More design thinking and the people formerly known as “the audience”

by Emily Goldblum @emilygoldblum

At one point during Clay Shirky’s TED talk he mentions, “What matters here isn’t technical capital, it’s social capital.”

Shirky then goes into a larger explanation about how more diverse voices can be heard, regarded and even answered today, thanks to the explosion of interactive digital media. He adds: “Now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we’re all in this together.”

This is what what we’re all here for. This is our movement (dramatic or semi-truth?). Instead of a one-way connection between the media and the public, people are able to talk back. The internet hasn’t stunted the growth of journalism, but extended it and given the opportunity for multiple touchpoints with our readers instead of one to many.

The article by Jay Rosen complemented Clay Shirky’s TED Talk extremely well. Rosen mentions that there is no longer a passive “audience. ”Instead of just being spoken to, people can speak back and to each other. This doesn’t mean they’ll always get a response in return, but if a large amount of people want a response, journalists often feel pressure to respond. Think about all of our communities and how we’re attempting to (if we haven’t already) boil down one issue/something worth protecting. We could be the trigger in setting off more of these “horizontal” conversations.

During class, we regrouped after going out and approaching New Jersey commuters in Penn Station. We had left last week’s class with a mission in mind: what could make commutes easier from or to New Jersey? When it came down to it , we uncovered some concerns any commuter in NYC can relate to. We observed people. They may have had headphones in or they were sprinting to the subways in order to get to work or go home. Most of those who stood waiting were engrossed in their phones. In general, people seemed flustered, frustrated and sometimes even defeated. We approached them anyway. This deserves some kudos.

We learned through the commuters that they were anxious about getting on the train. They just wanted to be wherever they needed to be.

Professor Jarvis spoke about Clever Commute, which has both free and paid services to make commutes easier. One free service within Clever Commute allows the user to find the track their train would be on. Although it’s in beta, this helps eliminate anxiety for those waiting for their track number to appear on the screen in Penn Station.

Erica told us about the NJTLight App, has a four star rating in the iPhone app store, with over 50 ratings. This app gives you the train schedule in a PDF format so you’ll be able to download it on your phone in case you don’t have service.  If you’re creating an app for the pitch next week, you can read some of the comments on the app’s reviews. This gives a good idea of what else communters might want to see, i.e. Jake Rockwel mentioned that he’d like to see a better alert system when delays occur;  “Renpek84” mentioned that he/she would really love to see buses and trains included.

After further discussion, we brought all of these ideas onto the whiteboard and switched into design thinking mode. What do these commuters need? How will whatever we create for them affect them and help them?Will it last? We spoke about reoccuring themes. Breaking into our groups with design thinking/innovation in mind, everyone chose one issue that they’d wanted to solve for commuters.

Working together, we worked to focus on that one specific problem, and once we got into the ideation phase, we brainstormed useful solutions. What could we do with all of these great ideas? What’s realistic?

We were able to then share our new ideas and get feedback in order to hone in on what it is we want to accomplish for NJ.com. Luis’ group was animated in their presentation, presenting a potential app that knew a lot about its potential users. It gave commuters the option to chat/complain/question what was happening with their train line. For example, the group presented a situation in which a train was delayed, and Julia opened up a chat feature so that she could ask others what was happening.

My group talked about possibly creating an add-on for NJ.com’s website in which a stream would live on the right side of the screen. You’d be able to search for potential train delays by typing in your area, and also toggle back and forth between info you need going home vs. traveling to work.

I’m looking forward to hearing every group’s pitch next week, whether it be expanding on their original ideas or presenting something new.

Question:

Can you share a few tips on getting interviewees to open up, if any? I enjoyed hearing about this in class, whether it was opening up the conversation with compliments or getting straight to the point.

29 thoughts on “More design thinking and the people formerly known as “the audience””

  1. In Jay Rosen’s piece, he writes: “The people formerly known as the audience are simply the public made realer, less fictional, more able, less predictable. ” I think this relates to both Emily’s question and the kind of design thinking we’re doing.

