Sharon Iorio is the president of that group this year, from Wichita State.
And they wanted to say a few words to our crowd before we move into our main
program. So Sharon, do you want to come up now?
Iorio: Thank you, Jan, for giving us some time at this luncheon to
talk about the Civic Journalism Interest Group. The Civic Journalism Interest
Group is really facing some new challenges and will be moving in new directions.
We are living in, as I'm sure you realize, an international atmosphere where
the global is indeed the local. We're in a very rapidly changing economic climate
where business practices are definitely affecting individuals. And how civic
journalism reacts to that will be an issue of great interest to the Civic Journalism
Our business meeting tonight will be at 8:30. It's tonight, Thursday, at 8:30.
I would encourage all of you to attend our business meeting and help share in
planning those new directions for the future of our group.
I also have one other duty today that gives me great pleasure. Our interest
group has been supported so well over the years by the Pew Center and through
the efforts of Jan Schaffer. I've asked Esther Thornton, from the University
of Missouri, who has worked with Jan and the Pew Center, to say a few words,
and I know you're going to want to hear what she has to say. Esther?
Thornton: Good afternoon, almost afternoon. It's a pleasure for me
to have the opportunity to say a few words about Jan and her contributions to
the Civic Journalism Interest Group. As you all know, a central focus for AEJMC
has always been to link teaching and research and practice. I dare you to think
of an area that has done a better job of that than the area of civic journalism.
Jan's close work with the Civic Journalism Interest Group, her support of
research in all of the many Pew civic journalism projects across the United
States and beyond, I think, are ample testimony to her commitment to linking
those three processes, those three activities. And I think symbolic of that,
if you read this summer's issue of the Civic Catalyst, Jan gave 10 important
things we've learned about civic journalism, good ways to do civic journalism.
And as I read through those, I realized that fully three of them involved
linkages between universities and students and those in the industry who are
involved in doing civic journalism, again an indicator of just how well Jan
understands the critical importance of bringing together teaching, research
So on behalf of the Civic Journalism Interest Group, I'd like to ask Jan to
come forward. Unfortunately, we don't have the envelope with the check in it,
Jan. On behalf of the Interest Group, we'd like to present Jan with this plaque.
It says, among other things, in appreciation for outstanding service to civic
journalism, teaching and research. It left off practice, but we had it in our
hearts when we said it.
Congratulations Jan, and thank you from the bottom of our hearts. [Applause.]
Schaffer: Thank you. It seems weird to do this at my own luncheon,
but they asked for the time. It's been really fun to work with the Academy these
last 10 years that the civic journalism effort has been in place by the Pew
Center. I love the people, love the fresh ideas, love the kind of research you've
done, love the efforts to measure the impact.
As some of you may have heard, we are now in the process of archiving our
collection at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and it will be there, available
sometime earlier next year, for those of you who want to burrow in more. There
are more than 650 newspaper projects, a couple of hundred TV and radio initiatives
that are available for anyone who wants to really probe or measure impact. A
lot of self-reporting on these projects from our funding initiatives who have
given us reports. So it will be there and available to all.
Thank you all. It's been fun.
I want to now move on into our headline speaker today. Glenn Thomas is a co-founder,
he's a director of Smashing Ideas, Inc. It's a Seattle company he formed in
'96 to create interactive media for the Web, for TV, for electronic devices.
Most of the time he's doing this for advertising or consumer brand companies,
places like Kraft or Post Cereals, Nickelodeon, Ford. He did the Coca-Cola interactive
Olympic torch relay map, a Madonna interactive music video.
We came across Glenn after one of our funded projects, done by the Herald
in Everett, Washington, sought his help. He helped them create a clickable map
to report on a waterfront redevelopment project that allowed readers, news consumers,
to move icons around and vote with their mouse on their preferences.
Next, he created a growth and sprawl map for the Myrtle Beach Sun News.
Now mind you, Glenn is not a journalist. He doesn't read newspapers. He doesn't
have time for TV. But he would self-describe himself as a voracious consumer
of news, mostly online. And I think to me he represents two trends that we've
seen in our work at the Pew Center.
One is sort of the well-documented capacity to access news and information
anywhere, any time. I think the second is an emerging trend that we see for
people to engage in the process not so much of consuming a final story as it
is a process of building, co-authoring, co-producing their own story, their
own internal narrative.
It's a different exercise. They're building and assembling these stories from
components of news and information that they get a little on radio, they scan
the newspaper headlines. They may have CNN on in the background. They e-mail
people, they use the Web, they interact with information, they watch Jay Leno
And through all of these components, they're building what they feel, constructing
what they feel to be the truth about their community, the truth about their
They can ask a question if they need to clarify information. They can go to
other links of they need more elaboration. They can figure out places where
they can do something about a problem if they want to.
I think, to me, this has very interesting potential for journalists. So the
question that I suggest that rises out of this is, if people are composing their
own stories from different component parts, should we, as journalism educators,
be helping students deliver interesting and compelling components, rather than
a well-crafted, finished product? Should the emphasis be on components and connections
rather than craftsmanship?
So I'll just let that question out there to linger in your brain.
