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17:57

Live-Blog at RJI: Fellows Share Lessons from Spot.Us, NoozYou

COLUMBIA, MO. -- I am live-blogging from the Reynolds Journalism Institute, which is holding a week-long RJInnovation Week. It's a chance for the Institute to look at an incredible number of projects and ideas that are flowing through the organization. Today is focused on the 2010-11 class of RJI fellows. Each fellow gets 45 minutes to present what they worked on for the last nine months. (Note: I am an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was in the first class of RJI fellows in 2008-09.)

rjinnovationweek.jpg

David Cohn - Did That Really Happen?

Carnival of Journalism
Cohn brought this blog roundup back. It went on for about a year in 2007 and was a group of journalism bloggers who would write about the same topics together. This was back in the day before Twitter really took off and the best way to talk back in the day. Dave asked if he could have carnivalofjournalism.com URL and brought it back

Cohn established existing and new rules:

  1. Never apologize (new)
  2. A different host every month (this starts next month - Cohn ran the first three months on his own)
  3. Everyone publishes to their own blog around the same time about the host's topic (This month's topic is #fail: your failure and take responsibility for it)
  4. Host does a round-up of everyone's posts

It became a hashtag on Twitter: #jcarn
On average there were 40 participating bloggers in the first three months. Many of the participants took part in Hardly Strictly Young event at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

Hardly Strictly Young
This event was focused on alternative recommendations to implement the Knight Commission report. It came out after Cohn attended the Aspen Institute where many thought leaders tried to go from the idea phase to the implementation phase. Some of the recommendations weren't the first things that came to Cohn's mind, so he thought it would be a great idea to create an alternate group of people who are not considered at the centers of power but are creating their own centers of power.

Lots of love and a good time was had by all. Interviews were conducted with the participants along with a live broadcast which was archived. One of the overall hits was catsignal.org and a twitter account was started during this event.

Community Funded Reporting Handbook
This is looking at different players in the space - including broad fundraising platforms. Kickstarter, gojo, crowdtap, kachingle, youcapital, emphas.is

Chapters include:
Primer on Crowdfunding

Art of the pitch

Introduction to other players

Process of Screening

Licensing considerations

Glossary of terms

Audience perspective

Journalism concerns

It will be released as a "book" format and downloadable online.

Spot.us
What does this represent? It's an experiment, a new transparency and collaboration in journalism. In many respects he says where it was as a Knight News Challenge, it was an experiment to see if there is life out there. He says, yes, there are signs of life. The rover was sent out and it was worthwhile experiment back in the day. The big problem now is scale. It isn't a unique problem. It's a problem for many startups. Can you build up enough traffic to get larger and larger.

During his time at RJI, he did more professional redesigns by cleaning it up. He's seeing regular growth The number of registered users has jumped above 10,000 and continues to grow. It doubled from 6,000 to 10,000 since September. 54 percent of the members (5,436) are donors.

His passion: The difference between how it worked and how it is now working. Back in th day you could only help by giving credit card payments. That worked for almost two years. It worked but they had about one percent donating. He wanted to come up with alternatives. Now there's more.

You can click on "free credits" where you provide an act of engagement - provide anonymous feedback to the sponsor. Then you get to fund a story and decide where to fund it. It's kind of like advertising, the public gets to decide where the money goes.

Spot.us launched the first community sponsored credits. There was an immediate spike in participation and donations each month.

Need to verify:
IN the last 12 months, 4,797 unique donations (compared to 1,000 or so in the first year). 4,379 have participated by taking a survey. There is an overlap between those two numbers. 20-25 percent of donors are repeat donors. (That's jumped up thanks to the surveys)

Spot.us sponsorship kits. That's the hardest thing to do. Cohn has been able to raise about $5,000 a month. He worked with students to come up with a sponsorship kit and come up with unique materials to present to potential sponsors.

They're working on more market research on the readers to help with sponsorships. They're selling acts of engagements. Examples:
Jeans - if you take a survey you could also get a coupon. Acts of engagement that help connect with Facebook and Twitter where you share the experience you just had with the sponsorship experience on Spot.us. The results of the survey can become a topic of conversation if the sponsor is willing to let the survey go public.