    First, our audience, or community, is very real in that we’re getting face-to-face right off the bat. In the case of the NJ.com exercise, we had the challenge of getting people to first talk to us at all, and then open up. We couldn’t just theorize what they want; we had to get the information from them, making them “less fictional.” And some of the responses we received were unexpected, making the audience less predictable. Plus, some people explained how they are already taking action to improve their commute by using apps that are already available–the “more able” audience.

    To be honest, I had some trouble with the man-on-the-street interviews. Four or five people turned me and my partner down, and one was really rude to us. When people are willing to talk, what I find most helpful is to start out with some of the basic, warm-up questions so that people feel comfortable. To draw more information out, it’s also helpful to use simple follow-up questions when people respond, such as “Why is that?”; “How so?”; or “What specifically?” When doing interviews with members of my chosen community, I’ve found that it helps to start with small talk before even diving into the questions to make sure the interviewees are relaxed.

    Finally, I think Doreen Marchionni’s findings on journalism-as-conversation can be useful in the interview process. She lists the main variables as:
    -Perceived similarity to journalist.
    -Perceived humanness of journalist.
    -Perceived online interaction/collaboration between journalist and citizens.
    -Perceived openness to citizen ideas, accessibility.
    -Perceived casual tone with audience.

    So I think it’s important to be friendly, casual, open-minded and empathetic as much as we can throughout the process of design thinking, as well as our community projects.

    1. Great thoughts, Rachel, and your takeaways from the readings are really key. Doreen’s work is incredibly useful in helping us understand what kinds of strategies are effective in engaging readers, because she is able to use rigorous methods to test them. And yeah, I feel you – man on the street interviews are hard!

  2. Great post Emily! First, I wanted to answer your question about interviewing. What works for me when approaching people is making them feel like they are still in control and I try not to catch them too off guard. Personally, when I’m approached on the street by charity, a vendor or anyone who has a sales pitch I’m immediately turned off. I also feel like it’s insincere when people walk up to me and simply ask how I’m doing. I usually walk on by and I see others doing the exact same thing. I’ve done a lot of man on the street interviews for work and they are always tough, but when I ask a question that elicits the other person’s help I tend to get better results. I believe I mentioned this in class, but for this specific project I walked around, maybe looking a little lost, and just asked people where their train was coming in from at Penn Station. All of them stopped to answer me and help me out. From there on, it was easy to engage in a conversation with them about the train and their commute. When participants feel like they are not being used, but instead feel they can offer something useful or know their insight matters it’s empowering to them. I think the use of power leads us into several things we touched on in class this week.

    In the Jay Rosen piece he mentions a big mistake Ann Kirschner, vice president of programming and media development for the NFL, made when she said, “We already own the eyeballs on the television screen. We want to make sure we own the eyeballs on the computer screen.” Rosen goes on to explain, “…Kirschner and company should know that such fantastic delusions (‘we own the eyeballs…’) were the historical products of a media system that gave its operators an exaggerated sense of their own power and mastery over others. New media is undoing all that, which makes us smile. You don’t own the eyeballs. You don’t own the press, which is now divided into pro and amateur zones. You don’t control production on the new platform, which isn’t one-way. There’s a new balance of power between you and us.”

    I appreciated Rosen’s take on this. It reminded me to consider the audience (during interviews and while developing NJ.com) and to remember that consumers also play a role as “producers” in new media. During his Ted talk I liked the example Clay Shirky gave on how to give the audience a balance in power. He speaks about the issues surrounding Obama’s decision to change his FISA vote and how outraged supporters created a group on MyBarackObama.com (myBO.com) to voice their opinions. Although they were not pleased, even after Obama’s press release, Shirky says a funny thing happened. He says, “People in that group realized that Obama had never shut them down. Nobody in the Obama campaign had ever tried to hide the group or make it harder to join, to deny its existence, to delete it, to take to off the site. They had understood that their role with myBO.com was to convene their supporters but not to control their supporters.”

    Then Shirky says my favorite line during his talk. He says, “… that is the kind of discipline that it takes to make really mature use of this media.” Mature use of this media. I’ve never thought about that before, but it makes a lot of sense. I often think of social media as being immature because so many people use it for, well immature purposes. But that’s why we need to make mature use of it. I may be coming around to embracing new media with this in mind. For class, the pitches we are creating for NJ.com are a great way to begin practicing how to make the best use of media today. It’s also giving us the opportunity to craft new uses for new media and to explore our role as professionals, all while supporting the user and keeping in mind that we are “in a world of media where the former audience are now increasingly full participants”.

