(Cross-posted at the Stanford d.school web site)
Twenty journalists stand in a small wooded clearing behind a community day care center in St. Paul. There are no deadlines today. No assignments. No “newshole” to fill. Just questions to ask and people to meet in a historically diverse and challenged neighborhood called Frogtown.
The journalists listen intently as residents step forth to talk affectionately of their neighborhood, Frogtown. Soon, the scribes and producers break up into teams and spread out into the community. It’s gorgeous, 80 degrees, and we’ve got our walking shoes on.
But take a moment and empathize with the modern journalist: She is under extreme pressure to ask questions she knows someone will answer succinctly and by deadline. There’s little time to wonder why, or ask why not, or to ponder the broader question: so what’s really going on. There are shows to produce, stories to write, newsholes to fill. And surely we media consumers’ appetite for the new and novel is voracious. But yet, I suspect that (though they’d have a hard time articulating it if asked) extreme users among us (news junkies, constant listeners and the uninterested and disengaged) suffer from a certain information malnourishment.
So, here’s the design thinking challenge: how might we combine on-the-ground reporting with networked technologies to create awesome, revelatory journalism?
With solid, adventurous work here, we can rapidly prototype and iterate new approaches to engagement and news coverage that make the best use ofresources like the Public Insight Network, Hacks/Hackers, and the leadership of newsroom visionaries around the country, to purposefully meander (the design thinker’s drunken walk) towards a new age of engaged journalism.
But the success or failure of this work turns on how we answer a single question: How are we meeting the information needs of people, of citizens, and of our democracy? To adequately and rigorously explore this question, we need to deploy armies of design thinking ninjas to conduct in-depth interviews, to patiently observe people in their native habitats, so we can understand what it is we’re missing from our information diets. What’s the gap between what we say we get from the news, and what we demonstrate that we get from the news by what we do? What deeper set of needs does news serve, and how might we reinvent how we produce journalism to serve those needs? On a societal level, where is the evidence of information gaps, and how might we fill those?