Online Journalism

How to make news playable

As part of my online journalism studies I have to come up with an ‘experimental portfolio’. This, according to Paul Bradshaw, our course leader, is to explore around the fringes of online journalism knowledge. As a former sub editor, I’ve never been comfortable with uncertainty. I like things to have been written down many, many times before I try them. When my parents used to take me and their other children for walks, I was the sort of kid who’d ask to see a map before setting out. This has made the whole process rather more of a challenge for me than I was hoping it would be. And, to be honest, I’ve been struggling to find an idea for my experimental project that I like.
But, on the back of my last post – which finished with the line ‘Haven’t you got to be prepared to risk making a fool out of yourself to do something interesting?’, (the sort of logic trap one should never find oneself writing) – I’ve resolved to put my own reservations aside and try to be taken by inspiration.
Yesterday, my fellow classmates and I were lucky enough to meet Paul Daniel. It’s worth reiterating that that’s Daniel, not Daniels. He’s a magician of sorts, our Paul, but he wasn’t accompanied by Debbie McGee and the only rabbits he pulled from hats were entirely metaphorical. Paul is an expert in Yahoo! Pipes. Over the course of a couple of hours, he took us through the basics (and not so basic) of using this extremely powerful and very engaging tool. It was an eye opener for me, as I’ve tried to use Pipes before and ended up losing patience before I managed to work anything out worth sharing with the world.
What our little Pipes session taught me, I suppose, was that the future of the web and the future of news really are playable. By that I mean manipulation by the consumer is absolutely key to content use (apologies to people who’d already worked this out!). Pipes can allow ordinary Joes like me to engage with all sorts of different forms of data and choose how we use that data (if they pay proper attention to people like Paul and then go home and watch the videos). This got me thinking: what if news websites were playable – a little like Pipes, but perhaps without the code? At the moment, most content is viewable and you can respond to it (moan about it, rate it, send it to other people, etc.) But this is on the low side of interaction. If there was a high side of interaction it would be about peoples’ ability to make their own personal decisions about content and actually affect that content and represent it themselves.
If people can muck about with your content, use it as they wish and enjoy it in different ways, then they’re more likely to use it again (and even stay on your site). Better still, you can learn all sorts of things about that content and how it is being used that people might find useful commercially.
So, what does all that mean in terms of my experimental project? Well, it means I’m trying to find a good playable piece of journalism. I’m obviously looking for examples of what other people have done and trying to come up with a different idea that I can quickly work out (and present online) without too much of a struggle. Ideally, I’d like to create something that is able to produce its own data (to prove my own point about learning from interaction).
So far, the only achievable idea I’ve come up with is hardly that experimental. I wondered whether I could collect a load of pictures from flickr of landmarks in Birmingham, set them next to a map and find a way to allow people to build their own guided tours of the city that can be presented on the site. I haven’t even begun to work out how I’ll do this – and whether it even meets my playable test – but it’s a start…

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