Article shows how to debug multimedia projects

Newswoman turned journalism professor Laura Ruel and new media maven Nora Paul show how multimedia producers can improve their projects by asking five volunteers who’ve never seen the story to prescreen it before release to see if they can click through without confusion. They describe this process of useability testing in an article published by Online Journalism Review (OJR). They lay it all out in simple sensible steps like getting volunteers from the non-news staff and using the same test computer for all subjects to make sure any rough spots are the software and not a sticky mouse.

Ruel and Paul say their five-step process should take five hours and catch 80 percent of the potential glitches that tend to send confused browsers clicking elswhere in cyberspace. They write:

“As we’ve said in the print world for years, if the presentation is aesthetically pleasing, but the user can’t find the information, then the design is useless. This concept is even more important in the world of Web design where clicking to a new site is even easier than finding a new magazine or newspaper.”

In the same vein of new tools, OJR editor Robert Niles explains how journalists can use websites to solicit large numbers of inputs from their audiences so as to deliver a sampling of opinion or experience that is far more authentic than anecdotalism yet quicker and cheaper than the gold standard, random scientific surveys.

Crowdsourcing is the buzzword used to describe this middle ground in the search for verite. In his OJR article Niles defines crowdsourcing in the journalistic context as:

“the use of a large group of readers to report a news story. It differs from traditional reporting in that the information collected is gathered not manually, by a reporter or team of reporters, but through some automated agent, such as a website. Stripped to its core, though, it’s still just another way of reporting, one that will stand along the traditional ‘big three’ of interviews, observation and examining documents.”

It’s a concise piece that inspires and empowers reporters to cast this wide new net when they go fishing in the great sea of public opinion.

Postscript: In a comment on the OJR website I suggested that when running future how-to pieces the zine might find a way for readers to share any widgets or spreadsheets they create in implementing the project on their own website. If that is too difficult or risky because files can contain malware, it’s still great to see nitty-gritty stuff of this caliber and tone. I repeat that here because the e-publishing community needs to do everthing possible to get more how-to stuff out there, findable and actionable so we can put together the many skills and teams needed to make these new media.