  3. As journalism as a service turns to be a new way to upscale the good old vox populi, the man on the street keeps representing a challenge for reporter. Indeed, many of us addressed an audience, which is also the main subject of the report. And as we noticed, it is hard to make people talk about themselves, especially in their most busy daily activity, confronted to constant rush until they reach work destination.
    But for that particularly tricky exercise, journalists must also distinguish themselves from customer care staff members for NJ transportation which role is also basically collect request and complaint from commuters.
    How could we consider commuters to engage with us more easily? As Pedro noticed, asking a question about wi-fi access in the train helps brake the ice with commuters start – with no surprise – to elaborate on their grieves. This strategic question revealed also the level of Internet mobile consumption by commuters. As Dr. Carrie Brown said, a lot of publisher and media industry executives are interested in how we use mobile to read news during our commute when Facebook and games represent 90% of commuting activities according to Pedro’s observations.

    Revealing insights

    Many vox pop led to not only to evaluate the level of satisfaction of NJ commuters but according to Jeff Jarvis, it helps us to rethink different assets in commuters routines. During the session we sketched many tools and ways to could turn the “unbearable” commuting condition of NJ residents into a more pleasant journey. This is was professor Jarvis called the insights:

    -Connect people
    -Inform people
    -Advocacy (wishlist)
    -Audio
    -Gaming
    -Twitter#
    -What track?
    -Batteries
    -NJ.con charging station
    -Gaming and other habits
    -Daypart
    -Demographic study

    Most of NJ residents who travel to NY for professional reason as 100 000 French residents in the Savoy region commute each day to Genève for work. Sean (I think) remarkably reported that some commuters would like to be happy to see their occupation transplanted to NJ, so do French transfrontaliers.
    It is interesting to underline how experimenting a diverse commuting environment impacts the way we want to improve our own routine. Pedro highlight us about the way Sao Paolo residents use Waze to communicate and share commute tips to improve their travel. This innovative social platform has already retained Professor Jeff Jarvis attention. But would people complain about delayed traffic and lack of information if they don’t witness each day how MTA puts effort and investment to innovate the commuting experience for its users? How should NJ.com take part of the social movement considering the expense that will generate these changes?

    1. Good point on icebreakers, as others have suggested as well. Getting people to talk to you…especially in a large city, and while people are in a big hurry…is a huge challenge.

  4. In my opinion, one of the biggest factors we need to look at with new media is how fractal audiences have become. I like to use the social media platform Reddit as a prime example of this. If you’re not familiar with the site, give it a spin. There is a sub-Reddit (a related string of posts on a given topic) for EVERYTHING. Cooking tips, hyperlocal news, sports, humor…you name it, it’s on there. Now Reddit doesn’t have a whole lot to do with design though on its own, but the idea that tastes can be customized and catered to specifically most definitely does.

    In terms of engaging communities, I’ve found that the community I’ve been working with (the Irish and Irish-Americans in New York) are relatively easy to talk to given how the culture works, but I know this a bit of an anomaly. When you ask people about where they’re from or what they’re proud of their culture for, the responses tend to be more positive than those you’ll get from tired commuters at Penn Station. In a lucky turn of events, I attended a Celtic F.C. (the largest Irish supported soccer club, founded by Irish immigrants in Glasgow, Scotland) game at a bar called The Parlour on the Upper West Side. I was completely unaware of how many Irish people would be out there to support their team midday on a Wednesday! The game was a exciting and ended in a tie with a last second Celtic goal, which I think made people more willing to speak with me about one of my topics for Reporting class, which revolved around sport in the community and how it forms cohesive bonds. However, if that last second score never happens, I think there would have been many more dour faces and less willingness to speak with me.

    To build on Rachel’s comments, I was a little surprised by the curiosity the crowd had about what I was writing about. A tattooed, middle aged man with a thick accent named Derrick was the social media manager for the New York City Celtic Supporters club, and I was fortunate to have some similar interests to him, and I learned that the bar was a more than just a soccer pub; it was a meeting place for expats who enjoyed watching the same team play. But even more than that, I was struck by how well all the supporters knew one another. When people find a very specific point to rally around, I feel that the bonds they form are that much stronger.

