Using design thinking to improve your digital journalism skills

by Mariana Santos
Oct 30, 2018 in Digital Journalism

Since the inception of Chicas Poderosas back in 2013 in Chile, while I was an ICFJ Knight Fellow, the first insight I got while attending the Hacks & Hackers chapter in Santiago is that they were having a hard time attracting women journalists to the event. It hopes to be a matchmaking event for journalists and developers, providing a space for the co-creation of digital journalistic projects to empower access to data for the public at-large. Well, if we women are not showing up, we’ll miss the boat.

This was an A-ha moment: we need to create a safe space for women to get involved and learn more about technology, using it in their newsrooms. One way or another, we are inside a digital society and we need to know how to move and use the platforms and methodologies in order to be able to work in collaboration, and dare to innovate in journalism.

Later on, in 2015, I became a Knight Fellow at Stanford University in California and had the opportunity to spend most of my time at the D.School (Institute of Design) where I was a fellow under the guidance of Justin Ferrell. The goal there was to introduce a journalistic entrepreneurial problem we’d look into solving. Diving into the methodology of Human-Centered Design, I could clearly define:

  1. My target audience
  2. Learn and understand what their needs were
  3. Brainstorm in collaboration with very bright minds from the D.School on how to achieve that
  4. Prototype to be able to fail fast and learn from what did not work
  5. Iterate and adapt my solutions until they matched the needs

The entire design thinking methodology starts with understanding our audience. Do you really know who your target audience is, what their needs are and what ecosystem they live in? Well, this is the first question we need to ask in order to understand what the problems really are, using data and analysis of their needs, rather than “I think they need X.” Data can play a huge role in helping to address core issues.

It is a huge lesson of humility and a need to give up our journalistic assumptions and rather put on our anthropological glasses on and observe, a lot!

For a long time (maybe since 2010), The Guardian has invested in deeply understanding their readers in order to keep itself meaningful and a differential in the market.

I must admit that it is quite hard to implement this innovative approach in legacy media companies, and that in order to try something new, you will find a lot of reluctance from administrators who are naturally afraid to fail.

Allowing oneself to fail is crucial to innovation; while keeping a high standard of journalistic delivery, we MUST try new formats for storytelling, monetization and searching for gaps in the market. There is no hope in continuing to think that the advertising model that once worked out nicely for print will turn out the same way for digital. With ever-growing online platforms, the advertising market has deeply changed as well, finding other places where they can invest their money (Facebook, Google Ads, etc.) So, we need to be more creative here and dare more in order to stay in the game.

Independent news organizations, thinking globally but investing in local journalism, daring to do things that big corporations won’t, is the differential in which we can invest. Nowadays, it’s not the biggest who will win the market, but those who can better adapt to the ever-changing environment. Technology is key to connecting with our audiences.

This year at Chicas Poderosas we have launched an accelerator for women-led independent news organizations. These journalists may have never needed to know about business development, different possibilities for monetization, trying out uncommon business models, budgeting for the year or anticipating partnerships for collaborative development of ideas or projects. We believe that journalists now not only need to be extremely agile with technology, but also need to have an entrepreneurial mindset, to try out new approaches not fearing the possibility of failing and to learn to prototype, test and pivot.

Journalism is still at the core of democracy, but it has been threatened by the amount of different platforms and channels for information sharing. As Cecilia Oliveira from Fogo Cruzado says, “There is no fake news, there are either lies or there is news.” The question here is that all of those cross the same paths, and the audience can naturally get confused, manipulated and lose their trust in what they read online.

Well, I see in this crisis a huge opportunity for those who dare to tap into that problem, to be something different, not because they want to, but because their market is in deep need of a trustworthy source of information.

This post originally appeared on the Knight Center for Journalism in the Americas' blog. It was republished on IJNet with permission.

Mariana Santos is the founder and CEO of Chicas Poderosas, “a nonprofit organization that aims to bring more women into technology.” The organization works with storytellers across Latin America for training in entrepreneurship, business, innovation and design thinking.

Main image CC-licensed by Unsplash via William Iven