Where was the 'editorial viewpoint' at the News Innovation unconference?

 by Martin Belam, 17 July 2009

Last week's News Innovation unconference was a very interesting gathering of a lot of engaged people who are interested in journalism, many of whom have a deep understanding of the web. However, there was a distinct lack of focus on 'editorial'. In this short video interview I made, Linda Kennedy of newsatsize10.com makes the point that the day, for her, seemed to be about form without content. She also says that, given the mantra about data and data-mining in some of the talks, she was unsure of how this data would be used:

"It was quite amusing that there was no data about who wants that amount of data"

She said that she preferred her data more like speed-dating, with a little bit of information.

Her sentiments echoed a couple of thoughts that flittered through the Twitterstream. Judith Townend said that the day had been:

"#newsinnovation data hyperlocal data hyperlocal data hyperlocal & a bit of monetising chat"

Martin Stabe tweeted that:

"Many hacks wouldn't recognize what was discussed at #newsinnovation as journalism. Next unconf needs to address the newsroom culture issue."

It is all too easy to fall into that kind of trap when we think about web applications and services. It is easy to just think about plumbing, and make sure that stuff is delivered. To think about whether the user can understand how to turn the water on and off. To just concentrate on whether the taps are at the right height, and if the user understands the scale with which they calibrate the temperature and the pressure. If we are really thinking about the whole user experience though, we need to be just as concerned about whether the editorial effort pours red or blue or purple water into the pipes.

I think we talked a lot about plumbing at 'News Innovation'.

This reaction also made me wonder a bit about how the format of the day had affected the content. The unconference structure favours those in the audience most likely to put their names down first. Without formally defined tracks, it is possible that the early barrage of post-it notes addressing technical and data-driven topics drove more philosophical and editorial topics underground. The unconference also managed to uphold an unhappy tradition of tech conferences and newsroom culture - the speakers were almost entirely homogeneously white men.


Next week I'll be publishing an essay version of the homogeneously white male plumbing talk that I gave at 'News Innovation' - "The tyranny of chronology".

Keep up to date on my new blog