Summer Innovation Lab Holds Promise

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Our 12 fellows arrived June 1 and were immediately thrown into multimedia training sessions and brainstorming meetings. They participated in tutorials given by faculty and top professionals on shooting and editing audio and video and on voicing scripts. (And they quickly began giving tutorials to each other – beginning with an excellent one from Jose Castillo on shooting and editing photos.) The fellows were taught how to use a software tool to analyze the huge data sets we had secured on voter attitudes, so that we could begin to create narratives about the impact of America’s changing demographics on voting patterns and politics.

I soon grouped them into three teams so that they could begin to conceptualize how to report, frame and present stories and interact with our audience on the three topics targeted by our Carnegie professor: Latino voters, mixed-race voters and youth voters. All three population groups are growing by leaps.

Each reporting team has a specialist in videography and computer-assisted reporting, and in other multimedia and social networking skills.

The teams have made steady progress, after initially puzzling over what the data were telling them about voting patterns.

Jose Castillo and Nick McClellan traveled to Fresno County, Calif., to talk to Latinos about their growing influence (and impediments to further power). They're each producing a mini Web documentary, which they'll showcase in an innovative player they're building. It allows viewers to see the video story, a mini profile of the speaker, maps and other data all together on one screen.

Andrew Smith and Chris Matthews drove to Philadephia to interview mixed-race families about their politics and identities and their thoughts on what it's meant to have a mixed-race president. 

Brittany Lee-Richardson dropped in on teacher and student training sessions in North Carolina and Alabama, to check up on civic education of the nation's youths. She asked middle and high school students to create their own videos of their thoughts about government and politics and the way civics is taught--which we've posted alongside Brittany's story. And she's creating an interactive quiz of questions asked of fourth, eighth and twelfth graders, to allow you to see if you can correctly answer questions given them. 

Kim Davis headed to Atlanta, to examine pressure points between African-American and mixed-race groups, while Shauna Miller spent time in Columbia, Md., which is facing a small identity crisis over its founder's ideals.

Kelly Brooks drilled into youth voting data from the last three presidential election cycles to create an interactive map showing how youth votes compared to those of older voters. And she spent hours and hours of time (with fellows Mike Frost, Chris Matthews and Leonard Sparks) analyzing voter responses in exit polling, to help select questions for an interactive database that's soon to launch on our site.

Leonard Sparks will join Will Skowronski on the road, as they prepare to do mobile journalism from Arkansas, where the Latino population has seen a surge.

After one false start -- in which a trend announced in a press release was not substantiated by D.C. elections data -- Jeanette Der Bedrosian is now pursuing a story on what's become of Barack Obama's energized foot soldiers. The lesson learned about the importance of substantiating claims -- especially those that sound too good to be true -- may have been the most important of the summer. And that lesson hearkens back to a core value of traditional journalism, which musn't get lost in the rush to innovate.

Meanwhile, we are innovating in positive ways. Our first graces our home page: It's a video player that allows users to navigate the video clips of street interviews we conducted about American politics by clicking on topic links, or tags. 

I can’t wait to read about Leonard and Will’s excellent adventures in Arkansas, and to work with all these fine journalists as they push the boundaries of what’s possible.  

--News21 Managing Editor Chris Harvey

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