How the Philly papers are experimenting with design thinking in the newsroom

If the digital revolution holds one enduring lesson for the news industry, it’s that, in the long run, the internet tends to reward those publishers who are most attuned to their audiences.

While analytics can offer insight into how current users react to existing content, it doesn’t help publishers uncover topics and approaches they haven’t tried and audiences they might be missing.

At the Philadelphia Media Network — publisher of The Inquirer, Daily News and — we chose to take an experimental design-thinking approach to this problem.

I shared some practical tips and lessons learned in a recent Medium post for the Lenfest Institute.

New at Electoral vote map

Now that the primary season is over and the general election campaign is heating up, it’s time to introduce a fun little electoral vote map built by my colleague, Sean Connelley. What’s unique about this one is that you can create your own scenario here and then grab some code to embed it in your website, like so:

What anger looks like

I’m not an angry journalist, but it’s hard not to be drawn to the alternately sad/funny/heartless/clueless screeds at Seeking some aggregate wisdom from the 2,794 comments posted to date, I captured all the venom and slammed it through TagCrowd (omitting various forms of the words “angry” and “journalist”). The result (click a tag to see where it appears in comments):

created at

Glad to know the web doesn’t figure as large in people’s anger as I might have guessed, but I’m not encouraged by the relative sizes of love and hate.

Update (2008.04.02): There aren’t enough posts at to turn out a good cloud. C’mon, people!

Technical skills in journalism jobs

The students in my online media class at USC are looking for the technical skills that will help land them jobs in journalism, and I want to help them identify what those skills might be. I have a pretty good idea, of course, but I thought I’d be more quantitative in my assessment. So I took all the online job descriptions on from this year, omitted the non-technical words (like “editor”, “seeks” and “self-starter”) and built a tagcloud out of the rest. Here’s what it looks like:

created at

Update (2008.02.04): This post drew a lot more notice than I would have guessed. My favorite response comes from fellow Mizzou alum Chris Heisel, now at the AJC, who built his own tech skills tagcloud. I have a feeling Chris’ wish list comes a lot closer to nailing the critical skills than most of the postings on JournalismJobs do.

Update (2008.04.02): The tagcloud is hopefully more useful now that the tags link back to keyword searches in’s online job listings. I was linking keywords for my post on and I thought I might as well do it here too.

Competition in local data

News websites are starting to see some competition on the local data front from niche players that do one thing very well. Witness SignalMap, which maps users’ reports of cellular reception, and CleanScores, a database of restaurant health inspections in L.A. and San Francisco (credit to Joe Murphy for pointing these out).

SignalMap is nationwide — its concept scales easily because doesn’t require any cooperation from local governments — but CleanScores has to ingest health data from umpteen jurisdictions if it wants to expand to every major market, which it says it intends to do. I see this as a challenge to local news organizations. We have the relationships and the local know-how to do this kind of thing better than anybody else. What we still lack, in many cases, is the technical sense and the will.

Rethinking the Merc

Kudos to the San Jose Mercury News. After a series of demoralizing cuts that seemed destined to precipitate the newspaper’s slide into oblivion, the remaining staffers have refused to write their own obituary. They’re fundamentally rethinking how their organization should function — and, more importantly, they’re doing it out in the open.

My favorite recommendation (so far): “Our newsroom structure is flopped: 70 percent of our resources are dedicated to online, while the remaining 30 percent work to create a print experience that focuses on doing one thing on each section cover better than anything else. The rest of the paper is culled from our online report.”

Mark Glaser over at PBS has a nice summary of the Merc’s effort.

Come work with me

OK, if that headline didn’t totally scare you away, read on:

My employer, the L.A. Times, is looking for some hybrid journalist-techies to help us build our interactive concepts team. This group will be the glue that binds our graphics, editorial and tech teams and takes the lead on building innovative projects such as the Homicide Map. The role of the interactive team is so important to my bosses that they’re creating a new space for it in our online newsroom:


(It’s the area behind the plastic in my blurry photo, and when they finish building we’re going to deck it out with all kinds of cool stuff.)

Two positions are open right now, and we’re tweaking the job description on a third:

If either of these gigs looks interesting to you, don’t hesitate to apply. We want to move fast to fill them.

Also, the Times has a bunch of other web jobs open. Check them out.