Civic hacking is the act of using simple technical solutions to address or better understand bigger social problems. That’s something I found myself saying in an effort to better convey why open data and digital civic engagement isn’t just a distant issue for technologists but instead the conversation of transparency for today.
As part of a Philadelphia magazine issue on the ‘Millenial’ generation, I was interviewed in a Center City coffee shop by Nick Vadala, the bright, bearded and 20-something magazine contributor who was a former intern of mine at Technically Philly.
He was asking me about trends in our generation’s employment goals, and I found myself saying that we seemed defined (and work) by three themes, which made it into his nut graf but isn’t online yet so I wanted to share here.
If journalism is going to evolve to a savvier appreciation for ‘impact,’ its makers need to have a clearer idea of their target audience.
Like you would for any business, you need to know how big your market is, and you need to understand how hard (and necessary) it is to create that audience by acquiring new users — in this case, civic-minded residents.
I work at a startup. Not a tech startup or, to be honest, according to some, any kind of startup at all. I help lead a growing, young, small media business that happens to cover technology companies and startup culture, so I’m around conversations about definitions a lot.
Let me be clear: in this post, I’m using the definition I use for ‘startup,’ meaning a young company testing a business model. I’m writing here about what type of person I’m finding can work best in such an environment, which is different (but neither better, nor worse) than a large corporation or even another smaller, but more stable and more clearly defined, organization.
For much of the 20th century, the newspaper industry had this curious role filled by “rewrite men” — though, of course, women, too, served these positions. For breaking on-the-scene news, when telegraphs and then faxes couldn’t do the trick, a reporter would get on the phone with a rewrite man and assemble a story live, using notes and standard formatting.
The reporter would speak his story — an impressive feat, actually, having heard a few veterans do this and often trying it to keep up the old tradition — and the rewrite man would record it, transcribe it, clean it up and run it. If you talk to a newspaper reporter of a certain age, she might have stories about the good rewrite men and bad rewrite men. The good ones would take your rough story and turn it into a gem (with the help of other editors too). A rewrite man might go years without ever seeing his byline in a newspaper, never getting any official acknowledgement of his work to put out a finished piece of copy.
Today is the most accessible moment in the history if mankind. We are new enough with tools that they are still used personally by many leaders but advanced enough that adoption is rampant.
Search engines are familiar territory, but I picked up a few lessons from the workshops that followed the panel I was on during the Google for Media event that preceded the Online News Association conference in Atlanta.
I’m sharing what I picked up here, as much for me as for you.
Define the mission underpinning the work of your news organization, and then allow yourself to experiment with new and potentially better ways of telling stories.
That’s my interest in finding new innovative storytelling methods, and so I was excited by the chance to share examples with nearly 100 reporters and educators who visited a session I cohosted during a national news innovation conference in Atlanta last week.
Know why you’re doing your coverage and find the method that best creates that outcome. While that may mean a beautiful, highly produced product like the Serengeti Lion web interactive from National Geographic, depicted above, my focus here is sharing low-cost or free ideas for inspiration.