    This again goes back to the theme of empathy; it didn’t hurt me that my name sounded Irish, it didn’t hurt that I knew my subject, and it clearly helped that Derrick was the social media manager of the club, enabling me to ask some questions about his tactics in promoting it. However, I definitely still need to work on my interviewing tactics, as great stories aren’t just going to fall into my lap every week. I’ll be headed back to the Parlour this Thursday afternoon to follow up and catch another game and learn more about this community and their goals.

    1. Great post, Emily! A really good job. The comments, too, so far are so well rounded and with such great insight.

      I was about to begin this comment by trying to answer Emily’s question and by discussing the idea of the audience, the journalist and the true meaning of “engagement”, but then I realized that by creating this thread, by attending this course, by talking about the future of journalism and the relationships that we can build and re-build, simply by just being here and creating a discourse: that is the beginning, that is the answer. We are answering our own question.
      Woody Allen once said, “80% of success is showing up.” and I think this speaks highly to our industry.

      At the risk of arrogance over subtle confidence I have to say I am not phased at the prospect of talking to people, reaching out to “strangers”. In fact, I look forward to it. In many ways, journalists, I feel, are introverts, happy to discover the truth and spread the word at the cost of self-promotion. That to me, is amazing because coming from an acting background, is totally alien! That is actually a reason why I joined this course – I wanted to reach out to people and communities in a different way. I have zero journalistic background, I come into this as an empty page, but the same time I want to use the other skills that I have learned in order to help me be a better social journalist.

      Ok, Emily’s question: I think Erica came up with a great answer: Make them feel comfortable, that they’re in charge – and I agree – This is difficult for me because I am, by nature, someone who is not exactly passive or quiet. So I think about the simplest of gestures: The Smile. Yes, I know this seems trivial or silly but you will shocked to see how powerful a smile can be. Charles Darwin talks about it in “The Origin Of Species”. He states that the act of smiling itself actually makes us feel better — rather than smiling being merely a result of feeling good. In his study, Darwin actually cited a French neurologist, Guillaume Duchenne, who used electric jolts to facial muscles to induce and stimulate smiles. ***Please, don’t try this at home.

      I encourage everyone to also watch Ron Gutman’s TED TALK on the power of the smile – It’s great.

      (sorry, couldn’t figure out how to hyperlink it here!)
      http://www.ted.com/talks/ron_gutman_the_hidden_power_of_smiling/transcript?language=en

      The audience is us. The Journalist is us. Jay Rosen’s article was excellent because above all, it makes us realize this one thing:

      We are together in this. There is no CEO. There is no janitor. We all have the right to engage and be engaging.

      1. Great points, Luis. I have always thought Woody Allen was exactly right on that one- over and over again in my life, I have found that to be true. Even introverts – and most journalists are indeed introverted – often get better and better at embracing the unknown with practice, and even learn to love it with time.

    2. Love the insights you are developing working with this community. I’m curious how you might explore further what this “fractal” or fragmented media landscape means for journalists – I think it’s an important insight to consider.

  5. The line that stuck out to me the most from Jay Rosen’s article ties together both our class exercise and the interviewing question.

    Once it was your radio station, broadcasting on your frequency. Now that brilliant invention, podcasting, gives radio to us. And we have found more uses for it than you did.

    (emphasis mine)
    What I got from this (and other readings) is: Your “audience” is smarter than you, smarter than your whole newsroom. Let them show you what they can do.

    I think others of you have hit on this in your comments too, but being genuinely curious to hear people’s responses to your interview questions helps a lot. It helps the interviewee feel important and believe you’re not just doing this because you’re paid to.

    The Rosen line also is a humbling thought (everyone else is smarter), and I think being humble, or at least not arrogant, is valuable when interviewing. These people are taking time from their day to talk to you, and you’re grateful, and they’re likely going to tell you something you didn’t already know. It’s amazingly nice of them, so sounding appreciative helps.

    That’s all nice in theory, but I dread man-on-the-street interviews. I was lucky to pair up with Luis, Adreile and Aaron while doing our Penn Station interviews because each of them had more confidence in approaching people and having them agree to talk. Once someone agreed to talk, I’m eager to jump in and help do the interview, but it’s that first step that is the hardest for me.

