SND STL Review, Part Two




The second day of SND STL had me overwhelmed. I listened to so many great speakers the previous day, learned so much, saw so many excellent demos. And now here I was with another great line-up of sessions to choose from.


TweetCross-Platform Editing – Teresa Schmedding is the president of the American Copy Editors Society and also an assistant managing editor at the Daily Herald in Chicago. Teresa talked about trying to hold the line between editorial quality and actually getting stuff out the door. Her stories of pet peeves of writers and editors she’s dealt with were highly entertaining. It’s hard to know what’s worth fighting for. You will have readers who will write and complain about certain edits so you have to know what your standards are.

As someone who finds it near impossible to read blogs, websites, even Twitter feeds, and of course books and print media, with bad grammar and spelling, I sympathize with these tough calls. I know carelessness can lose you readers.

Teresa’s top recommendations were three things:
1) Focus on grammar, it’s the most important
2) Details: make sure you’ve got ‘em and they’re consistent
3) Structure: make sure it’s not confusing for the reader

Teresa recommended not to spend time on some of your old and time-consuming style rules, certain old “newspaper” rules, and your boss’s pet peeves. Ask people, your readers, what they value so you can ensure you’re spending time on what’s most important to your readers.  And if you’re thinking about a pay wall, people will not pay for error-filled copy whether they are grammatical, spelling, or fact errors.


TweetDesigning a Responsive News Website – Everyone working on the web at this point has to have seen the Boston Globe redesign at  Miranda Mulligan and Mat Marquis are two of the main folks behind the redesign. They talked very honestly about what went into the redesign, what was hard, what was valuable and what pieces they’re still working on. They described HTML5 & Responsive Design and which pieces they wanted to incorporate in their new site. They also showed us the grids they ended up using and how they worked with things like Scott Jehl’s Responsive Images script, media queries and other technology to make it work right.

Challenges they came across included the Boston Globe masthead (very complicated & went through many revisions), third party integration for things like video and advertising, making HTML5 crossword puzzles (this piece is currently in beta), saving offline stories, and interactive information graphics in responsive sites.

Also interesting to me was that they chose a new CMS and went with which is also used by the Denver Post, the New York Post and the Washington Post.  It will take two years to implement and customize, print products will launch on it next year.

Lastly they covered the importance of using analytics and allowing them to inform future decisions such as grid widths.  Excellent and candid talk about the real pain and equally real rewards of going through this process.



Gamestorming with Dave Gray – I read Gamestorming earlier this year and found it to be a very useful book for developing ideas and working on teams. Dave gave some examples from his book and how companies like Starbucks are listening to customers and changing their strategies for the better.

Dave pointed out that the question is no longer “What’s in tomorrow’s paper”, it’s now “What IS tomorrow’s paper?” Companies who approach it this way will get it right faster than those who are clinging tightly to old models that are going to slowly fade away.

The paradox of discovery is that you might not find what you’re looking for, but if you’re not looking for something then you won’t find anything.  If you’re looking for the ROI before you start anything, you’ll never build anything. You don’t have to be smart, you just have to do things

Dave mentioned if you think you have a problem with overthinking it, you should go to  For his book and more on Gamestorming, go to


TweetHow to Make News Apps in your Newsroom – Several times on this blog I’ve mentioned the fact that trying lots of different things and being able to work news, magazines and media more like an agile start-up is a great way to get ahead of the competition. Brian Boyer from The Chicago Tribune and Scott Klein from ProPublica talked about news apps which are software. This is a new area, so these aren’t people in your company who can fix your computer or get the server back online, they’re people who can build newly capable applications to visualize stories or interact with users.

Apps that fall into this category include things like “Dollars for Docs” from ProPublica, which points out doctors who have taken money or other compensation from pharmaceutical companies.  The speakers pointed out we need “Demos not memos.” In other words, we need more people in the field who can help to visualize and display and build these applications.

