#SNDSF: Hands-on training on design thinking for journalists

chrisCourtney tranha
Chris Courtney (left) and Tran Ha

Problem-solving is an innate part of our work as journalists. Chris Courtney and Tran Ha will present a hands-on training focused on teaching attendees collaborative techniques centered in design thinking that can be applied to newsrooms. Chris Courtney, lead mentor at Bloc.io, has a background in digital design, entrepreneurship and journalism and serves as SND’s training director. Tran Ha is the managing director for Stanford d.school’s media experiments program. Chris and Tran share a preview of their Design Thinking session at the annual SND Workshop & Exhibition this week in San Francisco.

Tell me about your backgrounds in journalism, entrepreneurship and audience-centered design?

Tran: I’ve spent most of my career launching digital and print ventures and leading innovation initiatives within existing journalism organizations—from designing and building the first version of Poynter.org to hiring 80 teenagers for a startup publication by and for Chicago high school students. I took over as editor and then as GM of the Chicago Tribune’s millennial-targeted RedEye publication at a time when social media was starting to gain steam as a means of digital content distribution and had to quickly evolve the organization from a daily newspaper into one that was digitally driven and multiplatform.

All of this experience really stoked my interest and enthusiasm for entrepreneurship and creative problem-solving, which led me to first to business school at the University of Notre Dame and then to Stanford, where I was a John S. Knight Fellow during the 2013-14 academic year. There, I took classes at the Stanford d.school, where I learned about human-centered design and saw how valuable the principles could be to media if applied from an audience-centered perspective. A big part of the work I do now in running the d.school’s media experiments has to do with translating HCD into the context of solving problems and finding opportunities in a journalism and media context.

Chris: If you can imagine what the 90s were like, I started off working at a newspaper that was just making the leap to paginated layout. I got my design start with brand new computers and brand-new presses. And all of this effort was being put forth to meet the needs of the newspaper’s most important customer—the advertisers.

What we know now is that newspapers were pretty good at delivering a product that met the needs of the past. When times changed, most newspapers continued chasing a similar strategy—but online. After 20 years of building the next ‘big thing’ (from launching print publications for the Tribune to the smartphone and tablet attempts that followed), I’ve now been around long enough to recognize when we are building things to meet audience needs, business needs and the dreaded ‘just to build it.’

It is a dynamic time for entrepreneurship in journalism, but so many models follow the old formula. It is my hope that by building audience-focused solutions that solve real problems, we’ll see a resurgence in the relevance of the media industry.

You’re launching a hands-on workshop at #SNDSF, Design Thinking for Journalists. Tell me about your vision for this special session.

Our vision is to take participants from a broader introduction to design thinking to how it translates to journalism and then share one method that they will be able to immediately use in their newsrooms.

Can you share a preview of what attendees can expect and any tools/resources they should come prepared with?

Participants should expect a fast-paced, experiential approach to learning design thinking. All they need to come with is an open mind.

How can implementing these collaborative, problem-solving techniques lead to more innovation in newsrooms?

Newsrooms have restructured to be digitally-focused, but they’ve done little to restructure how they serving the modern reader. To best meet the needs of this audience, we need new methods for how to serve them. Design thinking offers a range of opportunities that newsrooms are only beginning to utilize.

What do you hope attendees will take away from the session?

A process for problem solving that can be used in their newsroom that allows the participants to understand and focus their efforts on specific audiences.

About Courtney Kan

is a designer at The Washington Post and the editor of SND.org.

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