I was invited to the Engaging New Project’s News Tools Workshop in February of 2016. At it, Professor Talia Stroud presented her user research on political polarization, which is an enormous and growing problem: as it turns out, when reading about hot-button political issues, news consumers will often stop reading the moment they perceive a story to advocate anything opposing their own views.
We're kicking off our third workshop! We can't wait to share with everyone what we learn about news tools. pic.twitter.com/IjBUOqTeMY
— EngagingNewsProject (@EngagingNews) February 19, 2016
Based on this research, our team’s user persona was a long-term Austin resident who believes in regulating firearms, and is tired of reading news that only seems to report Texas politicians’ fiercely pro-gun stances over and over again. Why, she wonders, do average people support gun ownership? She’d be willing to listen, if a real person could engage in a civil and intelligent manner.
To address these issues, our team’s idea was initially a “Humans of New York for polarization”, a platform for letting real humans — not politicians — tell the stories of why they hold certain beliefs. To implement this solution in relation to a in a news site, we figured there would have to be an embeddable widget; we also knew that geography was important to readers, so eventually there would have to be geographical tags and possible geotracking through the browser.
Unlike traditional tech events, the main aim of the workshop is ideation; teams are encouraged to have a rough implementation plan, however, so that the the Engaging News Project can publish the ideas and find people to keep working on it. Our initial implementation plan was:
- Create a database of stories from everyday people
- Carefully curate stories from those espousing different views on important issues
- Make the stories embeddable into story pages