No. 4: Embracing our social, microlocal world

A distinct thread in online news last year revolved around the idea of connecting people — to each other, to the reporters in the newsroom, to what was happening down the block. A few of the most innovative changes to the social landscape of journalism in 2008:

  • We mentioned Twitter in our year-end review of mobile news, but it’s worth mentioning again because it’s been the glue that helped breaking news spread, connected journalists and gave readers another pathway for feedback. Erica Smith’s excellent round-up of newspapers that use Twitter is a reminder of how quickly and widely this relatively new service has spread in traditional newsrooms.

  • 2008 kicked off with the launch of the Knight-funded EveryBlock, which redefined how local news could be aggregated and displayed in an extremely granular format. Adrian Holovaty joined with a small team of developers and designer Wilson Miner and since January they’ve expanded from Chicago, New York and San Francisco to Boston, Charlotte, Los Angeles, Miami, Philadelphia, San Jose, Seattle and Washington, DC. Holovaty called the site’s ethos “microlocal” in it’s mission to answer the question, “What’s happening in my neighborhood?”

  • David Cohn, also with funding from the Knight Foundation, launched Spot.us, which attempts to create an alternative, community-centric approach to assigning and funding journalism. Cohn worked with the crew at Hashrocket to build an innovative site that creates a marketplace between passionate citizens and interested journalists. They’ve already funded and completed four stories, from fact-checking local campaigns to issues of water contamination. It’s also worth checking out the behind the scenes of the design process.

  • ReportingOn.com, started by Ryan Sholin and funded by the Knight Foundation (notice a trend?), the site is built to connect journalists working on the same topics to share knowledge and tips. It’s the first social network that revolves around beats.

Notably, these four projects were built outside newsrooms and designed to empower journalists across the spectrum (from community bloggers to full-time reporters). It’s a trend we can expect to continue — especially when you read through predictions for 2009 solicited by David Cohn.

2008: The Year in News Design

Tyson Evans is the editor of Update and an interface engineer at The New York Times.