News Startups Designing User Experience Journalism


The MIT Media Lab will launch a news platform called Fold in February 2015.  It will not just deliver the news; it is intended to also give more context to the news story like maps, definitions and other background information.  A lot of times we read about complex news stories like the ongoing conflict between Hamas and Israel, but don’t have a full understanding of what is really going on.  Fold is intended to fill in the knowledge gap.

Delivering news in this fashion is not a totally new concept.  Vox and even Google have ventured into user experience journalism.  With the abundance of information online today, more users are looking for spaces with curated news that is fair and accurate. So it will be interesting to see what Fold will have to offer.

In the meantime, here is a short preview:

How Data Journalism Is Reshaping Media Development

Map from Ekuatorial.comAs we all have known for a while, journalism and the way it is delivered has changed drastically over the last decade, as more people turn to technology for their news.  Up until recently, journalists in the developing world had a harder time delivering the news due to lack of resources.  However, data reporting and other tech innovations have made it easier for reporters to do their jobs, but it also presents new challenges.

Following Rio + 20 in 2012, Internews’ Earth Journalism Network and the Brazilian environmental news agency O Eco launched InfoAmazonia, an interactive mapping platform highlighting environmental concerns throughout the nine countries of the Amazon basin.  It sources its data from a wide range of stakeholders and partners and users can easily embed the richly designed maps on their websites or social media.  InfoAmazonia has become the go-to place for information and discussions about the world’s largest rainforest.

Earlier this year, the Earth Journalism Network and the Society of Indonesian Environmental Journalists (SIEJ)also launched Ekuatorial, a similar environmental platform that looks at climate change concerns in Indonesia.  What makes this project slightly different is that local journalists are able to collect data and produce reports that will be distributed to both Indonesian and international media outlets.  This gives more opportunity to showcase reporting that would normally not get much attention outside local communities.

There has also been a great deal of interesting data journalism occurring in Africa.  South African journalists formed a group called Oxpeakers.  They use data to report instances of rhino poaching in their country.  On its website it shows the number of rhino deaths and poacher arrests per province in an up-to-date interactive map.

Internews Kenya has collaborated with Kenya journalists to create LandQuest, an initiative that reports on development projects in the country that are financed by both charities and private firms.  Data collected is used to “visualize the interplay between capitalism and altruism and its impact on wealth and inequality. The geo-narratives mapped along side development projects and private industry underscore the relationship between people, data and the politics of development.”  The project has raised awareness to how both developed and developing countries can come together and regulate public and private funds through data.

Some media outlets in South Africa, Uganda and Nigeria are even looking at ways to make revenue from data.  Traditional newspaper ads are no longer a profitable business model. The Star newspaper of Kenya recently started charging premium text messaging rates for mHealth apps.  For a small fee, users can find the nearest certified doctor or if they’re covered by their insurance plans.  This helps to reduce the amount of medical fraud among citizens.  The initiative was created by Code For Kenya, who believe users are willing to pay for this service if there is an added value.

These are only a small number of innovative data journalism projects currently happening worldwide.  Journalists from both developed and developing countries could take lessons here.

Tools Journalists Can Use To Protect Their Work Online


In light of the recent NSA revelations, as well as the ongoing attempts to censor journalists and other online content producers by governments worldwide, we thought it would be a good idea to point out some tools available for use.