If you’re interested in working in this area, good places to start are things like Hacks & Hackers, NICAR-L mailing list, a language like Python or Ruby, a database like MySQL or PostgreSQL, and informational, how-to sites for web designers/developers like and  Lots of other helpful links are here on Brian’s pinboard site:


TweetFinding the Web Designer Within – These two guys from Upstatement had amazing slides that they published ahead of time so you could follow along. The slides are great because they point out that a lot of what news designers have been trained to do are very useful skills for web design. Things like grids, typography and being able to organize volumes of information are all skills that can transfer to web design.

As with the previous speakers, they mention that it’s important to teach yourself to code and recommended Coda. They design in the browser but still use InDesign occasionally.

You can find the Upstatement slides from this talk here:


TweetAdios, Arial! New Tools for Taking Beautiful Typography from Print to Digital – Typography is so important for readability on the web, and Alan Tam, Sam Berlow and Danny DeBelius gave a great talk and examples on why you need to test every scenario, why the results can change and some technology to use to help. Sam recommended tools like the web font preview on, the fontswapper on and to try web fonts on any website.

Great fonts can render totally differently on different operating systems, different devices, different browsers, so it’s important to test the fonts you’ve selected everywhere. It’s also important to make sure you’re using complementary fonts, which is probably hard to eyeball unless you’re a very seasoned web font user.


TweetClosing Keynote with Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson – This presentation was definitely one you did not want to be late for.  The session was live-streamed, and below is the video. Robin and Matt are amazing speakers and it’s definitely worth watching their take on what the future of reporting a natural disaster might be like with their video called The Storm Collection and the brilliant talk that follows:

You can view the slides from Robin and Matt’s talk here:



I’m very used to attending technology conferences with topics I’m more or less familiar with. It’s been a long time since I have been to an event where I felt that every talk I walked away from had new ideas and new things for me to learn. As I said in the beginning of this post, it’s overwhelming. Although I’ve always been a newspapers and magazine junkie, that’s not what I studied in school. Without a journalism background, I felt out of my element. It’s uncomfortable to be in that position, but I realize we probably don’t do that enough to ourselves.

SND STL was incredibly well put together and I am so grateful to the organizers for all their hard work and effort.  I will definitely be attending SND again in the future, hope to see everyone next year in Cleveland.

SND STL Review, Part One

SND STL LogoWhen your hometown is in the Midwest, you generally don’t expect to get the opportunity to fly there often for amazing, cutting-edge, technology and designy events.  I was surprised that SND, the Society for News Design, was having their annual event in St. Louis, but even more surprised when I looked at the line-up and saw that it was quite a visionary event, with speakers from Zite, Font Bureau and The Boston Globe and incredible folks like Josh Clark, Charles Apple, Dave Gray, and Robin Sloan and Matt Thompson giving talks and speaking on panels. Every time I looked at the schedule I got excited. Plus the SND STL website was one of the best conference sites I’ve ever seen.

SND STL website

So here’s a brief overview of the event:


I had signed up for a pre-conference workshop on data visualization. Having done a graduate course last year in designing and creating data visualizations, I wasn’t sure how much of it would be duplicate, but I figured I could use a refresher. Plus the workshop speakers were from The New York Times, Duke University and Investigative Reporters and Editors, so these were people with some unbelievable backgrounds and experiences.  The workshop was really good, and I walked away with some very useful resources.  We spent time in Excel of course, but also Google Fusion Tables & Google Refine.  We took a look at several open source tools I hadn’t heard of to better parse and massage data.  Lastly we looked at some public projects from US news websites and their blog entries or overviews of how they built their solution. 

Here is a list of some of the resources we walked through, I hadn’t heard of several of them so it was really helpful for me. – Sparkline graphic generator – Tool for fixing addresses – pinboard site of Derek Willis (one of the instructors, works at NYT), lots of useful links – Open source map design software – cool tool for extracting from PDFs — raphael.js — nice small charting svg library in js, used to make the NYT voting result maps – slick example of using some svg charts live on NYT site  — backbone.js – allows you to persist data & update it in real time based on user interaction — Mr. Data converter: csv or tab-delimited data & export as various formats – comes with some nice examples to show you how to use it – Cool Twitter timeline setter demo – List from Instructor Derek Willis of links used in class – Links used in another conference session which are relevant here too