For Glenn, I think one of these interesting components falls into the gaming
arena, computer games. He is an expert on Flash. He has authored the book Flash
And today I really ask him to try to address another question for us, which
is, namely, what can computer games teach journalists? So Glenn, have at it.
Thank you. [Applause.]
Thomas: I speak quite frequently at technology conferences and I have
to tell you that this is a slightly different conference. In technology conferences,
in the elevators going up and down the hotel, people are trying to figure out
where the wireless hot spots are. In this conference last night, as I was going
up and down in the elevator after dinner, a woman came up to me and asked me
a survey question: Had I had any problems with my room after checking in?
As Jan said, I'm not a journalist. I did not go to journalism school. I have
never worked in a newsroom. I have no real connection with your industry, other
than the fact that we've done this project and I've had the pleasure of being
involved in some of the journalism education efforts through the University
of Minnesota in Minneapolis, as well as the API in Virginia, I guess.
I am, however, completely a consumer of news.
When Jan says I'm voracious, what she's referring to is last night at dinner,
when we were talking, and I said I don't get a daily newspaper. On a daily or
weekly basis I review The New York Times, The Washington Post,
Slate, Salon, The Guardian in Britain, MSNBC, CNN. And that has to do
with both my job and home, where I have broadband. I'm always on; I'm always
So I do have, I think, strong opinions about the news. I have strong opinions
about interactive, and I hope to share them with you today.
What's Games Got to Do with It?
So first, what I want to go over today is what's games got to do with it?
What can games do for you as journalists, as educators? In order to do that,
I want to set a context. A context of what is interactive? What's an interactive
story? What's a game experience? And then, how can we move on with that and
actually do something with it?
This is a big question. What is interactive? I'm going to kind of go against
media theory here and hopefully not get run out of the room. Media theory has
it that interactive is hyperlinks on a page. Well, most of you in the back probably
can't read the little caption there, but the graphic here is of Counterstrike,
a PC game where people online shoot each other and can talk to each other.
My point is, is Counterstrike more interactive than NewYorkTimes.com? Is this
interactive? Links on a page. My contention is that it's perhaps part of the
continuum of interactive, but the least important part. How is this different
than a good index? How is this different than a good table of contents?
For the course of this talk, I'd like you to think of interactive as interactions
between humans and technology and interactions between people. For me, that's
the important part of interactive. It's when humans interact with technology
and get an opportunity to change and respond and have feedback. And interactive,
when technology allows people to interact with each other, have change and feedback
So that's the definition I'd like everybody to think about as I move forward,
because if we think of interactive as just hyperlinks on a page, this talk won't
make much sense to anybody. So what's an interactive story? In the last year,
I've done a few symposiums, and it's gone back and forth over what's an interactive
story. Here is the standard experience for an interactive story. There's going
to be a timeline with the history of everything. Perhaps we'll get some quotes
from people that have a little bit more depth to it, have multiple facets to
What it is is a lot of depth of information. So you can click through and
find out that the Transportation Bill of 1954 did such-and-such, and then the
Transportation Bill of 1978 did such-and-such. I would say that that just overwhelms
people, and that it often does not get to the heart of the story. It does not
help people understand. And it's not really interactive. Depth of information
is not interactivity to me.
So, I have a warning from the three little pigs, because I'm going to tell
you how perhaps the three little pigs might be done as an interactive story
First, of course, we have to have the timeline of building materials. Obviously,
we have straw, brick, mud and through the eras back to the Egyptians, they're
used different ways.
Now that wolf was a bad guy, so we better have some links out to how bad things
happening in your childhood make you a bad person and you need therapy.
Of course, you have the lazy pig. So we'll need some links out to laziness
research, perhaps some quotes from the teachers about the lazy pig, how he was
lazy in elementary school.
Now what I'm trying to get at is the fact that the three little pigs is a
good story. It's a good story because it's about the industrious pig who helps
out his lazy brothers when there's an evil wolf. With that interactive story
I've just told you, it's no longer a good story. The depth of information has
completely overwhelmed the narrative of the story.
So the point is that interactive story, depth of information, isn't the right
thing to do all the time. You have to choose your story, and you have to apply
the right tools to a story, just as you would as journalists in any other story
So I say, take that warning from the three little pigs, and move beyond depth
of information in a story like that to make interactive. Make it mean interactive.
What about the three little pigs is fascinating?
Well, perhaps it's the response of the community to the wolf being captured.
The wolf is obviously a predator. We'll allow the community to make that interaction.
So this goes into games because games, I would posit, are at the extreme end
of interaction. There is always a response to your action and things change,
whether from the technology or from the people you're playing it. Journalists
- and as I've done this over the past year at symposiums - often have a difficult
time thinking why we would even consider using games to tell the news? A game,
as the definition says at the top, is an activity providing entertainment or
amusement, a pastime. Well that's certainly not the news. We're telling people
the truth, the facts, the details. That's not a game.
And then when you think about the words that are used to describe games by
people, games are an exploration. You're in control. There's feedback, competition
perhaps. They're addictive. Online, they might perhaps be viral. They're challenging.
Those aren't words that journalists use about the news.
And games, as anybody who has grown up playing them can say, board games or
computer games that you play with others are perhaps about sharing, collaborating,
laughing. They're about enjoyment, having fun. These are not things that journalists
or perhaps other people define as the news.
And games can become a tool, another tool in your arsenal to tell a story
Why Should Journalists Use Games?
Before we get into that I'm going to ask the question: Why journalists? Why
should journalists use games? Why should journalists use interactive to tell
The caption, for the people in the back, this is a picture of an X-Box and
the caption says, "Do you really think X-Box is really going to do it right?
Who is going to use this tool correctly?" Well, obviously, the people in this
room if they understand that it is a tool and can teach your students or bring
it back to the newsroom, you're the people who can use it to help make some
stories more understandable.
Why is that? Because you have the ability, the understanding, and you have
an audience. You have a local, regional, or national community of an audience
that is able to use a game-type news experience. And you're able to use your
current audience to move them to the interactive medium to do that. You can
package things together.
And why journalists? Because you're the ones who are supposed to be telling
these stories in the best possible way. And as I'm going to hopefully show next,
games can make complex information more understandable to your community.
So first, I would like to share briefly The (Everett) Herald
project and describe what the goal was. Everett is a small town north of Seattle
that was a former Navy base, and it still has a naval influence, but it has
been cut back. They had the opportunity to redevelop a large part of their waterfront,
both on the sound and along the river there.
So they were able to get a Pew grant to do a civic journalism project which
combined interactive with reporting, video, photography. The goal was to get
community input on how this redevelopment project could move forward.
So this is the interactive part of it. The goal was to show these four different
areas and allow residents to take icons - this would be sailboat rentals, a
park - and move them into the area and collect data about what people in a blue
sky world would like to have in their town. It was quite successful for them
and is somewhat of a simulation experience for that town.
So this is a game-type experience that allowed people to provide their thoughts,
hopes and desires in a way that they couldn't otherwise do. Would a survey have
accomplished this in a better way? Where you just ask the question, "Do you
want a park?" I don't think so. I think this visual display of information allows
people to better display what they want.
And this is a first step. It's not a final step. And so let's, based on that,
consider the possibilities for games. My contention is that citizens of this
country have a very difficult time wading through the amount of information
that it takes to understand some complex situations and make good decisions
because, quite frankly, people don't have time to read special sections about
- I'm from Seattle, so I'll use a personal example.
We don't have time to wade through a special section about the transportation
crisis. The Northwest is grid locked. And we're going to be grid locked for
the next 10 to 20 years most likely, because we can't move forward on anything.
One year the citizens of our state vote to put $6 or $60 billion to fixing it.
The next year they vote to take away the funding for it. We have the initiative
process in the West, so we do get some fun results. People are making those
decisions because they don't have all the information they need. And they're
not going to read 70 pages to understand that.
We could think of taking a transportation simulation game in which we took
the best data that's out there of the results of different choices, in the same
way that you would do it in a story, and let people play around with it themselves.
Let them explore what their choices are going to do.
If they vote to have no funding for transportation, then the results are fairly
obvious, and they're fairly agreed upon that we will have worse traffic in the
next 10 years, and Washington will continue to lose businesses. And, as any
of you can imagine what that means, tax receipts go down, so on, and so on,
and so on.
So here's a way that's both interesting, fun and challenging for people to
explore a very complex and difficult story and understand better how the decisions
that are made affect the outcome.
So any of those complex situations, where there are difficult choices to be
made, and there are cause and effect, are wonderful stories to think about using
a game, because most people just aren't going to read through all the detailed
My brother-in-law is a state legislator in Washington and he always promises
to me that he'll bring home the briefing books for the transportation committee
he's on. And then he tells me they're about 2,000 pages long. I said, well,
that's what the journalists are for, get it down to two pages, and then people
don't even want to read the two pages.
So I wanted to put that out there as an idea of how a game experience can
be used to explain a story better.
There are obviously other sorts of games that can be used to explain complex
situations. Anything where somebody is doing something in the first person.
I don't understand a heart surgeon's work, and yet I might be interested in
taking sort of a game experience where I act like a heart surgeon and find out
what that is like. Obviously, we have an enormous number of heart attacks in
this country. It's an interesting story, but I don't understand what goes into
people surviving them or the choices that doctors give to patients.
In terms of just information recall and things like that, you can do quizzes
and brain teasers, story areas where these sort of things will work well. Commerce
- it's complex. It's difficult. Things like a tax calculator are done in New
Hampshire. Or any sort of commerce game that shows people the results of their
choices. It's certainly going to be more successful than a long, dry story about
business that most citizens won't wade through. They just don't have the time
or the interest.
So you can start considering all these different story areas and there are
going to be ones that are right for games.
And then the other point to make about games and the possibilities is that
the access to them is expanding, not just on the web where broadband is picking
up very rapidly now, it's finally turning the corner. And broadband changes
the way people use the online world dramatically.
They use it much more for information, much more for going to sites. E-mail
use continues at the same rate, but it becomes a smaller percentage of what
people do online.
So broadband means more usage and more usage for rich media-like games. And
then you move on beyond the Web, things like devices.
I think Jan likes having me at stuff because I bring out all the toys. This
is a Nokia phone that has a PDA on it, and it can run the Everett Waterfront
Project if we redesign the interface. But that's the sort of possibility in
the future, when everybody has a phone like this, or the Pocket PC 2002 phone,
that's always connected, they're going to get their information not just through
the Web but through devices.
And then there are the game consoles, which more and more kids growing up
are using to do things beyond games. E-mail, web access. They might not have
computers five or 10 years from now. Kids might consider their game console
a computer. Well then, obviously, a game to get them information makes even
more sense. And then other kinds of devices, like cameras. These will be connected,
and your audience can send you pictures immediately.
The Five Steps to Interactive Success
So those are the kind of possibilities that I want to put in front of you.
And then I want to talk about what I call the five steps to interactive success.
As educators, I thought you would like five good solid points.
The first step, and the most important one, is choose the proper story, realize
where interactive is appropriate, realize where it can make a difference. As
we go through this, I'm going to talk about what the Everett Waterfront Project
could be and should be in the future.
It's a first step. It's not the final end-all, be-all of interactive success,
but I think it was a proper story.
It was a story that allowed citizen input on a difficult subject that people
had strong opinions about.
And the visual display of information allowed people to make better decisions.
Create. This is the one that I believe is a change in mindset. And people
will have to think a bit differently. It's not a finished story; it's a story
framework. How do you build a framework within which your audience helps develop
the story? Will journalists accept that as a challenge? Will they accept that
as part of their job? I do not know, but in order for interactive to truly be
a success, there has to be an understanding that it is not a finished project,
that it's a framework, that you're not telling your audience, but you're engaging
This is not something that the Everett Waterfront Project was fully able to
do. It partially was, with the interactive map, but it could have gone further
with more input from citizens, more ability for citizens to talk to each other.
That's the third point, input. Let the audience become part of the coverage.
The Everett Waterfront Project did this well on a newspaper level, because they
went out and they interviewed citizens in that area and they put that input
in the newspaper. And yet online, isn't it much simpler to let people give you
their feedback at the point of the interactive experience? Isn't it easier to
let them e-mail you, fill out a form, let you know what they think of it, give
you advice on how to make it better?
I believe it is. But I believe people in the interactive journalism space
have to then accept that and use it. I cannot describe my frustration with the
local Seattle online units who won't respond to e-mails. Why have you put your
e-mail there? I've asked you a question.
Please take your e-mail off if you're not going to respond to me.
As a point of difference, I e-mailed the editor-in-chief at Slate about an
interactive project that they did. And it took him a while, but within a week
he had responded. He put his e-mail, he made a point to get back to stuff. If
you allow input, you have to give feedback.
And that's the next one, feedback. Use the feedback from the audience. If
your community gets involved and says that something should change, that there
are better ways of doing it, gives you advice, if possible use it. If there
are differences of opinion that come out because of it, use it.
This is an area where the Everett Waterfront Project fell short; we weren't
able to make changes. We gave people the icons. We set the debate for them about
what the waterfront could become. We didn't allow them to come back and say
but hey, wait a second, what I really want is to put in a big nuclear power
plant on the corner there. Not that people might have wanted to do that, but
they weren't able to come back and make changes to that interactive experience,
which I think is good journalism. Because people might have felt very strongly
about some kind of redevelopment that we hadn't thought of or The (Everett)
Herald hadn't thought of.
And the last point is engage. Let the audience engage with each other. Build
a framework, within which your community can speak with each other around your
story and around the paper. Journalists biggest asset is their audience. They
can help you. They can build interest in your story. They can tell other people
about it. They can give you information about what's working and what's not.
It's enormously powerful to let people speak with each other, not only on
a community and civic level, but also for your own story.
I can't think of everything, every possible angle to a story if you sat down
and said come up with a great story about a certain topic. But if there were
1,000 people talking to each other, there would be new themes that came out
and new aspects that were important.
For the people in the back who can't read the caption here, this is the Sims
Online, and this is a very successful interactive gaming experience where you
follow your Sims characters in an online world. The caption is, "They talk to
us, we don't have to listen, do we?"
If interactive, if the most important thing about interactive really is interaction
between people and interactions between people and technology, interactions
between your community, interactions between your community and your newspaper
or station or whatever it might be, and interactions between the people and
whatever interactive media you've put out there. If that's truly the case, if
it's that interaction that matters, then you have to listen and you have to
Last but not least, the golden rule from my perspective is it's a game. Make
it fun. We spend a lot of our time at our company making games, probably 50
percent of what we do. And you know what? If it's not fun, if it's not challenging,
people won't play it. So this is a new tool for you. Just get caught up in the
excitement of it, get caught up in the interaction, get caught up in everything
that you can do with it, but don't lose sight of the fact that it needs to be
Questions & Answers
Thomas: I would be happy to take questions.
Question: Are you able to go in at all to show me the Olympic torch
Thomas: I don't have access to that.
Question: I know the Everett Project [inaudible]. One of the things
that people in this civic community have talked about for a long time is the
idea of deliberation, which involves choices and tradeoffs. And you addressed
that in your talk, as well, where you couldn't take it to the feedback and engagement
But my question is: Do you see, in the [inaudible] online gaming to be developed
in the Everett project, do you see being able to incorporate those kinds of
choices and tradeoffs that you mentioned in a way that's reasonable and I guess
economical? So I guess the first question is can you imagine it? And the second
is how might you implement it?
And a corollary to that is: Do you see this technology being something that
people can actually start using within journalism within the next two to five
Thomas: The first question is with the Everett Waterfront Project,
the aspects of interaction that we didn't really have the opportunity to add
to it, whether I think it's possible - one. And two, whether it's economically
Absolutely I believe it's possible. In fact, I think some of the better interactive
journalism projects that I've seen have involved the community more strongly
in the digital space. So whether it's discussion boards or messaging or speaking
back with the journalists, it's definitely possible. And things like discussion
boards aren't expensive to make by any means.
In terms of the Everett Waterfront Project, I think what it would have taken
truly would have been a phase one and a phase two, where the phase one was blue
sky, about what can anybody imagine, with a bit more integration of the audience
in that they could say, "Hey, what about this icon or that icon? I want to put
something different there."
And that then would have had an ability to create all that data, create a
generalized map, and perhaps some specific ones based on the data of what people
really liked, put them back out to the community, and then do a phase two based
on that, saying here are what the tradeoffs are.
Here's what that would cost the community. Here's what we would have to give
up, whether it's raising taxes or all those kinds of questions. And then let
people perhaps remake the map based on those more difficult choices, which are
economic and quality of living choices.
The Everett project was always meant to be just blue sky. And I think truly
to bring it all together, it would have been important to do a phase two for
Question: Could that be done in real-time?
Thomas: Real-time in what way?
Question: In the sense of I put a part here, and I get immediate feedback
based on all the other choices?
That if you want a park here that means you can't have your aquarium next
Thomas: Exactly. Yes, it could be done that way. It is difficult, obviously,
and that's where the journalism part is crucial. What are those tradeoffs? What
are those costs and benefits? And what does it mean if we want an aquarium,
and it's going to cost us $15 million?
What does that mean to our community of 100,000 people that's slightly depressed
And the second question that was asked, is this technology feasible to use
in the next two to four years in the newsroom? There are half a million Flash
developers in the world. It's probably the number one multimedia technology.
And as you hire people, I think more and more people will have used it. It's
not so complex, I mean there are lots of very good people out there. We're in
a situation where, for us, it's probably not economically feasible for us to
do this full-time, but it's something that we enjoy doing.
But I think so. Was it economically feasible to print color pictures in newspapers
when it started? Things will come down in cost.
Question: I'm intrigued by your idea of incorporating games, and I'm
also [inaudible]. For those of us who are teaching [inaudible] the technological
[inaudible] incorporating some of these ideas in a less technological way. [inaudible].
Thomas: So the question is how to apply these principles with technology
that perhaps is more understandable or easy to use at this point.
When we create games, you start out with an idea.
And you put it out, you write it up. And then you'll create a game logic.
And really, in teaching, you could go just to the game logic and you don't have
to do the execution. So game logic for some kind of cause and effect game, for
example, my gridlock game of the Northwest, would be the information that it
would take to define that cause and effect. If the state of Washington decides
to raise $100 billion and create a mass transit system and more freeways, what
does that mean? If they don't, what does that mean?
And you can put together that game logic without having any kind of technological
expertise. So you can do that as an exercise. Where it's perhaps not complete
is that once you actually make the game you realize you've made some errors
in the game logic and you have to go back and revise a little bit. But it's
certainly a first step, and I think a good one.
Question: Your Everett project, in part, I think serves as an example
to lay the groundwork for [inaudible]. Civic journalism certainly...[tape ends.]
Question: ...getting community feedback on a potential project or on
a project. I see a potential real problem. The web knows no geopolitical boundaries.
What is to prevent, if we are using media properties to foster community discussion,
what is to prevent disenfranchised Kosovars from overloading what happens in
Thomas: That's a very good question. Did everybody pick that up in
the room? Is everybody in the back okay?
That's a good question because the Everett Waterfront Project was a Macromedia
site of the day for a day or two. And so they did end up getting some skewing
from people around the world who saw it.
I think there are many different ways to deal with that and none of them are
that difficult. It's not impossible to just ask people to register and, as the
online world changes and free content goes away, people are going to get used
to registering and perhaps paying local newspapers might end up changing so
that the online activities like this would be available to subscribers or people
in the community.
Sure, perhaps disenfranchised Kosovars would go through and register a fake
address in that city, but I think the percentage of people who would do that
And if you really wanted to make sure it was just from that community, then
technologically you could figure out IP addresses and where people might likely
That would be the way we would probably recommend dealing with it. Does that
answer the question?
Question: Yes. IP addresses, I think, are awfully squishy because my
SBC global.net broadband access gives me a pretty squishy IP address. I don't
Thomas: You should go to the global IP address map and see if it nails
you right every time. I've been surprised.
Question: I'd like to make a comment and then a question. I'm less
worried about a vote as I am about getting good ideas. And if someone from Kosovo
- Kosova is the more politically correct name - wants to take the game and offer
a good idea, why not?
Can you comment a little bit more on budgets? In New York we have some experience.
Mike Moss imprinted a hunk of the city budget into Sim City, licensed the end
of Climaxis some years ago. For instance, we've got some Java script, fill-in-the-blank
stuff and totalers and things like that.
So obviously, the debate on what to do with the World Trade Center site will
be a natural and the newspapers certainly are doing a lot of feedback mechanism.
But when we approach people with the idea of a Sim City-type thing, where right
now legally they're supposed to put back 11 million square foot of office space
and about a million square foot of retail. The planners know that it would be
wise not to do that, it would be wise to put a mixed residential, but the rules
of the game don't allow it because the legally [inaudible] they're supposed
to put in, the mayor is out changing the rules of the game. So what all the
editors of the paper said was we'll wait until they change the rules of the
game before we even think of investing in building something around Sim City.
Basically, most of the good examples we see around the country are funded
by someone else. Yours was funded by Pew, Mike's was funded by the city university
system. The newspapers, frankly, are el cheapo.
You've had some experience now, is there any way to drive the costs down closer
to a normal story or convince them that it's worth more than a normal story?
Make it more routine than cheap? With all due respect, Flash isn't all that
expensive, but still...
Thomas: It's the human costs involved in creating something like this.
I would say that there are a few different aspects to that question. One is
that currently newsrooms don't have people with the expertise so they have to
outsource it, and that's always going to be much more expensive. So as newsrooms
change, and there is more expertise internally, I think you'll see more of this
The second thing is that newspapers survive on advertising. None of the interactive
projects that I've seen have been set up to take advertising. This is foolish.
I really believe that. If people are spending so much time with these projects,
why isn't there advertising within them? Why isn't there some kind of ad all
the time at the bottom of this? If somebody's spending half an hour with this,
why aren't the newspapers implementing advertising?
Is it a sales problem? Is it a technology problem? Whatever it might be, find
a way to pay for it?
If there's always just a straight loss on the books, of course they're not
going to get done. We deal with companies that have bottom lines. They're being
paid for because they're marketing, they're advertising.
If you're an online site and you're a newspaper, CNN or whatever it might
be, and you count on advertising, then if you make something you had better
integrate advertising into it.
And that's becoming more possible, certainly with Flash. It was a little bit
more difficult in the past. The current version, it's quite simple. But there's
a fundamental disconnect for me with most interactive projects like this and
the advertising sale side of organizations.
Why can't there be this special sponsorship, whatever it might be? Great opportunity.
The organization has to see that somebody's spending a lot of time with this
sort of media, and then I think it becomes an easier sell when the advertising
is integrated. Because how many people spend half an hour with the newspaper
every day, or even once a day, or once a week? This is a great opportunity that
nobody is taking.
And once that happens and there's a way to pay for it, then I think the budgets
change. That would be, I think, the most important thing to me.
Question: [inaudible]. The other thing is, I'm worried about the democratic
process. An essential problem with this kind of game playing, I like the idea
of [inaudible], but it's essentially a volunteer kind of sample [inaudible].
And newspapers tend to write headlines based upon those inaccurate, unscientific
polls. I think there are many cases [inaudible].
I guess I would urge some caution that there be a social science component
to gathering this information so that it doesn't have an impact on public policy.
The other thing is do we really want people who are [inaudible] and playing
games and entertaining themselves driving that [inaudible] rather than people
who are [inaudible]?
Thomas: I think your first two points are well taken. Your last point
is condescending to the audience. And if you are willing, as a journalist, to
cut out a large part of your audience, then that's a choice you can make.
Question: I'm not suggesting that. I'm suggesting [inaudible] public
Thomas: Perhaps there are people whose voices aren't heard now who
would be attracted to this who are being left out of the debate. It doesn't
mean that you can't have thoughtful articles in a newspaper. It means that this
may be more attractive to an audience that, as a journalist, you're not reaching
now. And so the decision to make is, as a journalist, are you trying to reach
everybody in your community or just the thoughtful, best educated people with
the most time on their hands and the most interest in difficult-to-read stories.
I mean, my response to that is you're missing, as journalists, a huge part
of the population. Flat out, there are people who won't read about these. There
are lots of people I know who have not just good ideas but are interested in
the gridlock problem in Washington. They will never read a newspaper article
about it. They're never going to do it, and yet they're stuck in traffic every
day and want a solution and see no way to do it other than going to the ballot
box every year and voting for a different initiative that promises them things
that, quite frankly, are often lies.
Question: I was curious if you've given much thought to how we handle perhaps
exposing [inaudible] and I'm not sure, frankly, that we're already [inaudible].
And I know, in my case, I always want to separate that. I expose people to avocations
and I teach them the basics, but I'm mainly there to teach journalism.
I'm curious, perhaps it's the idea of you talking about the game logic. Do
people do story boards, scripts?
Do they talk to you, a person like myself who says, "Hey, I've got an idea,
maybe we can do this?" How does that process work?
Thomas: I think the way to do it is to take out the technology equation completely,
other than describing it. And then it becomes a matter of the game logic and
the writing and the scripts and figuring out the cause and effect in the same
way that in a story there's going to be cause and effect described and cause
and effect from different points of view.
I don't think any of that changes. It's a different presentation. It's a different
way of thinking, though I'm not telling a somewhat linear story. It's here are
the different choices that can be made in that kind of game. Other kinds of
things that are just - whether it's informational quizzes or things like that,
it's story boards and the writing and things like that.
RIGHT: Lew Friedland asks a question.
