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Helping small & nonprofit news sites with design and storytelling: SNDexp

by: Amy Gahran |

In 2016, the Society for News Design will launch a new Knight-funded program, SNDexp, which will help nonprofit and small media organizations improve their quality of website design.

Since 2014, SND has been helping news organizations use design thinking principals to address news site design challenges through its SNDMakes prototyping design-a thons. Each event tackles a specific design challenge that affects opportunities for digital journalism, or how people consume information.

With a new $130,000 Knight grant, SND will expand SNDMakes and will launch a related program, SNDexp, which will help smaller and nonprofit news sites, as well as academic tackle similar issues.

According to SND, "SNDExp will bring together designers, developers and technologists to teach best practices and explore existing tools, applying user-centered design. Both SNDMakes and SNDExp will help to create a community of people committed to building products that meet news consumers on whatever platform they choose to consume content."

Peer-to-peer learning is essential for SNDMakes, and it will also be a feature of SNDexp. While the new program is still in the early planning phases, looking at some of the prototypes created at SNDMakes events offers some insight into how this focused process can yield useful results.

In February at SNDMakes in Washington, D.C., one team of news professionals prototyped PrePost, a web-based tool to allow editors to preview how their content will appear to desktop and mobile users of major search and social platforms -- before it's published. (Paste in the URL for a webpage to see what that output looks like). This can help news sites of any size avoid pitfalls and missed opportunities for social media engagement.

And at the March 2014 SNDMakes in Indianapolis a team prototyped Backstory, a tool for providing context to readers. This resulted from applying design thinking principles over the course of a weekend to answer the question, "How might we better help readers understand stories by improving the context?" Starting from the observation that news stories are really collections of individual updates, this prototype tool offered news on a timeline, multiple levels of engagement, and ways for readers to shift context and discover stories that matter to them.

The latest Local Fixnewsletter from the Geraldine R. Dodge Foundation noted some recent articles that can help small, local news sites assess their design, and spot opportunities to make small changes to build community engagement:

To learn more about SNDexp as it develops, sign up for the SND newsletter. On Twitter, follow @SND.

Amy Gahran

Amy Gahran is a journalist, editor, trainer, entrepreneur, strategist, and media consultant based in Boulder, Colorado. In addition to writing
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