At DIS 2019 Heather will detail Project Facet’s progress to date. Here she talks about the power of collaboration, why journalists don’t work together as often as they should and the potential of open source tools for content creation.
Tell us a little about your career to date?
I was very fortunate to start in journalism in public media in Alaska, a system that by default is highly collaborative by nature of the geography, population and news demands. I worked for the KTOO Public Media in Juneau as the digital services editor, working to bridge television, radio with providing content online and on different platforms. My work there often put me at the intersection of many different conversations about what people from different newsrooms were working on, how things were getting distributed and what the challenges were to being highly collaborative. This led me to looking at what collaboration looked like elsewhere.
I took a break from the full-time news world to advance my self-taught coding skills with some additional training in the Bay Area. Unexpectedly, that morphed into an opportunity to teach software development in the Bay while I continued to research how technology could help newsrooms be more successful in working together. In 2015, I applied for a Knight Foundation Prototype Grant to do user research and begin to prototype what has since become Facet. The following year, I jumped at the opportunity to dig into collaboration as a JSK Journalism Fellow at Stanford University.
Since then, Facet has been been built up and tested by partner newsrooms and we’re transitioning the platform to be open to all newsrooms. Last year, I published the Collaborative Journalism Workbook and I’m continuing to profile and write about collaboration in partnership with the Center for Cooperative Media, where we’ve been building out the Collaborative Journalism Database documenting all of the collaborative journalism projects that we can find along with metadata about the structure and logistics of those collaborations so that others may learn from what’s been tried before. I also do research and writing independently and on behalf of the Membership Puzzle Project about economic inclusion, class and poverty and how that intersects with journalism, membership and access to information.
What was the catalyst that lead to the creation of Project Facet? What is the core problem you are trying to solve?
Collaboration is an incredibly powerful toolkit for newsrooms to use that can address a wide range of newsroom challenges whether it’s the resources to adequately report on a complicated story, the need to access and reach different or expanded audiences, or the opportunity to focus attention on important reporting. It’s also incredibly accessible for any newsroom of any size, location or resources. Collaboration is our best opportunity to marshal the resources to do high impact journalism despite all of the challenges our newsrooms face today.
However, it’s not always immediately possible to quickly and effectively mesh different editorial teams, processes and ensure that everyone is informed on all the details so that they are empowered to participate fully and effectively. Facet is about creating a neutral workspace where you can work with whomever you need to work with, track all of the information from the content itself and media assets, to deadlines, tasks, events, messaging and more. It does this in one place, designed specifically for the editorial process and intended to grow and evolve alongside newsroom needs.
What are the limitations of the new breed of collaborative/ messaging tools like Slack from a newsroom perspective?
Much like the limitations of making use of mass tech tools in general is that it’s not built specifically for the needs of editorial processes and it’s not necessarily private or secure. Many of the tech companies are mining the communication and information that’s entered into those platforms because that’s their business model. We’re currently building out end-to-end encryption into Facet so content and communication can be encrypted before it’s ever stored on Facet so that we simply don’t have newsrooms sensitive communications. Additionally, Facet is open source because we believe that the development of collaborative systems should be as collaborative as the projects and content that’s managed through the platform. We don’t need to be a black-box for users and that benefits us all as it helps Facet adapt and evolve alongside newsrooms. As we see more and more newsrooms and individuals open-source tools and widgets, we’re seeking to create a space to deploy those tools so that they are accessible to even the smallest organizations that might not have the technical resources to otherwise make use of them. Our focus is specifically on newsroom needs and what we can do to serve those needs for the widest possible spectrum of newsroom types and resources.
What were the key technological problems you faced putting Project Facet together?
As Facet accounts for publishing on multiple platforms and different content types, it was important early in the prototyping to try to get down to the common denominators in how things are labelled and structured both content-wise and in terms of newsroom roles so that different kinds of newsrooms can still work together. It’s also an exercise in thinking about how Facet works not only at the beginning where specific decisions have to be made in order to build a platform to be tested and used but then how it evolves over time so that those decisions can be handed over to users themselves to create more freely and more flexibly. As we move forward, security, privacy, accessibility and thoughtful adaptation will be key considerations as the platform grows and evolves.
And how do you go about convincing journalists and newsrooms to get involved? Many have become used to working in silos on ultra tight deadlines – how does collaboration fit in?
When I first starting digging into collaboration, having seen firsthand how useful it could be, my thinking was, “how do I convince people they need to collaborate?” But, what I’ve come to realise is that many newsrooms and individual reporters are already making the decision to collaborate for themselves because we just don’t work in a world where we can do everything that we need to do by ourselves. Our competition is not each other, it’s every politician, political party, government, organisation or company who benefit from and are happy to see us with fewer resources and weaker in our isolation from one another. They win when we buy in to the nostalgia of scoops, exclusives and competition. The stories are bigger and more complicated, the impact is far-reaching, in many cases the stakes are higher and there are fewer of us trying to do this work. Collaboration is where the service of journalism and the industry of journalism collide and it’s our best opportunity to help us do the work that we need to do. And what’s truly powerful about collaboration is that it doesn’t require technology or money or some grand plan. Any newsroom, any journalist on any day can choose to collaborate to make some kind of reporting possible and get started. All it requires is the will to see it through and the openness to communicate, share and learn from one another.
How do you think Project Facet will evolve?
It’s my intention that Facet prioritises utility to newsrooms and the courage to be open and inclusive to the broadest spectrum of newsrooms as possible. Facet is starting as a platform that facilitates collaboration on reporting projects and all that entails, but it could be so much more because the focus is on a practice of service through reporting and information access. I can imagine everything from being the deployment platform for many of the various open source tools and widgets out there that can help newsrooms but aren’t accessible without the technical resources or skills to deploy them, to bridging other sorts of tool ecosystems to facilitating partnerships between news-producers with non-news partners and community groups to make journalism For and With easier to integrate into our editorial thinking. Regardless of how the functionality evolves, I’m excited about what we’ll accomplish working together.
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