The rest of the story: The map and the narrative

mappingtheglobeI left this year’s Online News Association conference thinking seriously about something I’d only been toying with before the trek – the idea of depth and value in journalism in the digital age.

I do realize the majority of the publications in existence are currently focused on pageviews (and generating said pageviews using as many outlets – and short posts – as humanly possible). This in turn leads to an obsession with collecting as many followers on as many social networks as possible.

It looks great in terms of selling eyeballs using a print-based mentality, but it doesn’t do much for what I believe would drive the growth of readership and exposure over the long haul – the creation of more original reporting or the ability to enhance or expand upon existing reports (so as not to just fill space for no reason).

What if the increase in pageviews had more to do with the quality and depth of the content – and the ability to follow rabbit holes at will?

The solution I’ve been thinking through in my mind appears to be more of a conglomeration of several roads being traveled currently by news organizations attempting to figure out how to leverage the Internet.

Central to this approach is the focus on the map as a delivery tool for information and news. We’ve seen great examples of this in the past. Sites like Placeblogger made it easier for people to discover what was being said in their communities while discovering new sites and voices. I know my personal blog benefited from traffic driven by the site. Several news organizations and community news website benefited from a similar effort undertaken by Outside.in, another aggregation service that did not include a map.

The next logical step would be to go to a granular level and provide the opportunity to geotag stories as they were filed. The folks at the Boston Globe currently do this and have allowed themselves (and their archives) to be used for some work on the topic. Kanarinka published this piece on the MIT Center for Civic Media’s website early last year. (NOTE: You may also visit the project site and do some digging on your own).

The ability to sort and place content (via an algorithm or manually) by location would go a long way towards helping do several things to advance journalistic efforts, especially in larger communities where there are several outlets:

It shows you what is and is not being covered. There’s a TEDx presentation by the creator of Humans of New York, Brandon Stanton, that best explains my thoughts on this.

Imagine how much many stories we don’t tell right now? Imagine how many different angles we don’t pursue? Imagine if we could see where the big stories “weren’t” (or at least those big stories we haven’t discovered yet)? It’s an interactive way to reinvigorate the beat – and have the community help hold journalists accountable for those gaps. It also allows for journalists and news organizations to demonstrate why there may be no story there anyway.

It allows for integration of other sources of information. This would most likely need to be toggled on and off, but could be extremely helpful to visualize the entire picture during a breaking news event. This may be better suited to serve the newsroom, but in this age of open data and transparency it probably wouldn’t hurt to provide an opportunity for the consumer to take a look at some of the collected information.

News, information, and truth are not necessarily always the same or even related. This would still be helpful for those times they are – while possibly providing context as well. Maybe we use something like the Knight Lab’s Story Map JS as a piece of the solution – in real time?

One post that jumps out to me in recent days was written by Seattle Times contributor Lauren Rabaino talking about her recent participation in a Global Editors Network hackathon. Her team’s concept tackles the implementation of, resulting in a reprieve for the existence of the article and the ability to allow consumers to digest and dig deeper for nuance at their own pace.

I keep wondering about the ability to add the necessary data to archives over time, allowing you to view points on a map in present-day versus points on a map fifty years ago. Think of the types of stories you’d see developed as a result of that kind of tool. I’m also still captivated by the idea of showing this information in real-time – or at least in regular update intervals. The idealist in me knows full participation throughout a media community might be impossible, but perhaps it’s time to think about the purpose of providing the information in the first place…

It’s one more possible solution as it relates to how we deliver news and how we enable potential end users to follow the rabbit hole of their choosing to establish a deeper understanding of the issues, people, and places of interest to them and of importance to their communities. We cannot serve everybody, but we should be able to provide the necessary abilities to those who choose to rely on news organizations for their information.

We’re not just in print anymore – we should be able to take advantage of that fact. Are we willing to take the leap into the world of unknown metrics in order to do it?