Agile in the Newsroom: Project Description

Studio 20 (a graduate program at NYU focused on innovation in journalism) is teaming up with Storyful (a start-up that finds news on the social web and verifies it) in hopes of answering this question: what does it take to create a more agile newsroom?

The term “agile” is borrowed from computer programming, where it refers to lightweight methods for developing new software through rapid prototyping, flexible requirements, frequent check-ins with the eventual users of the product and quick, adaptive (that is, agile) reactions to discoveries made en route.

Agile development emerged about 15 years ago in reaction to the so-called “waterfall” method, in which user requirements are exhaustively researched and fed into a master plan, which is then executed in linear fashion until the working software emerges at the other end, ready to be tested. It was the frequent failure of this more bureaucratic approach that gave rise to the agile philosophy, which is sometimes described as a return to the way good software was always made.

Storyful is a four year-old start-up, recently acquired by News Corp, that specializes in the discovery, verification, licensing and publishing of newsworthy content found on social media platforms. It tracks down the originators of the material, authenticates it, and distributes it to media partners, sharing revenue with the content creators.

Storyful is both a technology company and a 21st century wire service. While the tech team is steeped in agile methods, the news operation —like its counterparts in other companies — is mostly consumed with daily production: finding great stories and getting it right. It has yet to absorb the advantages of the more agile approach that the product team has been benefitting from.

In the view of CEO and founder Mark Little, Storyful will be able to meet its most ambitious goals only if it can rapidly innovate in discovery, verification and storytelling. Developing a more agile approach to social journalism is thus crucial to the company’s success.

This is where Studio 20 comes in. In October, Little met with Studio 20 Director Jay Rosen and they decided to work together. A five-person team from Storyful visited NYU in November and described for nine graduate students the challenge of spreading agile methods throughout the company. Out of that discussion came the Agile in the Newsroom project

It is partly a listening exercise. The Studio 20 team will interview key staff at Storyful about what stands in the way of a more agile newsroom, and study the company’s production routine. The team will also reach out to people in software who know a lot about agile and others in the news industry who have experience at introducing agile methods to editorial environments. The final report will include recommendations for how to move forward in creating a more agile newsroom: at Storyful and elsewhere.

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The Studio 20 team visits Storyful HQ in New York

Mark Little and Jay Rosen have both said they would like to share the results with the journalism world, meaning some sort of publication at the end.

That’s the plan, anyway. We’ll see what happens as the project gets underway. We don’t have much time. The schedule calls for results to be presented by Dec. 15.

Studio 20 we sometimes describe as a “consulting group that gets paid in problems.” Storyful has given us a good one: how to create a more agile newsroom. If you’re an expert in this problem, if you have knowledge of it that you’re willing to share, we’d like to interview you. Contact us here. If you’d just like to be kept informed, email us here to be put on the mailing list. Thanks!

Meanwhile, you can read our 15 Killer Links for background on Storyful, agile programming and agile making its way into newsrooms.

And the comment thread is open…

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5 Comments

  1. There is only one day to do this properly. You don’t “create a more agile” newsroom. If you want to do this then it’s my opinion that you have to start with an agile foundation. You have to focus less on process and more on allowing a viable mechanism to self-organize, whatever that may be. This is one one of those change management things, if it’s not just a buzz word for some sort of pseudo-agile bullshit.

    Take scrum for example, you meet everyday from the position of being open to change processes day to day as needed. I also recommend eliminating all titles and old hierarchies. For a newsroom, this boils down to structuring a meta-editor. Traditional approaches have A to A type things and B to B type things. Alternatively, you can have A & B doing A & B type things together, in the same room, at the same time. Once this is working, the roles & hierarchies tend to self-organize themselves as needed. As with all things, it takes practice.

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  2. I agree with Jonathan about this requiring self-organization, change, and lots of practice. I’m curious why the question is how to become more agile. In Agile software development, that is never the goal. Agile is a set of 4 values and 12 principles that were agreed upon with software in mind, but are widely applicable for teams working in complex domains like News. Delivery of value to the customer is the highest Agile value. I’d recommend focusing on how to do that with tight feedback loops, to learn as quickly as possible.
    The overall Agile community is a big tent, encompassing many different schools of thought in Lean, Systems Thinking, Design Thinking, etc. Resist the urge to look for the “right method”; find the right people to guide you.

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