This is the weekend edition of TheMarioBlog and will be updated as needed. The next blog post is Monday, September 22.
A recent report in the Nieman Lab points out what we already know: designers play a key role in deciding how information will be accessed, reacted to and, in the digital age, shared with others. It is a role in which technology plays an increasing, important role.
For those of us of a certain age, the discussion is, while timely, not a very new one in the newsroom.
Think back to the late 80s and 90s: design was becoming an integral part of newspapers; designers and art directors were hired in newsrooms globally (something very new, the strange fish in the tank), and we at the Poynter Institute for Media Studies often debated the role of designers and questioned if they were too influential. If you asked editors and reporters in our seminars of that era, the answer was a definite YES.
Those who insisted design had "taken over" the newspapers occasionally would mention specific examples.
Case in point, they would argue, it is not proper when a designer opted to promote a story on Page One, simply because there was "better art" for Story A versus Story B. Wasn't design taking over the curation and selection of news according to its importance. Of course, ethical designers would not indulge in such practices, but not all followed ethical thinking.
We at Poynter design seminars were quick to point out the difference between functional design versus decorative design. We emphasized that there was no place in a newspaper for design that rules how the hierarchy of topics was played.
Now design/technology continue to play key roles in digital platforms.
We have the two tempos of news: the constant flow (algorithms) and the curated content. Before we even create a philosophy for how these two tempos play, we must analyze the platform in which users will be consuming the information.
The discussion, then, is one of storytelling, design and technology. Add ethics to the mix and you have very deep discussions in newsrooms globally.
User experience and value driven news experiences
The Nieman Report presents various points that, while not surprising, make us pose for reflection. Here are three highlights:
1. "Today, press ethics are intertwined with platform design ethics, and press freedom is shared with software designers."
2. "These emerging mobile platforms are being made by designers who must make their own decisions about what is important for news delivery. What do they value? While some traditional news organizations are creating their own news apps, mobile news also emerges from a parallel industrial culture of start-ups and commercial software design, with a different inheritance of norms and values to those associated with the fourth estate."
3. "Although all of our participants talked about themselves in relation to press practices and traditions, many of them also distanced themselves from journalism altogether, claiming little or no relationship to news work."
The above highlights point to the need for training of those designing news apps. Journalism schools have a rare opportunity here to take a look at the role they can play in the training of those who will be creating news mobile platforms. The same applies to journlaistic training organizations everywhere. I do not know how easy it may be to make these designers who "distance" themselves from journalism to be converted to think and to act like journalists. But, again, this is a process that we accomplished successfully when designers and art directors first became an important presence in newsrooms. Our seminars and workshops turned "artists" into "journalists". Visual journalists emerged.
We now have an opportunity to do the same, albeit, with more difficult challenges, and with technology playing a much larger role.
We have barely tapped into the subject matter of that article, and perhaps Poynter could be a great place in which to bring that discussion to the forefront.
The Nieman Lab report is a good, provocative springboard to do so. One thing is for sure: design, journalism and technology are the essential trio.
Designer or journalist: Who shapes the news you read in your favorite apps?
A new study looks at how engineers and designers from companies like Storify, Zite, and Google News see their work as similar — and different — from traditional journalism.