Some awesome data & tools blogs to follow from news sites are:
Propublica Nerds Blog –
The Guardian Data Blog – 
NY Times’ new beta620 labs site – Labs blog:
LA Times Data Desk:
The Texas Tribune Data:
Data Journalism blog:

(note: these links all work & are correct as of October 6, 2011)



The first day of the conference started with a latte and pumpkin gooey butter cake (a St. Louis specialty) from Park Avenue Coffee around the corner from the venue. One thing I learned: journalism conferences do not have the abundance of coffee and baristas that I’m used to with tech conferences!

TweetMobile & Tablet Research Roundup – This was an overview of tablet and mobile research by Roger Fidler & Regina McCombs. Some interesting stats from thinkMobile & Google research on how people are using smart phones

89% use it to stay connected
82% use it to read news and research
75% use it to navigate
65% use it to keep entertained
45% use it for management and planning

Their research also showed that GPS is one of the most important features for smart phone users, and good apps should incorporate it appropriately. Social media comes in second in terms of feature importance.

For news sites, having usable mobile capability typically adds 10-20% to traffic. However the number is greatly affected in disaster or breaking news scenarios. As an example, had 13.9 million mobile page views during the Japanese tsunami this year.

Tablet sessions are long, 58% of people use it for an hour at a time, 30% use it for > 2 hours at a time. Daily.

What are they doing on the tablets? Using engaging, longer form, higher production value applications like games, magazines and video. Newspapers like the Daily Telegraph found tablet owners are not generally interested in breaking news, more interested in more detail and interactive pieces.

Regina posted notes from the research & sources here:

TweetFun101 — A strange title for a talk at a news design conference, but Fun101 with Tim Harrower was one of the best sessions I went to. Tim had amazing ideas on how to engage readers, keep them interested and get them to have fun. Which is especially relevant today with so much depressing news. Ideas Tim mentioned included things like predicting awards shows ahead of time, fun quizzes, games to tell news stories, using comics to explain difficult or complex stories, and a lot more. I’m not seeing his slides online, but you should definitely check out his website for excellent and thought-provoking ideas and content:

TweetDesigning Personalized Tablet News – This was a panel with Bobby Ghoshal from Flud, Mark Johnson from Zite & Joey Marburger from Trove. It was a good panel where each aggregator talked about their decisions on multiple platforms, how much setup to give the user (i.e., do you seed them with feeds, let them choose, etc.), how they allow users to share, revenue streams and more. My takeaway from this was that these are in a dangerous spot as they rely a great deal on the lack of pay walls or a system to integrate with news sites. The aggregators don’t want to do a ton of work for each site they allow their users to access so the tougher a news site’s pay wall, the more likely the aggregators won’t include it. Having just seen the fantastic film Page One: Inside the New York Times, I fear what could happen if everyone stops paying for news or thinks they’re entitled to quality reporting for free forever. So while the aggregators do provide eyeballs, it seems there needs to be money changing hands somewhere for people to be able to use these apps. All three apps are currently free, but it doesn’t seem to be a sustainable model.

TweetKeynote Speaker: Rob King – Rob King, VP & Editor-in-Chief of ESPN Digital Media gave a fantastic talk on dealing with change in your personal and professional life. My favourite quote: “It’s going to work out, you just don’t know how yet.” Brilliant.

TweetDesigning the Magazine and Issue-based Tablet Experience – This talk was given by Mike Schmidt from The Daily, Claus Enevoldsen from Next Issue Media and Robert Newman from Reader’s Digest. Very good session on the tools they use, how they spend their time and production flow. I was terrified to learn that at The Daily, there are 50 people on just the design team, and that they have no automatic templates so every day they handcraft over 100 pages. Then they do it again in portrait mode. Yikes.

