Help! What’s a great news problem to solve?

Rich Gordon’s got programmers but no project:

Between now and when the [next Medill innovation project] starts (Sept. 23), we have to decide what the focus of the project will be. In my experience with previous projects, the key is to come up with an interesting challenge or question for the students to explore.

Right now there are two competing ideas, neither of them yet specific enough to organize the class around:

  • Civic engagement through online conversations
  • Mobile content and services

This project will be my primary focus for the next three months. We’ve got a great team, but we’re still hunting for a killer idea. What’s a great news problem to solve?

As for the platform, I’m leaning towards Android. (Admittedly, I’m putting the cart waaay in front of the horse here. The platform should always follow the idea, buuut…) The new gear from Google’s phone project is coming soon, and I agree with John Biggs at TechCrunch:

An open, powerful platform backed by a major, web-focused corporation is better than a useless accretion of outdated functions owned by a Borg-like conglomerate [Microsoft] or an OS created by a gnomic, arbitrarily pissy design company [Apple] in my book.

What do you think six budding new media journalists, two of whom code, should do for a quarter? Ryan and I could hack something pretty substantial in three months!

Any ideas?

4 thoughts on “Help! What’s a great news problem to solve?

  1. If you’re going Android, way better integration of phones with web sites – applications on both sides, open source, for posting content, updating, responding. Take a picture, crop it right there, and a less than 5 minute delay to have it perfectly formatted and published online, with text updates and a story to follow as quickly as it can be written on the spot and perhaps edited by someone somewhere else.

    But if everything is open I do have to pitch the same idea I pitch everywhere– horizontal communication that can scale to millions. Here’s an old grant app:

  2. My first thought is to find some local issue or cause and find out what they need to better tell their story… how this really turns out would depend on the issue and the people you are helping. I know this is vague, but I think you need to pound the pavement until you find something – or until something/someone finds you!

    Then I had this other idea that came to me while I was in the gym today (where most of my better ideas seem to happen). I was trying to think of a name for it… and I came up with things like personalized journalism, adaptive journalism, or even FLEXible journalism. 😉

    From those words, you might start thinking already at how sites suggest stories to you based on your browsing history or interests. Well, instead of that, why not let the story adapt to the person? Imagine a web page or application that has a main window for the story, a slider at the bottom, and a bunch of faces on the right. Let’s say the story is political related.

    Depending on the location of the bottom slider, the user is presented with varying amounts of information. Toward the left would be the main gist, short and sweet. Toward the right would be the complete story, presented in full glory, perhaps even with primary source information!

    So what about the faces on the right? I see them presented along the edge of a circle. If you select the middle of the circle, you get the story with no bias – presented as a good journalist learned in school. The other faces could be (just as an example) McCain, Obama, Palin, Biden, random teen, random professor, surfer dude etc… Depending who you select, you get that particular slant on the story. I was thinking you could expand on this by posing particular figures against each other to get interesting info and visuals comparing the two ‘spins’.

    Making this work would be a challenge. Do you make the journalist write the story N times for all the PoVs and varying amounts of detail? Or, do you write fancy software that takes the full story and does amazing natural language processing and correlation to auto-magically build the personalization effects?

    Haha, well, I’ve rambled on enough – just talking out loud here… Let me know if you actually decide to take something like this on!

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