Sourcetexting Summit: Wandering the Streets for Ideas

Wednesday, June 30, 2010 - 06:25 AM

Simply walking around a neighborhood sounds like an easy thing to do. It's an invaluable tool for a journalist covering a local community. But it happens so rarely.

Spending five hours in the sweltering sun in Miami's Little Haiti is one way to see the benefits of this kind of random interaction. The Takeaway is down here with our partners at WLRN and The Miami Herald as part of a digital summit on finding new sources through texting. It's funded by the Knight Foundation and applies design thinking — the methods taught by Stanford's school of design to all sorts of companies that are looking to come up with new products or new ways of solving problems.

Yesterday was the first stage in a three-part process of saturation, synthesis and realization. The idea was to observe and interact with individuals in their own environment as a way to understand their needs. Whatever ideas end up coming out of this, the local journalists that took part told me they realized something fundamental: There's nothing like getting out of the daily grind of a newsroom to stop and look around at the neighborhood you cover, watching how people live their lives and the challenges they face.

While it's hard for all of us to go into a situation like this without a particular story in mind, that's actually the whole point here. But looking back at the first of these experiments in Detroit earlier this year, it's easy to see what can come out of it. One idea to emerge dealt with a big issue for the city's Mexicantown neighborhood that the journalists involved would never have encountered had they not stopped to saturate themselves in the community for just one day. After talking to some residents, they came up with an idea to start tracking the trucks that barrel through neighborhoods illegally. These trucks cause all sorts of health problems for local residents and the idea was for people in the community to look out for vehicles violating the rules and to text in the observations, along with the license plate. Thanks to that experiment, Detroit's WDET is about to launch a major investigative project  doing exactly that on a bigger scale, using text messaging.
Today we do the second and third steps; taking our raw observations, looking for patterns, and then trying out the ideas in the real world. We'll see what we'll come away with this time around. But in the meantime, the journalists here got a whole new insight just by walking in the Miami heat.

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