    The first question we asked people in Penn Station and the first question I asked people in my community was the same kind of question: Tell me about your typical day. I’ve heard it’s good to start with a question that the interviewee knows the answer to. It also helped me feel less nervous during interviews, because the other person usually goes on a for a bit when talking about his/herself, so it helps me get to know the interviewee and figure out how to ask the next question.

    I feel like I definitely have room for improvement when doing interviews. I worry I sound as nervous as I am, and that I can’t put people at ease to get the best responses. Then again, the people I’ve talked with in my community have surprised me with their candor. And I guess that ties back to the Rosen piece: Your no-longer-just-an-audience will always surprise you.

    1. Does anyone know how to edit comments? Or delete one so I can repost? I accidentally made most of it italic and want to fix it.

        1. In theory you guys should be able to edit your comments based on the “power” I gave you in WordPress…but it appears as though this isn’t working correctly. I need to investigate further.

    2. Julia, italics or no, I think you’ve captured some key insights here…humility is really important when it comes to connecting with others in a meaningful way.

      I have the same problem – I can talk to almost anybody, but that initial approach to a stranger is *so* freakin hard.

  6. As the senior member of our Social J program, and I mean that only in a polite definition of age, once again, I feel like I have a unique perspective on the week’s readings and assignment. It has taken hours of pouring over the material to get here. I wanted to focus this piece on the second set of slides Carrie sent us, and specifically on the ‘point of view’ that is so key to all of design and user experience. Until we can master point of view, efforts at creating a new and better ways to process information will be as mangled as this writing seems to be. In last weeks class, our group of budding social journalists were tasked with creating a PR or advertising type pitch, in an effort to help us improve our research, interviewing and brainstorming capabilities. Our class assignment was to consider the users of NJ transit and how they can be better served by NJ.com To me, more than anything it seemed like a study in getting inside the specific point of view of the riders. This was followed by a week where design experience seemed to be everywhere.

    • I arrive at class to find that we are getting in groups to do an actual pitch to a decision maker at New Jersey transit…

    • I wake up one morning, and the sun is still not shining, the coffee is hot and ready, take some kids to a museum and the hosts ask me to “create a better breakfast experience”

    • The guest speaker in my reporting class, a Wall Street Journal reporter, says that the aspect of her job that has changed the most in the last 5 years is the need to interact with the audience, to have a twitter presence and find ways to make the content more appealing in visual and interactive ways…


    The design experience wave has taken over and seems to be a ‘top down’ message at this point, and as the new leaders of social journalism, in order to make a good story, we will need to find the perspective of the ‘bottom up’ users in order to give it currency. A great experience of this was written in an assignment for Reporting class, https://medium.com/@elle_mccann/crafting-civictech-7f5edfb864bb . In it, the authors address the need for engagement to be facilitated thorough the ideating process and that the aggregate knowledge must have a place in the overall commitment. Examples were given on how a community was broadened and developed in unexpected and necessary ways. Here is where Design Experiences seemed to relate to our class of journalists the best.

    This is not exactly a new road, or a simple walk in the park for old school journalists. It is more so a bit of a day hike, (uphill) and on it, I am very grateful for Clay Shirkey!

    A few paragraphs from the TED talk really need major consideration at this stage. Allow me to paraphrase some-

    What matters isn’t technological capital, it’s social capital
    These tools don’t get socially interesting until they get technologically boring…
    It isn’t when the shiny news tools show up, that the users start permeating society, it’s when everybody starts taking them for granted…
    The need to take for granted the idea that we are all in this together….
    How do we get there? Here it comes again, the biggest catch phrase of business…the intersection, we need an intersection between the former audience and the eyeballs…

    1. I think you are right, Cristina…design thinking is everywhere these days. The idea that you have to listen to the people you are creating products or services for is simple but powerful, and it’s also important in the nonprofit sector – there’s a whole “social innovation” movement that brings this approach to orgs/leaders working on initiatives for social good.

      I wouldn’t necessarily characterize all pitches as “PR or advertising” related, although I suppose it all depends on how you look at it…journalists, at least those in “traditional” organizations, do balance on an interesting edge between business imperatives and their mission to serve the public. But being able to “sell” your idea matters even in highly non-commercial contexts.

