Nieman Foundation at Harvard
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Gaps and bridges

“Institution-making is a messy process, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.”

2013 was a great year of experiments — expanding styles of reporting, making engaging and beautiful articles, and infusing new frames of thinking — but 2014 will be when newsrooms apply what they learned more broadly, to their whole organization.

allen-tanThere are great benefits from having sibling projects — a submarine that can go dark and operate with great latitude, acting in tandem with a battleship, bringing massive amounts of firepower to bear once it points in the right direction. What’s learned from experimentation gets fed back, gets easier and cheaper to do, and raises the bar for future experiments.

And there’s much to explore. Ambient interfaces will begin to appear as data trickles into watches, televisions, clocks, cars — but with new affordances. While smartphones and tablets are deeply personal and interactive, these new devices sit in communal space, in the background: How do you design something that accepts minimal input but is aware of its environment? What does glanceable information look like?

The security implications of the Snowden leaks on reporters will sink in. Precautions formerly developed for foreign investigative journalism will be more common. “Cellphone-proofing” and disconnected computers will form air-gaps to hold important sensitive documents; two-factor authentication and encrypting internal network traffic will make intrusions to the newsroom more difficult.

Lastly, a personal wish for more collaboration with those that share our values. Museums, libraries, archives, and other public institutions make natural allies, as they begin to build new tools and practices that mirror our own. Institution-making is a messy process, but it doesn’t have to be a lonely one.

Allen Tan is an editorial designer for The New York Times. He is the assistant editor at Contents, a content strategy magazine, and previously at Codex, a journal of typography.

Updating regularly through Friday, December 20