Rambling report from BCNI 2016

What FOMO looks like: Hard decisions among the after-lunch sessions. I heard such good things about the ones I didn’t go to.

Every fall, a group of Philly / New York/ DC media people meet in Philadelphia to talk about innovation in how we deliver journalism and media. Barcamp News Innovation is always a good day.

Here are some highlights from the sessions I attended this year. I can’t report from the keynote because I was on the panel along with legend Greg Linch of McClatchy, Michael Gold from the NY Times and Jessica Estepa from NatGeo, and I was mainly focused on passing / holding the microphone and not dropping my water bottle. I basically blacked out. It’s been storified.

ANALYTICS
with
Eric Ulken

We’re all obsessed with analytics, and we’re all debating whether that is a good thing. Many of us are on Chartbeat all day long; Philly.com uses Parse.ly (and they used to have this crazy equation for measuring value); and Philly.com is also partnering with the American Press Institute to test an in-depth measurement tool called Metrics for News. This session asked big questions:

— what are our analytics *not* telling us? Such as:
1. WHY a user does something (analytics only tell us THAT a user does something)
2. what do our non-users want, what are they like, and what could we learn about them to serve them better?
3. when did our work actually solve a problem?
4. what impact are we having?

Point 3, our moderator suggests, is the best measurement of value

Paper notes, best notes.

— how can we trust analytics when some of them are inaccurate and others are kinda useless, such as Facebook’s 3-second video view. (And of course, ad blockers, tracker blockers and save-for-laters all affect analytics too.)

— how can we create our own crazy equations to tell us what matters in a sea of numbers? While there’s probably not one single magic number, how can we make sure we’re looking at a broad spectrum of data and weighing each piece correctly? Who’s the Bill James of media stats?

— how do we respect our sales team’s need for really big sexy numbers, without turning our sites into 100% kitten videos? Knowing our sales teams are facing a vast oversupply of ad space, how can our analytics help us stand out in a crowded market? What should we be measuring differently?

— if we stopped looking at analytics for a month, what would change? (This is an idea from Sarah Schmalbach.) Who’s up for a #DayWithoutAnalytics ?

A few more insights:

When comparing your site’s overall performance year over year, factor in what the social media algorithms looked like each year.

Ask who’s the customer for a particular stat: the reader or the advertiser?

Evolving business methods will require evolving metrics. For example, time-on-page might be a better metric for native content, versus uniques.

Always watch for human error in analytics. One site was indexing oddly well for “gardening” — then realized it was collecting data on “beer gardens” within that data set.

BONUS: Inpired in part by our keynote fearmongering about Facebook, Daniel McNichol from Philly.com followed up with this great analysis of how his content works on Reddit. Because “no one called Reddit evil at #BCNI16.”

ACCESSIBILITY
with
Aaron Jorbin

Utterly fascinating review of accessibility / disability on the web, and how building for accessibility actually creates better products for everyone.

First, a quick review of the types of impairments — making the important point that each impairment operates across a spectrum from permanent to temporary, and product improvements affect everyone on that spectrum.

1. hearing impairments. Spectrum includes Deafness, an inability to hear a certain range of sounds, one-ear-only (non-stereo) hearing, and temporary conditions such as being in a very loud room or having forgotten your headphones (a situation where closed captioning is super useful).

2. visual impairment. Spectrum includes being legally blind, a color deficiency (1 in 8 men, and 1 in 17 women, are color blind; 1 in 14 women are overly color sensitive), wearing glasses, and temporary conditions such as being outside in very bright sunshine (where better color contrast is a huge benefit for everyone)

3. cognitive impairment. Spectrum includes developmental disability, ADHD, all the way to temporary conditions like being distracted by a loud environment or hungover. Makes it hard to follow unclear instructions, makes popups especially annoying and distracting

4. mobility impairment. Spectrum includes missing limb, RSI, bad thumb dexterity, or a temporary condition like, say, you’re using one of your arms to hold a baby (so you can’t shift-click, and so a larger “Buy” button is useful). Mobility imparments are often addressed with voice interaction and screen readers, which is why you don’t want to build a web page with 40 links that all say “Read more>>” — this is murder on a screen reader.

5. speech impairment. From muteness to a temporary condition like being in the Quiet Car. This will become incredibly important as voice navs like Alexa come to the fore

Secondary / tertiary benefits of building accessible tech:

People learn in multiple ways. A video that also has a transcript and captions offers three ways to get the content: watch with sound, watch silently, read.

Transcripts create SEO benefits like crazy, and a good transcript allows for easier translation

Bigger buttons, higher contrast, more space between links and other best practices also benefit mobile web /small screen users

Insights:

Don’t forget your CMSes and authoring tools. In newsrooms, the most common disability is RSI — can’t use a mouse to navigate to a small target. If your CMS is non-accessible, and one of your staffers becomes physically unable to use it, they may lose their ability to do their job.

A subtext: confronting the perceived resentment against having to “accommodate.” Some of us have confronted this attitude. Accessibility can be seen as a hassle, an extra, something mandated or even a legal threat. We must change the conversation to focus on the benefits.

It’s easiest to build in accessibility at the start, versus bolt-on later.

Set makeable targets, e.g., “all our new products will adhere to WCAG 2.0 spec, as well as all major redesigns.” It’s okay not to be perfect, but try to understand where the biggest need is.

Understand that developers are working against platform constraints that often make accessibility goals hard to achieve.

Creating personas for a redesign? Make sure at least one persona has a disability or an access issue.

Sometime soon, listen to your own website with Apple’s screen reader. Aaron pulled up the New York Times homepage, and poor William P. Davis from the Times had to sit and listen to it read every. single. heading.

Resources:

Web Content Accessibility Guidelines 2.0 (WCAG 2.0)

Sim Daltonism: what your site looks like to a color-blind person

No Coffee: Simulates astigmatism, floaters and other eye conditions. Chrome plugin

VoiceOver: If you have a Mac, you have a screen reader built in. Definitely try this.

OBJECTIVITY 
with
Daniel Victor and Michael Gold

While we media professionals know the difference between a news story (objective) and an op-ed (with a strong point of view) — realistically, most readers don’t know how to tell the difference, and social media further strips out the identifying marks: “As we innovative digitally, objectivity has struggled to catch up.”

A vital point: no one is naturally objective. We all come with our own biases and skills that not only limit our field of view but also determine what facts we have access to. Example from a bilingual reporter: “I’m going to report very differently on an immigration story if I speak Spanish.”

Two factors in creating objectivity: recognizing each writer/editor’s internal biases, and building a pool of decisionmakers with diverse opinions and backgrounds.

In this session we did some heavy soul-searching around identity and objectivity. Identity is a huge topic in newsrooms and j-schools, and feelings are developing and are pretty raw.

How can we add context and analysis to a reported story, without leaving objectivity behind? Sometimes the facts simply do support a particular point of view, but reporting that can feel like an opinion. As one reporter said: “Because my facts led up to a conclusion, I wound up on the opinion page.”

We looked at Blue Feed Red Feed from the Wall Street Journal, which is scary.

I also must report that the lunch, coffee and snacks were top-notch. Thanks to the sponsors and the volunteers who took care of the food table — it’s a detail, but it really matters.

Another spectacular event!