  7. One of the factors in my decision to pursue journalism is the opportunity to talk with people of all backgrounds, and as Emily said in her post, “getting interviewees to open up.” It’s the ‘opening up’ process that is the key, at least in my limited experience, to finding new details. This is an art and not a science our group found as we shared diverse interviewing approaches.

    Yesterday in Kathryn Lurie’s reporting class we had a conversation with Sara Germano, who reports on sporting goods at the Wall Street Journal. She uncovered the U.S. Speedskating and Under Armor debacle at the Sochi Olympics where the team had a historically poor performance while for the first time wearing new suits engineered by Under Armor. Germano advised us as new journalists to listen to those who have a complaint. Through listening to the Speedskating team member’s individually gripe about the suits, Germano built a rapport with the skaters and soon had a quality breaking story.

    Reporting in an official setting such as the Olympics, where athlete interaction and public comment can be highly measured it was important for Germano, as she said, to promise a certain amount of discretion to protect her sources and build trust.

    I feel that a defining factor in my life is diversity in experiences with people from all walks of life. Having lived at one point in TX, CA, ME, CT, and both Upstate New York and the city, an approach I have in interacting with interviewees is perspective. I know that I can learn something from anyone who is willing to teach, or explain, or “open up” about his or her life experiences.

    From talking with the sleepy-eyed commuters in Penn Station waiting on the NJ Transit, I found that people are willing to share their thoughts if they feel comfortable with you. For me, it’s in the initial approach where I sense the most tension. If I fumble on my quick personal introduction it will set the immediate tone.

    A dilemma I experience is confidently calling myself a journalist. When I say simply, “I’m a student,” during an introduction I find the reaction to be a bit more apprehensive than if I start with, “I’m in a journalism program and I’m researching how commuters experience the NJ Transit System.” The later worked efficiently.

  8. Emily, I agree with you and your blog post so much! It might be the only time we agree being that we like to throw shade towards each other, haha, just kidding. I’m going to just piggyback on your viewpoints though.

    “Now that media is increasingly social, innovation can happen anywhere that people can take for granted the idea that we’re all in this together.” It doesn’t have to be dramatic or semi-true because it is true :). We are here. This is our movement as social journalists, innovators, individuals and communities.

    Also like you referenced, we are starting to see journalism as not a service for passive “audience,” but a service where we listen to individuals and communities. We are in this program to interact and build relationships with these communities. Also, we are here to figure out (design think) of better ways to provide services to individuals and specific communities through identifying issues they care about and helping them create solutions for these problems.

    You hit the nail on the head. Good job, Ems!

    1. Good point to focus on difference between active and passive audience, Deron. Any thoughts from the readings that stuck out to you?

  9. Clay Shirky accurately describes the way we interacted with the audience pre-social media in his TED Talk:

    “The media that’s good at creating conversations is no good at creating groups and the media that’s good at creating groups is no good at creating conversations. If you want to have a conversation in this world, you have it with one other person. If you want to address a group, you get the same message and you give it to everybody in the group whether you’re doing it with broadcasting tower or a printing press.”

    Now, “former consumers are now producers,” says Shirky. Ideas, thoughts, opinions are expressed all over the internet and anyone can share them, see them, and comment on them at any time. As Jay Rosen explains in his writing, and what many of us agree on, is that “the people formerly known as the audience” are smarter than we are.

    A good example of this is the concept of crowdsourcing. When coming up with ideas for improving NJ.com, my group (Julia, Luis Miguel, Aaron, and myself) prototyped an app that would allow users to update others on the current statuses of various NJT trains. By crowdsourcing updates on delays and other transit issues, others would not only receive faster updates, but they would be receiving relatable, useful information from their fellow transit-riders. Without our “audience” this would not be possible.

    In regards to Emily’s question, on ways to get interviewers to open up: I think approaching people on the streets of New York is always difficult, especially because many of us are so used to being bombarded by people on the street asking for “donations” or other random things. As far as reporting goes, I think it’s a good idea to ease into peoples’ lives.. Come prepared with strong questions and make sure they’re conversational. Also, telling people that you’re a student looking to “improve” things is always a good approach.

