din is teaching audio recording/editing to young adults at Reel Works so that they can create pieces for Reel to Reel radio and WBAI.
This summer, Todd Olmstead worked as Assistant Editor of Digital and Community Outreach at the Local East Village. He spent the summer managing and growing the Local’s social media presence as well as developing relationships with members of the community. An East Village resident himself, Todd loves the neighborhood and recommends you get a cup of coffee at Abraço.
For his Studio 3 project, he’ll be working with Mashable to grow engagement through their comments. Mashable already has a highly active commenting community, and through this project Todd will look to acknowledge the quality contributions that these readers make. He will oversee this project with Mashable’s community and development teams.
Nasry Esmat lead six workshops at the “Investing in The Future" foundation in Cairo, Egypt. He trained journalists and civil society workers on new media skills including social media tools and creating content creatively.
For Studio III, Nasry is creating the first social media news page in Egypt.
Brittany Binowski worked as a Social Media Intern for Code and Theory, an upcoming interactive agency with clients such as Vogue.com and The Daily Beast, to help manage and evolve their social media strategy for the Dr Pepper Snapple Group.
This semester, Brittany plans to use her experiences at Code and Theory to make the social media presence of CNN more two-way. She will be working with CNN In America, the documentary unit, to help their Twitter feeds (@BlackInAmerica and @CNNLIA) better connect sources with reporters and producers in the newsroom and, therefore, create better and more informed journalism.
Colin Jones worked at both the New York Daily News as a Social Media Production Assistant and at Rolling Stone as an Online Intern. At Rolling Stone, Colin was tasked with assisting Assistant Editor of RollingStone.com Erica Futterman with general tasks on the website including CMS work, Tumblr management and writing for the site.
This semester, Colin is working on developing a live video chat project for the New York Daily News. These chats will find user comments, submitted through Twitter, Facebook and other outlets, being answered live on the site by reporters and guests. Another prong of the project includes developing a program that will help reporters use mobile live video from the scene of stories.
Rachel Slaff spent the summer as a web intern for GoodHousekeeping.com. Her job included building content for the site, writing and editing web copy, and editing the Good Housekeeping Research Institute blog. She also assisted in the site’s redesign — check out the new and improved HTML5 edition of GoodHousekeeping.com!
This fall, Rachel is working with GoodHousekeeping.com 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.
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.