Increased consumer feedback could play a role in this. (A good example is how people provide feedback on products on Amazon. Spot.us members could try it too.)

Pictures of the Year archive photos - community members could help tag the photos to help with the POY database and earn credits for each photo and help POY's archives.

Outsourcing surveys - His major bottleneck is he has to sell them himself. What if he incorporated already existing surveys. So far, he has found Research for Good. It's a startup as well and can't embed polling technology on Spot.us yet. That would dramatically decrease the challenge of sales for the site.

Increase pitches by expanding the API. They're going to be on PRX's website and even on a Louisville NPR affiliate site. Spot.us may not even be officially visually connected. If someone is signed up on their site, it is automatically linked to Spot.us, they may never know it was links to Spot.us. That would dramatically increase the number of pitches in the system.

Working with a business class. He benefitted by working with business students and created the "Spreadsheet of Amazing." He was able to create different scenarios. He decided to increase the take of Spot.us from donations from 5 to 10 percent. Huge benefit for the site. This looks at the benefit of hiring more people. For a long term plan, it looks like the best way to go. There are all kind of early numbers, but it looks smart to hire a sales person and it will grow.

Strategic options for Spot.us

Boldness Scale
1 - consider it a successful experiment. Extrapolate lessons until funds run dry

3 - Continue as open source lab experiment with incremental additional effort. Would require a sustaining grant in late 2011 early 2012 ton continue pace

7 - Scale aggressively remain not-for-profit

10 - spin off as a for-profit

He thinks the ingredients are all there and can make a meal out of it.

NYT subscription model. They're the whale. But they're asking people for money and it isn't for access. They're a step towards a membership program. It's convenience or ignorance. The two things Spot.us is doing can be operated by NYT. When you get a pay meter/wall what if you created acts of engagement to give the reader an opportunity to read five more articles. Or let the members engage with the paper to contribute content or thought to the product.

Most important - if it can be scaled and tangible. The concept is much bigger than any implementation he can do. The concept has potential to work with any product if money is exchanged for

Who are your donors? Why do they want to play?
Many of the surveys help gather demographics. It's almost 50/50 male/female. 67 percent defined as liberal and most are on the West coast. For a month an a half, Spot.us had more traffic in the midwest (during the Wisconsin protests). It's similar to NPR demographics but scales 10 years younger. It scales caucasian. Average income is $75,000. It's encouraging that he can answer these questions.

First time donors are often there because they have a direct connection to the reporter. Repeat donors say they want to feel connected to their community. Those who do come back have civic minded purpose.

Scalability - making it more transparent and more participatory. Spot.us is an implementation of that concept. We normally don't let the public understand the cost of what happens before a story. Opening a part of journalism could be implemented by any organization. Spot.us is one way to do it. Let people know what is most important to them, they the journalists will know how to serve them.

OpenFile.ca is the for profit version of Spot.us. It does require mental shifts of how we think about our role in journalism and as journalists.

If you really focused on the concept and not the site, could it advance journalism? The API is Cohn's way of saying Spot.us is not a destination site. He doesn't want that to be the case. The high growth view of the Spot.us requires other sites to implement the technology into their own site. He's always evangelized the concept of community funded journalism, not Spot.us. The handbook will be useful for independent journalists who are freelancing. But he agrees this is a cultural shift.

What stories get funded?
From the first year data: Civics and politics were not popular. Criminal justice was very popular. He isn't sure if there's enough data to really know. He'd like to look more into it.

Have you seen any attitude change while you were here?
Crowdfunding is becoming more of an accepted concept. There is still much more education to be done.

Mentioned in the group - look at the TED model. It has played the ends of exclusivity and openness.

Anne Derryberry - Games and Journalism: An Epic Win?

Everybody's Talking the Game
Seth Priebatsch of SCVNGR is quoted saying "This is the decade of the game layer." Business leaders and beyond are seeing the trends and opportunities for games and their applications.