  10. I’ll do my part of contrarian here, to make things more interesting. And because I religiously abide to the idea that to improve a thesis you have to test all the things that disprove it, and see if competing hypothesis are valid.

    Anyways, it was interesting for me to watch Shirky’s speech again, almost six years later (I’ve watched and read two of his books). Because most of it is kind of “everything has changed, adapt or die” talk. In that TED talk he was making some bold predictions, informed by what was happening at that time. And it is nice to make a reality check, not only for the sake of disproving (or strengthening) some theories, but to understand why some interesting and promising ideas didn’t end up working quite as planned.

    Take his example of mybarackobama.com. When he talks about how the electorate had a say on the candidate’s views, or demanded a response in 2008, it seemed promising. But we now know that this kind of communication, of the audience talking directly to the politicians, didn’t exactly evolve in the US – I would say quite the contrary. People feel more alienated of the political sphere than ever.

    Maybe that was a problem of platforms. So I went back to watch again what Pia Mancini, an Argentinian activist, said on her talk on TED Global last year. She was telling that we need better tools to engage people on actual political decisions, something like actually voting on what our member of Congress should vote, or delegating to a better informed friend on specific matters. We won’t be able to change our democracy system now, so we have to somehow hack it, or participate in a more meaningful way. And that idea seemed more realistic to me than Shirky’s “nothing is the same” verve.

    And, at least for me, Shirky (and Rosen, to a lesser extent) gives to much emphasis on the capability of “talking back”, or talk on a horizontally way, which could be revolutionary in 2009, but we know that it is not sufficient to make actual change. You can argue that Legacy media no longer have the monopoly of attention, but they still have a tremendous impact on what people are talking and thinking – even if they were succeeded by new barons, like Buzzfeed, HufPo and Gawker. More “amateur” voices are more important than ever to make professional’s work in check, but after all this years I can’t recall a single big story, or movement, that changed society or policy, that really emerged on someone’s blog. Maybe the “First Amendment machines”, the blogs, have passed its prime, as we saw recently.

    In fact, you could argue that the web is more centralized than ever. I found this statistic in a story on Wired, from 2010:

    According to Compete, a Web analytics company, the top 10 Web sites accounted for 31 percent of US pageviews in 2001, 40 percent in 2006, and about 75 percent in 2010.

    (I’m sure that it is even less “long tail” now in 2014). Shirky says that “media is less and less often about crafting a single message to be consumed by individuals. It is more and more often a way of creating an environment for convening and supporting groups.”

    In all of his talk, he equates media to platforms. But when we look at the media brands that are successful now – VICE, Buzzfeeds, Guardian and even NYT with its dreaded paywalls – they aren’t platforms at all. And, honorable mentions notwithstanding, the platforms (Facebook, Medium, Twitter, etc) are always centered in talk. And I think we should aim higher.

    Shirky was onto something, of course. He correctly highlighted the democratization of tools, and in our NJ.com brainstorm we had many ideas of using smartphones, social media and whatnot to facilitate the communication (specially exchange of complaints) among commuters.

    But you know what would make NJ commute definitely better? More investment in transit infrastructure. I was talking to my Brazilian friend Leandro, and we recorded a podcast about that: it is insane how, in an extremely rich country as the US, mass transit is in such bad shape. MTA stats show that delays are up by almost 50%, and the deterioration of the system is palpable. The whole “you don’t know what track your train will be” that happens on Penn Station it’s inconceivable to me in 2015.

    So, the solutions that our class came up were somewhat workarounds on this problem, accepting an unreliable commute as a fact of life. I thought a lot about that after the exercise. So, maybe we should try to make something of higher impact. I don’t know. A webdocumentary sponsored by NJ.com showing all the problems in each type of commute could raise awareness to the extent of the problem. Or a platform that collects the complaints in an organized way, specifically to help inform the authorities about what should receive investments first. Maybe even a donation drive hosted by NJ.com for building a symbolic “fix” (like a more advanced placard), that would help to highlight what people prioritize.