TweetTouching News: The New Rules of Tablet Media – This session was one of the ones that made me sign up for this conference. I read Josh Clark’s book Tapworthy earlier this year and loved it. Josh had some of the best slides of the event, but he also automated his Twitter account to tweet additional interesting blurbs about his talk as he was speaking. Magic! Josh had excellent UI tips, usability and interaction examples, and was basically all around brilliant. Excellent speaker – go listen to him if he’s speaking near you any time soon. His beautiful slides are here:

TweetBuilding in HTML5 & Bypassing Native Apps – I loved this session, not just a little because one of the developers from The Onion was speaking. Alan Herzberger from The Oklahoman & Michael Wnuk from The Onion gave very honest overviews of why they chose to build with HTML5 instead of iOS and their internal processes that happened for design, development, CMS modification, etc. Very interesting and candid discussion about the pain they went through, what works and what doesn’t. 

TweetVisual Conceit: The Secret Ingredient of the Secret Ingredient – Adonis Durado has a tough job. As Design Director of two newspapers in Oman, he works with designs and layouts in both English and Arabic and has to deal with a very reserved audience where showing skin to get more readers is not an option. Adonis talked about creating pages and layouts that make people think and surprise them. He showed a lot of examples of his papers’ compelling designs and “Wow factor” creations. He cited hiring a diverse team with different backgrounds and voices as one of the defining factors of his successful transformation of the papers from unknown to award-winning. His hand-out from the talk is here:



There were so many great talks, every session was a tough decision but I was quite happy with how much I learned.  Links to other speakers plus slides and blogs can be found here:

CS Forum 2011 :: My Workshop Slides & Content

Last week I delivered a half-day workshopimage at Content Strategy 2011 London on Designing Narrative ContentWe covered topics like what makes narrative content effective versus useless, how to optimise workflow for narrative content, and technology options for narrative content.  The slides are below.

During the last section of the workshop we created our own, short, digital magazine called The CS Forum Times, which  is now here:  The magazine content is recent articles and blog posts from speakers and organizers of CS Forum 2011 and was created in Treesaver.  There are materials at for those who would like a small boilerplate to start with.

The next blog post I do will be a short intro on how I built The CS Forum Times using Treesaver and will include some of the demos I did in the workshop with altering image sizes, so if you take a look at the starting point and want to know more, that blog post tomorrow will be a good overview.  If you’re interested in learning how to do more with Treesaver, & are excellent places to start.

CS Forum: Designing Narrative Content Workshop

If you’re working in the area of content strategy, writing, developing or designing web sites, marketing or anything in between, you should probably be planning on heading to the Content Strategy Forum in London from September 5th – 7th.


CS Forum has excellent speakers including Karen McGrane, Gerry McGovern, Kristina Halvorson, Erin Kissane.  They’ll be covering everything from the value of content, techniques and tools, user experience design, business models, videos and much more. If you look closely you may even recognize some local speakers including Des Traynor, Cory-Ann Joseph, and myself.




My workshop, Designing Narrative Content, is designed to help people answer the question of “How can I make sure that everything I’m doing helps to reach the widest audience possible with my content, technology and overall strategy?”  It’s a hands-on workshop, so attendees will actually walk away with their own publishing strategy and even a sample publication online and live!

In order to build and lay everything out, we’ll use a new technology called Treesaver to dynamically produce our content and allow people to view it everywhere.  But don’t be scared if you think you’re not a developer, we’re not focusing on the dev part, we’re just focusing on the content.  You won’t have to know how to create HTML from scratch.  If you are familiar with HTML & CSS, then you’ll be able to customize your experience a good bit more but it won’t be necessary.

If you are working with narrative content, long-form content, any form of digital publishing (including magazines, newspapers, eBooks), this workshop will save you a lot of time and money in understanding how to design more content with small teams and small budgets.

If you’re interested in the workshop and want to know more about it, please feel free to e-mail me for more information or contact me on Twitter.  If there is something you’d like to see added to the workshop, now would be a great time to let me know while I still have time to alter the presentation and exercises.



Randall Snare interviewed me recently about my workshop and views on the field as well as what Indian palm readers predict for my very near future.  You can read that interview here for a bit more insight:

See you in London in September!  If you haven’t registered for the conference, the workshops or the excellent barbecue and wine reception, you can still do that here: