TechRaking Berlin: Taming the News

How can media channel emerging and competing opportunities for empathy and shaming to bring a sense of proportionality to the news? That was the challenge for TechRaking at the Impact Hub in Berlin, hosted by The Center for Investigative Reporting, the News Lab at Google and The Working Group.

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  1. The act of public shaming is, by no means, new. Various forms of humiliation and mob justice have been used for ages, including the stocks that held criminals in public squares in colonial America.

    But the rise of social media has enabled a different, more fluid brand of shaming. With a poor choice of words and the stroke of a keyboard, or the accidental uploading of a private video, lives can quickly be ruined at the hands of a digital throng eager to cast judgment.
  2. As journalists, technologists and designers, what role could we play in this emerging world of online shaming? What could we create to better harness the power of the online masses, steering those rabid energies into opportunities for empathy and more positive outcomes?
  3. More than 40 attendees met at the Impact Hub in Berlin to conceptualize ideas around those questions at TechRaking. To provide context and practical insight around the issue, Reveal's Editorial Director Robert Salladay moderated a discussion between five panelists, including artist Ashiq Khondker; Reveal reporters Amy Julia Harris and Trey Bundy; Alicja Peszkowska of TechSoup in Warsaw; and Hilmar Schmundt of Der Spiegel. The conversation explored ways that both journalism and art encounter and channel modes of empathy and shaming.
  4. "In many cases, shaming is worse than death," said Salladay, setting the stage with several instances where individuals have been attacked and humiliated online, including Star Wars Kid, Justine Sacco and Winnebago Man. These examples carry real weight for journalists, who are often the gatekeepers of information that could be potentially damaging or embarrassing for their sources. The panelists discussed how they handled such responsibilities in their work, and the role that empathy plays in how stories are reported and told.
  5. After the morning's panel discussion, Matt Cooke of the News Lab at Google gave a tour of services and tools that the company offers, showing demonstrations of how news organizations have worked with Google to create stories and products.
  6. Holly Knowlman, Rob Kenedi and Liam Thurston of The Working Group set the stage for the afternoon's design sprints, offering attendees a "jet pack" for design solutions that could help guide the creative process.
  7. We tried something a bit different for the design sprints at this TechRaking. Normally, participants break up into several small groups to work on ideas that are presented at the end of the day, with a winner picked at the end. But for Taming the News, we decided to have judges pick core ideas from attendees at the start of the design sprints, and have participants work through those concepts in larger groups.
  8. To inspire the design sprints, attendees were first asked to contribute ideas to address this core challenge:
  9. Design a product, service or public art project that challenges journalists and audiences to develop empathy through creative fact-based reporting and storytelling while filtering public ridicule and shaming in journalism, social media and across the Internet.
  10. The initial pitches ranged everywhere from the Shame Cave, a virtual reality experience to give bullies a taste of their own medicine, to a poetry slam that would feed on the theme of public shaming, reinterpreting it into spoken word art.
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