    So, finally answering Emily’s question: I think as social journalists, when we use this new advocate hat, we are able to approach the “man on the street” in a totally different way. Starting the conversation with “I’m here to help”, or something along these lines, goes a long way to get people talking, and probably in our work within our communities we can start to experiment that. We not only want to know what are their views, their opinions, what they want to change, but we can present ourselves as agents of this very change.

    1. Wow, Pedro, I’m really impressed. This is a very smart post. I think this is a smart critique. I have long thought that new tools and platforms aren’t all or nothing – they are revolutionary in some ways, but that doesn’t mean that everything is going to immediately change. (And in some cases, I think some people have actually overstated what Shirky has actually claimed, but I digress.) I think this is where it gets really interesting – can we really start to get at “real” impacts? Your example with NJ Transit is a great one.

      1. Ditto Carrie.
        All this is making me wonder about the kinds of capital that now need to come together to cause the change you’re talking about. What we used to call intellectual capital — ideas, creativity, content — now cannot have impact without social capital. Then there’s just plain capital — but often, less of that is needed. And to fix NJ’s damned transit, there is still, unfortunately, political capital. What does the formula for social change look like now versus 20 years ago?

  11. This whole design-thinking unit has connected the dots to how companies, and essentially, money, are ushering in media innovations. Professor Jarvis walked out of the LinkedIn offices with enough funds in his pocket to start the CUNY Social Journalism program, and now NJ.com is striving to produce a new website and user experience that will improve the lives of New Jerseyans commuting daily by bus, train, or automobile. By providing a new and improved service, be it faster updates on train delays, entertainment, or local news, in exchange NJ.com will receive valuable user information to be utilized for market research, and generating a spike in web traffic to their site.

    Sharky states that “the internet is the first medium in history that has native support for groups and conversation at the same time,” it’s “the many to many platform.” Media platforms need revenue to keep them going; whether it’s donations to an independent blogger, advertisements or sponsored content, it’s the money flow that pushes companies and individuals to constantly innovate.

    Although start-ups first create the online platforms, it’s the users who are given the power to aggregate their own content, like tagging photos on Flickr, which Sharky mentions that in 2005 brought thousands of images from the Coney Island Mermaid Parade to a centralized site. Social media platforms are able to incur the costs of development due to the fact that they are not involved with the legwork of developing content.

    Pedro’s post brings numerous ideas to the surface. First of all, he is absolutely right about the disillusion of and disconnection from our government. Our politicians only seem to listen to their constituents when they are up for reelection. How do we make our voices heard the rest of the time?

    I share Pedro’s disbelief in our transportation system; it is absolutely abysmal! (If you want to know what’s behind all this, check this out: http://www.brooklynrail.net/NationalCityLinesConspiracy.htmlre

    Whenever I take a bus from NY to my hometown of Philly…that’s right, folks, a bus in 2015, it is inconceivable that I’m not instead seated on a modern, high-speed train, complete with amenities you would find amongst the fanciest start-ups in NYC. Yes, this includes a barista! Unfortunately, what has experienced massive growth are companies like Megabus and Bolt Bus. Is a “Bus-volution” the expansion a developed country should be aiming for in 2015? Amtrak is simply unaffordable for most commuters, peaking at $350 for a one-way rush-hour ticket from New York to D.C.! Media and advertising has led us to believe that achieving the American dream would be to drive your own Chevy down Route 66. (Unfortunately, the “Curb Your Enthusiasm” episode about the carpool lane did to a national increase in ride-shares.)

    It was quite a shock to discover that after all this effort to tap into the NJ commuter “train” of thought, 74% of New Jerseyans still drive to work! Obama received minimal support for his plans for high-speed rails, although the project might be going ahead for San Francisco to Los Angeles. http://time.com/3100248/high-speed-rail-barack-obama/

    Back to our discussion in class regarding the root of commuter anxiety; why do the track numbers remain a mystery until the very end? Does NJTransit believe that commuters enjoy the thrill of the unknown? Does this depend on which trains are delayed? It seems that a newly trained team of design-thinking, social journalists should investigate this bizarre occurrence that creates havoc for almost 900,000 commuters a day.

    1. Betsy…good. I do think that it’s important to start thinking about how you can go from “providing information” to “actually creating real impact.” As critical as it is, it’s obviously difficult, so it requires some thought.

      Small thing, check for typos in the authors names 🙂

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *