Navigating technical communication with journalists
Session facilitator(s): Lauren Flannery, Karen Hao
Day & Time: Thursday, 10-11:15am
All right. Hi, guys. I know the late comers get to sit closer to us. We are so excited about it. So, thanks for scooting up. So before the session, we were having a very passionate debate about “Blade Runner” and its sequel because we were watching it in our hotel. Thoughts? Original? Sequel?
Karen: Ice breaker: Share your opinion about “Blade Runner”.
It doesn’t hold a candle to the original.
I didn’t like seeing women tortured for many seasons.
Lauren: I just watched modern family on my delta flight. Welcome to the session. It is “Navigating technical communication with journalists,” with people that may not have much experience with this communication. At the Tampa Bay times I was the only one working outside of the investigative team. The investigative team was used to having their developers coming in and spending six months on a labor of love and want to get every detail perfect. Outside of the investigative team, they are like you do what? That is cool. Go into your corner, do your thing and come back and it will look beautiful. I was like that is kind of true, but you need this process of I am going to be asking a lot of things from you. Can you give me a couple files? Can they be a certain size? Can you compress them? Just on and on. It is going to be constant. There is going to be a lot of what seem like peppering little questions and now I am the only developer at the Las Vegas Review Journal journal and I assume I am going to be in a similar situation. I think most developers often find them self without intending to in a product management role of seeing the vision of the product and you have to assemble the tiny pieces of it. That is where I am coming from with my talk today and in the second half it will all be about my Lovely co facilitator, Karen, and her work experience. Right now, we have the first activity. Want to jump right into it?
Karen: Yeah, sure.
Lauren: Our first activity, everybody please find a buddy. Okay. There might be one-person leftover, if there is, don’t be shy shoot up your hand or just join a little group of three. I will respect you trying. Do we have even numbers? Everybody has a buddy? Amazing. Sweet!
The first activity is going to be one person drawing and one person reading instructions. If you look into the activity 1 folder there is going to be a stack of Post it, it notes with a number on top. Each group gets one stack. Don’t flip through the stack of Post it it notes. Don’t look at any of them yet. One person will go Post it it by Post it it and read what is on the Post it it. For each Post it it, the person will draw something on the piece of paper. The person must draw one thing per Post it it. They are not allowed to wait until the end and then draw it. No, you have to draw one thing per Post it it per detail.
Karen: And there is also instructions in the middle of the table if you want to refer to it at any point.
Karen: And you have 15 or? You have 10 minutes? You have 7 and a half minutes to do this activity. Starting now!
Lauren: Once you guys think you have an idea of what animal it is, go in and fill in the blanks.
Lauren: Does everybody have their animals drawn? All right. If you have your beautiful animal drawn, and you work through the Post it, if you have your beautiful animal drawn and made your way through the Post it take it and reorder them in the way you wished you had received the Post it and swap with another group. When you swap with another group you will re draw your animal.
Lauren: Once you guys have drawn your second animal, talk amongst each other and compare the second renditions.
Lauren: All right. Cool. So we think we figured out all the animals? Did we get a giraffe? An elephant? A flamingo? An armadillo? And a koala? Was there an animal that was particular easy or hard? I think elephant was easy, right? Or at least the second time. Koala was hard or easy?
The koala was hard out of order.
Lauren: I thought flamingo would be hard.
Lauren: Does any brave soul want to show their weird Frankenstein monster? Nobody is an artist.
Whatever. I am totally an artist.
Lauren: What is the one in the back? The elephant?
No, this is actually the giraffe. I did much better on the koala. We should show that.
And here is our elephant.
Lauren: That is like an abstract art elephant. I like that one.
It didn’t include a specification for the head.
Lauren: That is true. I should have said whenever you think you know what it is fill in the rest of the body parts. If he is looking like Mr. Potato head that is all right. Anyone else want to show your beautiful creation?
You should show your flamingo.
Now I am going to turn around and we ended up with a zebra and an elephant.
Lauren: Which one is the zebra?
The one that was the elephant. I kept making new ones from scratch.
Lauren: Kind of the elaborate point of the game is details without context are not very helpful; right? I always find working with not developers, before I go ask them for anything, I go hey, here is what I am envisioning, and this is what I would really want it to look like. Here is where me and you come into this. Here is what I need from you. That process helps build a relationship that they know it is not when they see your face they are like uh, she needs another thing. That is a helpful process.
Also showing them examples of data or design or all my presentations I think we share within our own visuals team or investigative team or, like, Slack channel with others, like this crazy thing we found on the internet and how did they do this crazy database? Rarely does that conversation extend to non developers in the newsroom. That kind of digital literacy can remain very low if we have not showing them like examples and then the overall impressions is I just need things from you and I go into my little corner and I turn it back to you and it is beautiful. In my experience, they always understand the end result will be good, but the process can be a lot less anxiety inducing for both of you, especially them because they are handing over photos and illustrations they have spent a lot of time on for print, and they are not entirely sure what you will turn it into digital wise. That was my experience. I will talk more but I would like to introduce Karen to carry you on to the second activity.
Karen: I am Karen. A junior data science at Quartz. A lot of the work I do is working with editorial and having journalists ask me what data is available and how they can use metrics to make decisions. Journalist don’t know what data we collect oftentimes. They assume we have a mass pool of data or they know vaguely what data they want and ask very specific metrics and I am like what are you trying to get at? For the next activity, we will try to simulate the process of me trying to figure out what they are actually getting out and also the process of people asking me questions and me having to pare down the answers as simply as possible. Before you guys all move, I will yell out the instructions and then you can shuffle around. You will find a new partner and the person A will take a celebrity there is a stack of celebrity in the envelope labelled activity 2. Do not share it with others so that will mean awkwardly maneuvering and hiding. Put your chairs back to back and person A will answer questions about what person B asks about what the celebrity is doing and wearing. Person A can only say one word answers. So now you can begin.
Lauren: And person B is going to draw it again on the paper. Try to replicate.
Karen: Also, person A, the one holding the celebrity, you cannot look at what person B is drawing. You can’t help them in some way if you realize they are going off course.
Lauren: One last thing, in some of the pictures, the person is like moving or posing. I am giving you free rein to run in front of the person and say is he doing like this? Or kicking like this or kicking like that?
Karen: You have two more minutes to wrap this up.
Lauren: Whenever you guys think you hit a stopping point, feel free to share the photos, especially with each other and what you think you got.
Karen: Okay. Is everyone down done? Does anyone need more time? No? Awesome. So, I am curious, did getting one word answers make it easier or harder?
Harder? Really? Interesting. Did anyone think it was easier?
I did because it made my questions really targeted. Hair, short or long? Dress? Pants? Very small bite size questions because they could not be bigger.
Karen: What about for the person answering the questions? Did you use interesting strategies because you only have one word?
Karen: What were some of them?
A lot of sound.
Karen: Did other people use sound?
A lot of ish.
Change the tone of yes or no.
Lauren: Did anyone say warmer or colder?
I always did like they would say was she wearing a jacket and I said stow.
Lauren: How many people
I had an sure with the shirt. The shirt was throwing me off.
Lauren: You were like she is not wearing a shirt? What is happening? Who tried to figure out the person and then kind of work in yeah? And who was just like what are they wearing? What are they doing?
Lauren: What do you guys think worked better? I wasn’t sure which way that would go.
I felt like we did it wrong because we shoot three questions and I spent the rest of the time drawing a portrait of that person.
Karen: What were the three questions?
Living or dead, what is their area of notable, the answer was drag, on rue Paul drag’s race and they said yes, I said is rue Paul drag’s race theirs?
Karen: Did anyone else get it really quickly?
Karen: How did you
He was asking a bunch of questions about what they looked like and then he asked are they holding anything, and I said yes and he said what are they holding and I said light saber so that kind of gave it away.
Karen: What about over here?
We, like, started narrowing is down. Is it a politician? Donald Trump? American politician? And the answer was no. European politician? No. Is it an Asian politician and I said there is only two I can name. It wasn’t Kim Jong un so therefore it was Xi Jinping. That is how we narrowed it down. We didn’t make any progress on what he was doing which it turned out he was kicking a volleyball around.
Lauren: I think you stumbled into the most interesting problem which is by figure out the person and their role first you are like well he is the president of China what is a presidential think he could do? Speaking at a podium? Waving? Like your whole idea
I was like is he waving? He is moving his hands, he said. And I said what is he doing with his hands if he is not waving?
Lauren: You are like, yeah, I think he is kicking a soccer ball or whatever. That was kind of an interesting what is that word? Where your brain fills in all the gaps?
Like anchoring, kind of.
Lauren: Thank you.
Karen: Did anyone wish they had asked the questions in a different order?
Yes. I had Freddie Mercury and I wish I had asked more about once I had gotten the clue he was holding a microphone I should have started asking what kind of music as opposed to focusing on the picture and what I should draw because I was still unsure of when it was.
Karen: Always going back to the bigger picture before you go to the details.
Lauren: Most of you oscillated between details, who is this, details.
That is kind of an interesting thing because was the point to identify the person or to draw an accurate picture?
Karen: Right. Does identifying the person actually help you? In Ping’s case it didn’t.
And in Rupaul’s case I am not a good enough artist to know who it is. It is a person wearing a wig in drag and dress the details of the dress matter more because I am not going to you are not going to get his cheek bones through my artistry.
Lauren: And putting this activity together, something that comforted us was even if they don’t know who it is they will have to try to replicate the picture.
Is there a lesson to the order? Having not focused on the visual details, I feel like most people might have gone about this way differently than if they had not done the previous one where you are just describing physical stuff. And if we are doing like an analogy to how this works in the workplace what worked last time might not have been adaptive in the next thing. I took that message and whether you did it on purpose or not… yes, yes, great job.
Lauren: No, that is curious. You think being primed to focus on physical attributes kind of targeted your questions in the second one?
I just had like an instinctual doubt so many in the people in the room would have said what is this physical detail and this one.
That is what I did, and it went horribly wrong.
Lauren: Show it.
Everybody help him. Which one did he have? Say Obama.
There is a couple people who ran out of slips of paper.
I noticed we fell into the trap of yes or no questions rather than one word questions.
That is exactly what happened to me.
Karen: Did anyone at the end realize, after comparing the images, they had missed certain questions?
Karen: Talk about that.
I completely missed you know, I asked very specific things about hands and such, but didn’t ask literally what they were doing with them. Ours being Theresa May doing a British thing, drinking tea, I omitted the question that would have led me down the road to see she is drinking tea.
Lauren: Were the things in hands or motion hard?
Yes, very hard.
Karen: When we did this exercise we realized we had Maddy Merkle and we realized we mirrored the image. Her hand was on this head, but she drew it with the other hand on the head. And I forgot to ask which hand.
Lauren: She is like one is up and one is down.
Karen: I noticed some people were not drawing anything but noting stuff down. Who took that strategy? Did that make it easier to collect all the information first?
That was a good lesson from the first exercise.
We were both surprised that we didn’t think about identifying who the person is. Nicki Minaj wearing a jacket with two symmetrical buns.
Lauren: You went for it.
He waited a long time to start drawing and I am thinking is this guy going to draw?
Lauren: He is like she is wearing how much?
Karen: That is cool. Did anyone kind this exercise particularly challenging? Do you want to talk about it?
Yeah, I was coming off a bad exercise and I said I need to think about what this image looks like. I didn’t ask who this person is which is bad.
What about someone over here raised their hand?
We had the picture of the president of China juggling a soccer ball or something. It was so difficult to get that point across. It was surprisingly hard. He would ask what is he doing and I am like flailing his hands which is hard to describe. It was hard to describe something without the other thing also in a short, precise way.
Karen: On that point, has anyone in their work felt like words just fail them? Does anyone want to share an experience related to that? We will come back to it.
Lauren: That is a hard question.
Karen: Cool. Did you have other things to say?
Lauren: I was curious about if it is okay if we spend a couple minutes on this. What everyone’s work experience is? If they find themselves in a position like me and you are kind of trying to build a website or database and collect the pieces, or like Karen
Karen: Where you have answering questions that non technical people pose or giving answers to non technical people.
I am in a more technical place and so I would be the person, I guess, asking questions. So one thing I really wanted to cheer for is anybody who like disobeyed a question I think that is amazing. The example of like the tea. I was asking about where the hand was, and it would have been more helpful to say I am drinking tea. If someone had broken the rules of the game and said where is her hand and they said tea cup you are not like abiding by the rules you think you imply from what they are asking, and I think that I get deferred to a lot because people are afraid of the tag. I am supposed to be in service of what you are doing. If someone asks a question, you answer it. If someone breaks the law and is like I don’t know why you are asking me and is willing to stand their ground and have a mutual role in the creation of the thing that is amazing. You can build the wrong thing and come back and hopefully if you are doing right it will get taken care of, but if people disobey your question because they are the wrong questions, it is always great. Most of us are not that scary and will appreciate it if you don’t answer a question because it is not the right question.
Karen: Back there.
I was going to say in our interaction we broke the rules a little bit in that Eric suggested to me questions I might want to ask him. I know he was supposed to only be giving me one world answers but in a real-world situation, I work as a project manager and I am between the develop and editorial team, so it is helpful when the development team says you might want to ask this. Mostly it comes from the development team what they need from editorial. So cheating that way my suggesting things I might want to ask.
Lauren: And usually when you are trying to bridge communication is technical asking editorial technical things or is this the gist of what we are going for to double check they are going in the right direction?
It is usually from the technical side and they are asking me questions that relate to what they have to build. So whether it is, you know, types of images, how they need to be presented, length of story, you know? How many items in a menu modal? Just those kind of things. I might say we need the content for the menu modal and forget to ask how many items are in the modal and they would say it might be helpful to find out. That is a basic thing, but it is those kinds of things I am thinking of that I know we need from editorial, but I am thought getting enough granular details to build it.
Lauren: Lack of granular material. I know the guy looking at his laptop raised his hand before. Did you want to say anything about your work?
One of the things I find helpful when someone asks why is people are descriptive and give you solutions instead of a problem. Make this green and they will say why, and you will say I can’t read it and they will say maybe I will make it bigger and solve the actual problem.
Karen: I relate to that a lot.
Lauren: How many of you get I don’t like it and you like now I have to figure out why. TKD be the color? It could be you are struggling it could.
I am a developer who works more on platform teams, so we have like a bunch of magazines that funnel to us and it is really difficult. There is a lot of editors and writers who do not feel they talk to me as if, like, you do some things, I am not sure what you do, and they occasionally will say, like, I am having trouble doing this or can you just give me the HTML? I just want to edit the HTML and sort of trying to unbox that and dig into why nay want things is really difficult and trying to ask questions that don’t make them feel stupid and, like, help them understand that. They are the experts and I am supporting their expertise and what they want is like legitimate and not demeaning that is really difficult to do that in a way that doesn’t frustrate them, doesn’t waste their time, and is beneficial for us building a useful product that is not specifically targeted to a person.
Lauren: Yeah, I think respecting everyone’s expertise is hard especially when you are in a position where it boils down to back and forth, yes and no, I can’t, or I can, on this date or that date.
Back then I used to make the people request to do the things. I asked them to draw up a mock for me because that way they get what they are thinking in the head. They usually want extra buttons. Then once they draw it out, you can sort of rationalize with them. What do you intend the user to do with this? And then you can tell them most people it is not going to click. And from there you are able to backtrack where you need to be. The other thing I would do is just throw like a super dirty prototypes.
Part of this is giving them the first date to edit. Usually the second and third time they are happier people.
I don’t work with editors, but I recently had the pressure of explaining AWS lamb to a director which was fun. One of my favorite expressions these days, which I don’t think I know who said it, but Justin Trudeau said if I had six hours to cut down a tree I will spend five hours sharpening the ax. I think when explaining technical things to non technical people preparation is very important. Anticipating the questions you have going to get before you get them, so you are prepared to answer them is key to successful interaction.
Karen: That is great. I saw another comment back there.
Oh, yeah, I am an editor, so I am the one tearing everything apart.
Lauren: Yeah, get it!
What I find hard is because we have a science magazine, so we are covering really technical things and trying to do databases. The reporters say look at this figure from a journal article, re create that, which it was a really bad database. They are treating the developer and the designer like they are kind of servants that are just supposed to mindlessly re create this thing. I want them to come say I want to tell a story and I want to show something really important about this data. How do I get them to start thinking that way?
Lauren: That is a good question.
What kind of editorial process do you place on the graphics? For me, I work for Minnesota Public Radio, so I am surrounded by audio people, so the visualization doesn’t come second so having reestablish the editorial process where we could have equivalence to the words or graphics and that helped create that editorial pipeline to make it collaborate.
I have done sort of similar things where data has been created for some purpose usually print and they are like can we re create this on the web and the answer is always… not really. The thing that I found was really helpful is to do this as a process, so it doesn’t seem reactionary to a request but talking about what we are trying to communicate and break it down to the basic questions.
What is the most important thing you want at a get from scanning this? If you are looking at something designed for print you look at this whole thing and you are like what we are trying to communicate is this one single number has gone up. There are better, easier ways to do that than use this entire box. It is really important to make that something you do for everyone so that it doesn’t feel like you are always asking bad questions. It is like instead we start by doing the basic questions everyone need to answer.
That sounds great and sound like the kind of thing that if it was templated.
Exactly. It is a form. It is a good place to start. It reminds me of doing prep work. Let’s make sure everyone fills out the same generic form, so we have a place to start the meeting.
We don’t have databases templated.
Have you read “the checklist manifesto”?
Yeah, I covered health care a lot and I am all over that.
I think everyone appreciates being brought in as early as possible whether it is a designer or developer and realizing they are key members of the team and not coming in at step four or five. If you ask to answer the questions at the beginning and make sure everyone feels like they are equal footing on the team I noticed that really helps.
Lauren: Not only respecting editor and reporter and photographer but also making sure that everybody respects the developer.
I think one of the things I also learned is that not everyone is the same and wants to do the same thing. You know, like most cases I am communicating with non technical people but some people want to be part of the journey. That is also my bias of how I would like to work but I have come to realize that is not always not everyone has to time do to that. Being flexible to maybe over time push everyone to be there but realize there are some projects to do that on and not everyone necessarily. Being flexible to working with people that want to be more hands off and still work with them.
Lauren: Being able to break your own rules.
Karen: Someone had a hand over here?
I also work on more like platform stuff. I don’t work very directly with editorial teams. I think what happens in that is it is very easy to get overwhelmed by context around you. A lot of what I am hearing is relating to the problem of context switching in general. I think when you come into these discussions and you are very focused on one aspect of whether it is a technical or non technical it is easy to be overwhelmed by what you know and not give as much thought to the other end of it. I think allowing time to like context switch and as someone is saying prepare for discussions and everyone coming in and having thought a little bit about that rather than jumping into a meeting and having everything you think you know without having to spend time to think about things you haven’t thought about in a while.
Building on that a little bit, working in a news organization/newsroom setting, we create these processes, but we have a really hard time sticking to them because we are always moving fast. Let’s do the design first but gosh we need to deb done so we will start on deb while they are working on design because we only have two weeks. So that, to me, is one of the biggest challenges. Those processes are great, but times are timeline just don’t allow for them. It is just like putting your finger in the dike until you get the thing out the door.
Lauren: If dev gets a weekend of something and they are like we want to change our idea. How do you prevent the
It just happens. You are like it is going to go. Everybody sucks it up and pivots a little bit. We try to minimize that as much as possible. You know, I work for a large organization where there is different people and we are trying to pull in different people with different skill sets around the organization. One designer may whip it out in two days and another may take five. You have to gauge all of that and like, I said, the deadlines are forever moving.
Lauren: I find that that is usually when you can tell how everyone views the developer side either as a service desk or value their input when you have to change on the fly. If it is like, I am sorry, but this is why, or just scrap it, we need a new one.
I feel like one of the things we are trying to do is get a mix of short term and long term projects so we understand we are going to get slammed and do the best we can and other things we have chance to allow everyone to do their best work and feel appreciated because, yeah, if you are always not able to adhere to the process and treating dev like a service organization that is not good for anybody. It is going to happen sometimes, but we try to make sure there is a balance.
Lauren: I like that. I like the balance and not trying to burn a couple people out. You are my short term guy. Anyone else?
Our solution is to put them on the same team and have them work together to solve problems.
Lauren: The reporter and?
Our designers and editors work on the same team. Same user stories. They work together to solve the problem, so nobody is waiting on anybody else and you avoid the shit rolling downhill scenario because they work in the same sprint and have problems to solve together.
What does that actually look like on a project? We have one designer and four developers on my team, so the person is like there is an idea, we talk about it, the designer makes a mock, hands it off to the developer, the developer builds the mock, success or failure is based on how close the final project looks to the mock which is very frustrating as a developer working on a news in my mind, like, a developer is in some form the same as a journalist. We are trying to tell a story in the pipeline of design development and then it is done. How do you get to the place where a designer and developer are working toward the same goal together? Like in tandem?
The thing that stood out for me is you said they need to build what the mock is exactly, and I think that is the key. There is fluidity there. You typically do need to start with a mock or wire frames, but our goal is working software over designs, so if the software needs to adjust or change the designer and developer work together to make those changes, and then update the source of truth which is the production design.
There is real power in having designers vote on tickets that are straight engineering when we do planning and pointing. You would think that is stupid? Why would have a designer have the ability to do that but there is something about bridging that gap where, yeah, the designer can weigh in and think it is a five or eight. We do that stuff cross functionally and so many walls have fallen. They are small but bring the team together over time and people are talking and communicating because now it is the team’s problem to solve not that designer or engineer over there.
You gain so much empathy when you have a better understanding of how much work the other person puts in. Typically design, I find, is really misunderstood of the amount of effort it takes to design something. To do story pointing together and effort estimates together and just saying doing like competitive analysis is going to take you a week or however long you build that empathy and compare that to working up a new template and you are able to see this is all one job we are working together.
I have similar stuff where kind of towards the same goal of, you know, how does a dev get more leeway to work features in design and generally it is like a bigger blurring of who is doing what. We usually some of the most successful things I worked on had pre wire frames, like kind of paper ones, with stakeholders and devs and designers all sketching together and doing like embarrassing user testing to kind of assess out some of the things and that shortens iteration cycle later when you are doing more costly wire frames and mocks. And also everybody volunteers to help the designers like if the designer is doing user testing, which is a huge part of helping if the design is good and gravitating towards others and doing user testing, and devs are going to be scribes in that session and write the sessions eventually. Having that and letting the designer get a sense of your design by serving them and making their job easier develops that willingness working with the right designer on your team to trust your judgment and other things when you are deviating from their perfect picture.
Lauren: I am hearing a lot of not even miscommunication between teams but even within your own team if someone has gotten used to doing a certain role, and you have used to doing a certain role, and it falls in. What about outside each other’s team? If someone is like can you make that thing look cool?
I have a question. When people on the outside and latch on to edge cases that don’t matter as a way to hold a project hostage? How do you deal with those people?
Lauren: When they find something that the New York Times?
Like they a small population really wants it. Those people don’t have to go through a tiny funnel but they can go through the big funnel they are making for everyone. And they are like, no, they need to go do this and you have like I have to redesign everything to accommodate that one case.
I have an example. Where I was working on a project and they wanted a two column layout for one part of the chapter selection and I was trying to point out most of the audience is mobile and we will have to collapse on two column layout anyway. Do you really want me to spend the extra time with the two-column layout? They are like yes. I really like two column layouts on my desktop. And this is your boss so you are like, sure, I will build the two-column layout for 10% of our audience.
I am from the Baltimore Sun. We had a primary on Tuesday and I had a call at 11:45 p.m. The results started coming in, system is working and I went back home to get rest, get the call at 11:45 p.m. we were getting all of our data straight from the board of elections and they had one field called “votes for” and for most races it is votes one. You vote for one candidate of governor. For SH reason you vote for more than one, like house of delegates votes up to three people. Then there is the board of education in Howard county and there you can vote for four people. The way we had had worded was, you know, the top four candidates will advance. It turns out in Howard county even though you vote for four people six people are going to advance. I am having to talk to this editor at 11:45 p.m. and they are like can you change it to six and I am like no, because we don’t get that data from the board. He is like can you change it to four plus two or something? And I am like no, that is not the data we are getting. If we change it for the one thing we have to change it for everybody and it is only valid for this case. We are just going to have to re word to say instead of the top four advance voters vote for four. That is what we have to say. We can’t change the data stores we are getting. But the idea of what can we change and what can we not change is really hard to communicate sometimes. They were like could we word it this way or that way and they didn’t under why I can’t change the number four and it is like I cannot change the number of four because we are not the source of truth. We can’t do manual overrides and change one thing in particular. Everything is a system. We could do it, if we had TRIEM time to reprogram it but I can’t reprogram it at 11:45 at night for the board having a slightly wrong wording. It is hard to communicate what is hard and what is easy. What is easy, and during the phone call I did this, changed the wording and reflected what happened which is voters voted for four people. What I couldn’t do in the middle of the night was to change it to be what we wanted which is to say the top six candidates will advance. It is just so hard to communicate that stuff sometimes.
