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June 14, 2012, 4:44 p.m.
Reporting & Production

Reporters’ Lab seeks a new boss as Sarah Cohen moves on

The head of Duke University’s tools-for-journalism initiative is moving to The New York Times.

Sarah Cohen, director of Duke University’s still-pretty-new Reporters’ Lab at Duke University, says the project will remain active after she takes a new reporting job at The New York Times on Aug. 1.

Jim Romenesko posted the internal memo about her new gig as a computer-assisted reporter for the Times. Cohen has made a career of data-driven storytelling.

Cohen tells me she plans to “stay involved” with the project remotely, at least until Duke can fill her Knight Chair in Computational Journalism.

We covered the Reporters’ Lab as it got formally underway in March. Cohen, with managing editor Tyler Dukes and developer Charlie Szymanski, set out to build tools that make reporters’ lives easier and review existing tools that do the same.

The team has made good progress on Video Notebook, an app that simplifies transcription of long video recordings. I tried out an alpha version; the app is still buggy, but it’s clear that it could be a big time-saver for reporters. Say a newsmaker delivers a speech and the reporter live-tweets it. Later, Video Notebook can check the timestamps of those tweets and match them to video timecode. The tweets serve as bookmarks for quick access. If the reporter begins typing to transcribe, the video politely pauses. The Lab is now accepting signups for a public beta.

Szymanski is also building a tool that archives the tweets of designated Twitter users. Say a city hall reporter follows all of the local politicians’ Twitter accounts. Twitter search is all but useless after two or three days, so this program would maintain a permanent, searchable archive. (It’s could also be good way to track the tweets politicians delete.)

The public is invited to help with this and other “developer challenges,” which include a better RSS reader for journalists and an interactive timeline tool.

Cohen’s departure “isn’t going to affect the way we’re going to operate for the next year or so,” Dukes told me. “The university is still committed to the project.” The Reporters’ Lab is funded through June 2013.

POSTED     June 14, 2012, 4:44 p.m.
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