  1. –  Reporters Without Borders recently launched this secure portal that publishes articles, photography, video and audio that is either partially or entirely banned in countries where there is heavy censorship and surveillance.  The site has so far received content from Belarus, Brazil, China, Cuba, India, Japan, Jordan, Kazakhstan, Morocco and Syria. All news reports are published in English and French. The site also accepts articles that were originally published in Arabic, Chinese, Persian or Russian.
  2. Encrypted DocumentsJorge Luis Sierra, a Knight International Journalism Fellow, created a simple and easy-to-use tutorial on how to encrypt documents using Word for a Mac, Microsoft Word 10 documents on a PC and Open Office documents.
  3. Secure Mobile Phones – Mobile phones have become the most important tool for journalists, but these tools can easily be hacked by anyone anywhere.  Here are some ideas to consider:
    • If you live and work in an area where there is suspected or known surveillance, don’t keep any sensitive information on the mobile. If you have to, use an encryption program like TrueCrypt or a strong mobile and SIM card password.
    • Disable your Wi-Fi location or GPS and mobile data.  This will reduce the risk of tracking your location.  It also saves battery power and reduces unwanted data flow initiated by applications running remotely by your mobile carrier.
    • Consider using separate mobiles for professional and personal use.  Not only are your professional contacts and sources at risk if your mobile is lost or stolen, but the safety of your family and friends is also in jeopardy.
    • Consider hiding your identity by setting up your mobile to hide your number when you make calls.
  4. Secure Computers – The same rules above apply here as well. In addition:
    • Know Your Environment – Don’t look at sensitive information in a public space or in an open work space (cubicle).  If you have to be in public, use a laptop privacy screen filter and make sure it is password protected (and never share the password with anyone).  Never leave your laptop unattended and on. Instead, turn it off or put it into a password-protected “sleep” mode.
    • If you have to leave your computer at an office or your home, put it away in a secure place.
    • Always back up your files either in an encrypted cloud program or in a password protected external hard drive that can also be put in a secure place.  Some people recommend the external hard drive and computer be secured in separate locations.  If you have extremely sensitive information, you might want to consider having two or even three external hard drives secured in three different locations where no one would ever think of finding them.
    • Your computer becomes less vulnerable to hacking if you make sure it’s programs are kept up to date and upgraded regularly, including anti-virus programs.
  5.  Other issues to consider:
    • This article tells you signs someone is spying on your phone.
    • Orweb, Tor and Covert Browser (iPhones and iPads only) are apps that allow you to surf the Internet anonymously.  Most web browsers (Google Chrome, FireFox etc) have an option to browse the Internet privately as well.  Always delete your browsing history, cookies and cache.
    • ChatSecure lets Apple users chat in encrypted form, while Gibberbot encrypts the content of your instant messages.
    • There are many encrypted email services available, such as HushMail.
    • Always send or receive information – especially financial information – on websites that use Hypertext Transfer Protocol Secure (HTTPS).  This protocol means that only you and your server can view your information which is encrypted.
    • If you use multiple passwords (a good idea), consider using KeePass a free, open-source software that allows you to save passwords using only one primary password to unlock them.

Of course, there is no absolute way to totally protect yourself from hacking or surveillance, but if you use these tools, you will have better peace of mind.

The Basics of Mastering An Online Video Interview

Last week we discussed the importance of video for organizing.  GWA managing director Talia Whyte hosted an exciting webinar recently on basic video journalism.  Below she shares some tips on conducting video interviews.

In the many years I have been a journalist, I have had the opportunity to interview some fascinating people, many of whom are well-respected social activists in their fields.  Most recently I interviewed two very engaging subjects – TMS Ruge of Project Diaspora and printmaker Favianna Rodriguez.

Here are some basic tips on mastering a video interview:

1. Check Your Video Equipment: Before you do a video interview, you want to check out your equipment.  Do you need an external microphone or extra batteries?  Will you be shooting in a dark space or will there be a lot of noise?  As discussed here before about audio reporting, make sure you are prepared for every possible situation.

2. Prepare Questions: When your equipment is set, do research on the kinds of questions you want to ask the subject.  With the convenience of the Internet, you can pretty much find information about anybody very quickly.  It is also a good idea to review previous interviews about the subject so you don’t ask repetitive questions.  You should ask your most important questions first.  In many cases, the subject may have limited time to do an interview with you.  Even if you only get to ask one question, make sure it is your best question.

3. Shooting the Interview: Whether you are using a mobile phone or a more traditional video camera, make sure the subject can be properly seen and heard.  In both videos here I am both the camera person and interviewer, so the camera is right in front of the subject.  I am also standing while shooting the videos with a tripod.  Always use a tripod in every situation!

4. Shooting B-roll: In some situations you want to use b-roll – alternative footage intercut with footage from an interview or documentary.  B-roll is used for giving more context to an interview, or it could also cover any bad spots in an interview.  I didn’t feel the need to use b-roll in the Ruge interview.  However, it made sense to add b-roll to the Rodriguez interview as a great deal of the video deals with her artwork and viewers would have a better understanding of what she was talking about.  Generally after an interview, I shoot b-roll footage based on what was discussed beforehand.

5. Back it all up: Once you have successfully recorded your video, don’t forget to immediately back up or sync your material on a computer or cloud system, especially if it was recorded on a mobile phone.  It will relieve you of any stress later on.