Question: The answer you gave just a moment ago, you seemed to be talking
about a generational shift.
Younger people, newspaper readership seems to be on the decline. In public
radio we find that our listenership is increasingly - the age of it is increasingly
What I'm wondering about is what do you think about the possibility that a
younger population might apply a different standard to journalistic problems?
We've grown up in the environment of basically high stakes journalism. It's
got to be right, names have to be spelled correctly, you've got to stand behind
the product. And that is the standard that most people live by in our newspaper,
Do you think that the generational shift, people that are younger might apply
different, lower standards that would allow them to accept a game with the model
behind it and say, "We don't take it as truth. We're not going to hold you accountable."
I see a potential there.
Thomas: I can only speak for myself, and I certainly haven't seen research
on this. But speaking for myself and the people I know, I don't believe we believe
that the newspapers are telling us the truth, period. I don't believe that people
in my generation trust journalists and newspapers. We're not the Watergate generation.
We're not journalists uncovering corruption. We did not go through that experience.
Journalists aren't heroes.
And so I believe you start beginning to not say a lower standard but a different
standard, a standard of people who go out and try and grasp different opinions
to make a choice. It's not just reading the New York Times and accepting what
they say as truth. Again, that's speaking for myself, but people who grew up
playing games have a certain sense of exploration and sense of control that
I think works against current traditional journalism of telling people what's
right. To some degree they expect to find out what's right.
And again, I have no research for that, so I'm speaking off the cuff, and
I could be completely wrong. But it's not as passive. It's not just, "I'm receiving
whatever you tell me, and I'm going to accept it as right." It's, "I can figure
this out myself."
Question: [inaudible] it's pretty unsophisticated compared with [inaudible].
Thomas: There's a $20 million difference there.
Question: Because I can see [inaudible] but you said that Washington
has gridlock. Well, come to Atlanta and find out about gridlock. There's enough
places around that you can build an assimilation kind of game that actually
you could move things around. You've added a monorail, and it costs this much
money and you have to displace so many people.
Those sophisticated games like Sim City would almost allow you to do that
[inaudible]. And if you could develop that kind of thing that you could overlay
over cities all around the country - I don't know if it's something that journalists
could do, but I could see a lot of people seriously playing that game to try
and really find a solution to the problem.
And if you had, let's say in Atlanta you had 30,000 people doing that, and
you get certain points for reducing the price and moving - the planners could
actually, at the end of this, go and evaluate on a point system and look at
the best plan to come in. Then it's more than a game. It's using thousands of
people's ideas, but it's a very expensive proposition. But it has, I think,
some real practical applications to it, and it would be fun to do, and you wouldn't
just be playing a stupid little Sims game and trying to keep the Sims family
happy hour after hour and making yourself nuts thinking this is all life is
about. This is like my own life. Feed me, [inaudible], and I'll be happy.
Thomas: I would agree with that. I think Jan's looking for funding
for that if anybody wants to step forward.
Question: What happened in the real world after [inaudible]?
Question: Actually, I know some feedback, he may know others. But one
of the outcomes of the citizens voting was that they wanted more access to the
And one of the things they asked for, quite simply, and I don't know that
it was an icon, was bike trails.
Thomas: It wasn't an icon.
Question: It wasn't an icon and I guess, Mark Briggs has said they'd
love a wild card in the future where it would open [inaudible].
And now, it's my understanding, that the city is entertaining bike trails
along the waterfront. It's actually a small thing, but it made a difference
You may know more.
Thomas: I think it just got more citizens involved with the process.
Processes like this usually attract a few die-hard people to city council meetings,
and it just increased citizen participation, which is always a good thing.
Question: [inaudible] but what's the incentive for doing this? And
can they win something by doing it?
Can we get people into it if they don't have any expectation of [inaudible]?
Thomas: It goes back to make a game fun, make a game challenging. I
don't think you win something in the Sims necessarily. You can improve your
lot in life, but in many ways this kind of simulation game would be about improving
your real world lot in life. With the right topic, and I do keep going back
to the gridlock one because it's a serious, difficult issue that people have
enormous passions about now in Washington.
I believe that something like that would be used.
Not in the same way that a shoot-em-up game is going to be used. But I don't
think a shoot-em-up game is the type of game that can be done for journalism.
There are many different kinds of games and different reasons for playing them.
So I think some of them are appropriate, and they can be used.
Thomas: I think it would be a game in which, as an individual citizen,
you would be deciding what your goal is. Your goal might be to be able to get
from Bothel to Seattle faster. That's a different goal from somebody living
in Seattle, who wants to get to Redmond to work at Microsoft faster.
So kind of the first step is letting the user really choose, the player really
choose what they want to do, because that ends up influencing the outcome. That's
one of the reasons we're in such a mess, because different parts of the region
have very conflicting interests, and nobody's been able to come up with a compromise
that works for all the different regions.
So once you've figured out what your goal is - and the goal for most people
is they want to commute to work faster but in different directions. So then,
if that's the goal for most people, what are the ways to do that? Well, there's
a gentleman in the Northwest who thinks that they should just double all the
freeway capacity. And there are certainly lots of people who are commuting who,
on the surface of it, agree with it. They say, "Well, if we doubled the freeway
capacity, I'd get to work in 15 minutes instead of 45 minutes."