Compelling Factoids:

  • Videogames are #1 category for consumer/end-using spending (PWC)
  • $10.5B in US in 2009 (was 11.7B in 2008) (ESA)
  • 10.6% CAGR for 2010-2014 (PWC)
  • Global market - $70.1B by 2015 (KPCB)

The reason this is true is because of the widespread appeal of games to all ages. The average age of a gamer is 34 (ESA). 45-60 year old women are the fastest growing demographic. 67 percent of Americans play games (ESA).

The rise of social games and Facebook-based games are a principal reason behind this rise. Most games are being played with social networking, tables, mobile, broadband access.

Games are fun, but what are the other compelling reasons to use them? Games play mechanics and rewards (usually embedded within a web- or mobile site). It helps: promote brand awareness, adoption and attachment
Induce participation

raise comprehension and retention

make tedious content/activities seem less odious

What does this have to do with journalism? Ian Bogost at Georgia Tech is quoted from Newsgames: Journalism at Play: "We shouldn't embrace games because they seem fun or trendy, no because they dumb down the news but because they can communicate complex ideas differently and beter than writing and pictures and film. Games are raising the bar on news, not lowering it."

It's been echoed in many spaces. Kotaku (a game review publication) writer, Brian Crescente wrote "wouldn't it be wonderful , for instance, if [there were] News Games for The Daily, allowing readers to not just passively absorb the news."

How Far Can We Take This?
Bring some clarity to the thinking behind this conversation.

So she put together a prototype: NoozYou - a game driving news outlet
It focuses on three types of News - current events, issues and editorial. You can create tools that are available for people who are going to develop these categories of games.

You need a platform for people to find these kinds of products. It should offer access, community engagement and management along with a workflow process.

How is this paid for? Are there revenue models that can come out of this? Advertising and licensing is needed. All of these questions weren't able to be tackled during a nine month proces.

They focused on the current events category for news telling. There are already a few games developed under this category, but current events was a bit more tricky. They adopted tools, built their own platform and the revenue model is still under construction.

It Takes a Village
She worked with an external development for the platform. Incoming fellow Peter Meng helped put this together. She brought in a tool from Impact Games "Play the News" for authoring story/games. Newsy agreed to be a media partner. Students helped become a news team (convergence capstone team), SEO team (interactive advertising team) and many different people attended game salons.

13 story games were produced in a short amount of time. You can look at it all on the NoozYou site. It is a prototype but is rich with content.

Players get to look at the last 10 stories published on Newsy.com and then vote about which topics they'd like to see made into a game. Not a lot of stats just yet, but it could be great background data for media suppliers. You can see the top three vote getters. You get to "noozify" them.

News quizes are published weekly based on news events. Questions and feedback come from Newsy content. When you answer one of the quiz questions, you get feedback that tells you if you answered properly. If you need help, you get to watch the video.

The site has user comments and they are already getting feedback. Most happens on the noozYou site and on individual games. Most people who wrote comments were positive about their experience. There were some recommendations and suggestions for changes. Anonymous survey turned up rich feedback for the site and helpful for what needs to happen next.

By the numbers: So far it's a two month experiment.The site went up at the end of February for the game developer conference, but no promotion at first. There's been a nice bump recently with a more stable platform. So far, there's an absolute unique of 1539 which Derryberry considers very encouraging. Only 50 percent were first time. That means most people are coming back to participate in the site. Users come from 30 countries/territories visited the site.

Big questions remain:
New template?

The Play the News template constrains the type of games you can create. They'd like to look at new templates might be appropriate for the site.

How do they handle original reporting?

She decided not to do that because it would require stories that would be hyper local with a limited audience outside of the geographic regions. She wanted content that would encourage mass use. Also, it would require a generation of a lot of media. But it's something she's like to tackle.

What kinds of advergames are most effective?

Advertising and Advergames is a hot topic, but noozYou hasn't deeply explored this so far.

What is the right rubric for journalytics to ensure good journalism experience design?

She believes in data driven design. Right now she has marketing data, but she wants more. How do you generate the right interactions for news consumers. That hasn't even gotten started.