Lauren: Especially the hierarchy of I cannot touch all these things but I can touch this.
How do you explain for technical reasons this is easy and this is hard and what is important and what is not? Ultimately this was not important. It could have waited until the morning. It did not matter that one person on Twitter was like you have the thing wrong here. It is like that person on Twitter is always going to complain about everything. They just like knowing they are smarter than the newspaper. It is just that simple.
Lauren: Quickly. Sorry.
At the AP why do election stuff we will basically create a very thorough, technical lockdown. We would sort of have the visual to communicate to everyone I don’t work at AP anymore but we communicated with everyone in terms of what component of the election map is locked down at what stage and beyond that nothing else could be done. We would tell them the only thing you can change is the color can go deeper, you can change the words, but you can’t change XYZ and I think you don’t explain to them how hard it is to change something you just have everyone in agreement that beyond a certain point this component is now locked down and the review is done. If they want changes they will be subjected to even more errors. You have to communicate every step of the way.
Lauren: All right. Last one.
The thing I found super helpful is to kind of create stuff between your decisions and the request. Create a process that seems really fair and also will have a nice effort filter especially if you have people throwing things off the top of their head and getting excited. The answer to everything is amazing. Make a ticket. All the tickets get prioritized and we do as plane ticket many tickets as we can. If we can get to the ticket, and it fits with the project, it will absolutely get done. Thank you for helping make everything we do better. Then if they don’t care enough to make a ticket, that shares the burden, and if they do and you can’t get it, it is just sort of like for good borrowing some trips of bureaucracies. You are in charge of making it as fair as possible. Just a face value no is hard to take. Just saying thank you, here is what you do and I hope we can do it.
Lauren: So we will wing through the top things Karen and I have learned and then you have free to go.
Karen: One thing I work on at Quartz is the west world messenger bot. I don’t know if anyone uses it or watches the show but on Facebook if you go to the Westworld page you can talk to Tes who is a host. As a technical person you always try to understand the bigger picture and why someone is asking you information. This was just an example of someone coming up to me and was like hey, we really want to have you calculate the messages per session and average time. I was like okay, that will take an hour, but why do you want the metrics? They wanted to show user engagement. In average instances, this is a great way but in this chat bot it is not correct because the experiences are broken down in chapters. So it is more important to know how many people have completed a chapter than how long they spent within a session because they might complete a chapter over multiple sessions. The messages exchanged are the exact same for every single user. Once they communicated that to me I was like actually we want to know the completion rate of the chapter and the message per chapter like how long the chapter is because at the end of the day everyone is exchanging the same messages. That say one small example. The other thing I related to was keeping answers simple. This is why I made the people answering the questions give only one word answers. I have a tendency when someone asks me should we keep Google Amp on and I am like I am going to do analysis and make complicated boxes. I was super proud of this and was like this is what it shows and it is so cool and the person looked at me and was like do we keep Amp on? And I was look oh, okay, yes. They didn’t care about how complicated the analysis was at all.
Another example is someone asked is Google or Facebook driving more traffic to our site and I was like let me make this beautiful violin plot. This is how much Google Drives to every article versus how much Facebook drives and my manager was like you are going to be presenting to all the journalists in the room and they probably don’t know what a violin bar is change that to two bars. And put it in the notes if anyone wants to look at the distribution it is there. That is the stuff I deal with at work. On to Lauren.
Lauren: Mine is digital never happens in a vacuum. Especially when you are showing your projects, be like I think I will base it off this or starting with a compliment. Hey, I really liked your photos and reporting and I had a great idea. I really like that line because it is enthusiastic, open ended and they know you are looking at their work. Never start with I just need one thing. Share cool projects on the reg. They respect your expertise and also after the project is done say thank you or bring cookies and I will acknowledge everyone put in work even though it feels like you are the one up to the 19th hour. That is it. Thank you.
Karen: Thank you so much for coming. And please continue the conversation with us on Twitter. Those are our handles and have a wonderful rest of your conference.