Maybe it's right, but people don't understand the tradeoffs there that you
have the time to construct, the amount of houses that would have to be condemned,
areas where they can't double the freeway capacity so there would be bottlenecks.
They don't necessarily have the information to decide if that's a good choice.
There are little things like opening the HOV lanes outside of rush hour, which,
to me, seems a pragmatic choice.
If HOV lanes are there for rush hour, why, at three in the morning, are they
closed, except if you have a car pool?
Well, that change has never been able to be made in Washington. Put that in
a game, and let people see if cars would flow better.
Because in Seattle, it's stop and go to get through Seattle at 11 o'clock
at night, 12 o'clock at night. I mean, it's just stop and go.
People don't know the results of that, though.
It's very easy to write a sentence that says if we open the HOV lanes traffic
would move 15 percent smoother. It's a lot more understandable if you see it.
What about putting in light rail, which has completely stalled in the Northwest
and might never happen?
What happens then? It becomes complex, obviously, but on a level of here's
funding, here's the time it will take to do, here's how much it might actually
reduce congestion. There are some answers to the different choices people make.
And so let people figure out the goal, let them make choices that would influence
that goal, and then see if they reach that goal. And if that goal is really,
with transportation, economically feasible. We're going to spend a lot of money
on transportation in Washington. So it's a big, big story.
Question: There are already a lot of city planning templates, urban
planning, transportation planning templates that planners use to envision [inaudible].
How difficult would it be for journalists to use those tools or overlay kind
of a story on things that already exist?
Thomas: I have no idea.
LEFT: Len Witt asks
Question: When you were hired initially to do this, do you act in a
consulting capacity? Do you say, "Okay, what is it you'd like to have your readers
engage in on the Web?" And then you say, "Well actually, perhaps you might want
to use video with Flash, perhaps you might want to have a logging section and
encourage interaction and feedback in other ways."
Do you actually consult and suggest many different ways multimedia might be
used to accomplish the goal the paper wants? I know that you're a Flash expert,
so would you recommend it be in Flash? Because Flash is capable of so much,
there's many different ways to do some of these interactivities and still achieve
what the paper is going for. Can you just comment on the suggestions, consulting?
Thomas: Absolutely. We consult with any client we have based on the
experiences we've done, we've gone through. We've done some webcasting journalism-type
projects and some dynamic information stuff that's all very applicable to journalism.
We try and come up with the best possible solution for a set of goals.
Flash, we're very good at it but it's not always the right tool to use to
implement. We always look at what's the goal, and if it works well. If it's
the best choice, then we use it. We tend to use it because it creates very small
file sizes and most people have it. So it usually makes the most sense.
Question: Have you considered the metaphor from electronic games to
the concept of games in general?
We have this problem, you've spoken of broadband and the great things of having
broadband. We know broadband penetration isn't going to pass 50 percent for
eight to 10 years. By the same token, in maximizing participation, we have this
game metaphor that can be so valuable if we can use some low-tech interactivity,
whether it's through the telephone.
But in the work you've done, have you been able to stretch the metaphor beyond
well, we've got to be computer-based, we've got to be Flash or a browser? Where
are you in that respect?
Thomas: We've done stuff for PDAs and phones and those kind of things,
but this is even probably further out being broadly used by your audience than
Question: Trying to go more inclusive, rather than exclusive.
Thomas: We don't do works outside of the digital area, so I'm sure
that you could. It just hasn't been something that I've thought anything about.
But there's always something that would work, whether it's calling into different
phone numbers as an experience, or whatever it might be.
Question: You said that the Seattle gridlock was likely to be [inaudible]?
Thomas: They said that it would take the light rail anywhere from eight
to 15 years to get built, and it's been nothing but setbacks the last year,
so it might never get built.
Question: So we had the question about these things are so expensive
to build. You have a story that you know for a fact is going to be in the news
for eight to 15 years, maybe even longer. If you can build an effective application
that you can link to every time you have a story on this puppy for the next
eight to 15 years, that sounds like pretty cheap journalism.
Thomas: I'd agree with you. I'm not an accountant though, so...
I mean, that is one way to look at those. It's about choosing the right story.
If this is more expensive to do, and it certainly can be, then what's a story
that is long-term? Okay, I can throw out some right away.
Education in America. I think there's some sort of cause and effect to understand
there. The last time I checked that story has been in the news for the last
The environment, global warming, that story is not going away. I'd love to
do a little simulation where the water starts rising on New York City.
Thomas: I love New York, but you know, it's going away if it's true.
You can't build enough dikes.
Any other questions? I know people have panels to get to.
Schaffer: Thank you very much.
Schaffer: I know Glenn's concern about gridlock in Seattle is not an
isolation. He just had lunch with the new media editor at The (Everett)
Herald to talk about what are the possibilities here.
I think that as we launch into the next area of journalism, building community
capacity to solve issues, I think this is an arena that certainly we're interested
in exploring further. And in part of that exploration, we're very interested
in pairing newsrooms with university computer science departments to help build
some of the capacity for customizing some of the software.
So stay tuned, I'll let you know how it works.
And thank you very much for coming today.