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As a newsroom, we are constantly finding new stories, sharing articles, and editing, editing, editing. With quick turnarounds and strict deadlines and lots of moving parts, our Managing Editor, Rebecca, needs to be able to track the newsroom’s reporting on a daily basis.
Youth Radio’s Innovation Lab saw this need as an opportunity create an app to make the work easier and more efficient. We call it “The Daily List.”
Before the Innovation Lab got involved, Rebecca used to send a long list-y email to everyone in the newsroom, every morning.
This will give you an idea of what the email looked like before:
The Innovation Lab asked, “How can we make this better?”
After some quick sketches and brainstorms, we started our user research, interviewing Rebecca, who makes the list, and our reporters and producers, who depend on it to do their work. Our questions:
How can we make this better?
How do you currently use this email list?
How often do you check or view the email?
What part do you read first, second, third?
How do you manage your tasks and assignments?
When asked how do you use the email or find your task, several reporters replied, I just search (ctrl+F) for my name. With this feedback, I switched the main design to organize the assignments by reporter name, instead of by stories or project.
A Few Challenges
This was my first time creating a form, so learning how to call inputs on a second page and getting them to email was a bit of a learning curve. Some days the email sent fine, other days it didn’t. Code broke. New problems came up. There were many times when I said, “ This is better than what they had, I am done!”
Kurt, who runs the App Lab, would shake his head, and rhetorically ask, “Does it work?”
Then I would silently return to my code.
I learned that when you want to email an HTML page, CSS doesn’t really work. So the second page had to be re-written as a table with style tags. I wish I knew how the people at MailChimp make this look so easy!
Also, browser and web-client compatibility are headaches. We wanted the design to look the same if you were checking the Daily List on your iPhone, Android, and various web browsers. I still need to learn the best way to accomplish this goal. As a short fix, I asked how the reporters mainly check their mail, and made sure the design worked well for those platforms.
For Rebecca, we wanted to reduce the amount of time it took to curate and send this Daily List, so we:
- Created a form online. She could just fill in all the fields, preview what it would look like, and email a custom newsletter to the team.
- Designed a brand-consistent look and feel for the Daily List newsletter, with assignments listed by reporter name.
- We also made it easier to include links to current news articles, by allowing her just to enter the URL from a news story, and the code would fetch the title of the story, and hyperlink it to the corresponding URL. These links would then appear in a bullet point list, with the option to remove. Seventeen-year old Christina So wrote this code with some finishing touches by her Innovation Lab mentor Kurt Collins.
Here is a look at the form, hosted on our intranet:
The (new) Daily List, viewed from an iPhone:
The feedback from the newsroom has been very positive. Rebecca said, “Using The Daily List app has made my life so much easier. It’s been a great time-saver for me in tracking people’s assignments. The “in the news” section is my favorite feature, making the curation of news items a cinch!”
One of our producers, Brett Myers, gave some great feedback, “Big improvement. More concise. Easy to scan and get most vital relevant info. For me, that includes: In The News, Announcements, and Assignments. I find that the assignments section isn’t always comprehensive or completely up to date, but it’s still helpful. By far the biggest improvement for me is that it’s well organized, and more spare. In the past, there was more information overload. “
Christina So, Kurt Collin, and I worked to create a tool that’s now used… well, daily. It still can use some updates and might get a few design changes as we continue to receive feedback from our reporters. Iteration is never done!