Most Important Lessons
Use game techniques - but dump the moniker. There continues to be a knee-jerk negative response to the word "game." Many people feel as though it indicates the cheapening of the news experience. If there's another label to put on this, adoption will grow quickly. Let the contest begin.

News-telling in this way fores and increased awareness of users' journalism experience (JX) - The kind of rigor that is required to tell news stories forces an even greater awareness of what is happening on the recipient end of the communication equation. You really have to think about the news consumption experience. It makes the storyteller think deeper.

Ever more powerful news-telling and analysis potential by focusing on journalism experience. You can enhance the kind of news telling and analysis of the news. You can immerse people into the story (with the goal of not drowning). You give the consumer the control - a non-linear (even non-chronological) narrative. Take in the story in the way that makes most sense to the individual. You can make assumptions, but the consumer will make the call. By chunking content in manageable ways and organizing it in logical ways on a single screen and successive screens, we give them the ability to create the experience. As troubling as that may seem to some, that experience may be non-linear and non-chronological. It will happen through the interactive pathways offered by the information designer. This is a storytelling format that allows all of the multimedia opportunities and multi-channel opportunities. Many substories can be followed and tracked. The interactivity and choices given to the users, they can jump back and forth and follow their muse as they track through the stories. A cross media experience is a great benefit for users and the flexibility they have in the stories told. It's also the big challenge for the creators of the delivery.

Next steps for noozYou -
Revise and extend

Platform, tools, services

-- high school/HED journalism programs

-- commercial license - it could be white labeled for media outlets of all kinds

-- content aggregation and syndication of stories and games

The Power of One to the Many
-Massively Multi-participant Online Collaborations (MMOC) - she sees a great opportunity for us all to collaborate to make the noozYou concept happen. With the rise of social media and other tools. There are lots of skunkworks projects where people are coming together to solve problems together as a society. Some are organized (Wikipedia, Crisis Camp), some are not.

-massive group problem-solving

-using interactive design and game mechanics

-informed and facilitated by journalism

David Herzog - OpenMissouri
Herzog spent his fellowship focused on launching a website that will help bring more awareness and access to government data.

He launched the site OpenMissouri.org on March 17th during Sunshine Week and also held Open Missouri Day at the Reynolds Journalism Institute.

So many sites are out there with a look at open records, but many have some data, but not a lot of context. Herzog says the Sunshine Foundation is doing great work helping open up federal government records. The advent of Web 2.0 has really helped make it more possible to share, search and learn from data.

Whatdotheyknow.com helps you see Freedom of Information requests, in England, MuckRock is a very open look at search and records.

The big question:
How do we use simple, freely available technology to connect citizens and journalists with public data?

Features
Catalog: Nearly 150 data sets listed

Search

Comprehensive MO department listing: 19

There is no comprehensive state contact list for Sunshine requests. You can do that on OpenMissouri.

It's five weeks old and currently has 35 registered users. The site's automated Sunshine letters will make it a lot easier to request data.

More features

Suggest a data set - users can suggest the collection of a data set. If you hear about a data set, click submit and the managers of OpenMissouri, it's reviewed and verified.

Commenting -

Potential enhancements -
Upload a dataset to share with other people. The primary goal is not for OpenMissouri to be a place to get data, it's a place for people to share data and make sure more people can get access to the information gathered.

APIs (application programming interfaces) to share catalog and agency information some day. It would help programmers interact with the data collected on the site - especially the agency list.

Develop a site and social media activity stream. You'd be able to see what new interactions have happened on the site about user activity.

How-to materials - Tips on how to file a Sunshine request, what to do when the agency ignores your request or says no.

Jennifer Reeves worked in television news for the majority of her career. In the last six years, she has moved from traditional journalist to non-traditional thinker about journalism and education. Jen is currently the New Media Director at KOMU-TV and komu.com. At the same time, she is an associate professor at the Missouri School of Journalism and was a part of the inaugural class of Reynolds Journalism Institute fellows (2008-09).

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