Pair work in the cafe newsroom

Just so there's no confusion -- I'm not a trained journalist, nor have I ever worked inside a traditional newsroom. Having said that, I think that part of the reason that I manage to find some writing work these days is because I'm doing things a little differently.

I take a shitload of shortcuts. This could be laziness, but I like to think it's bad-ass efficiency. I aggregate job ads that traditional writers miss or flat-out don't want to take. I automate a lot of research using feeds, the occasional programming trick, and by getting some help from my digital friends whenever I can.

Unfortunately working inside a bubble like this brings cabin fever and a curmudgeon-ish mood. Tokyo's weather hasn't helped. So when my friend Richard Smart suggested that we go cover today's Futenma Air Base protest today, I welcomed the chance to head out and try something new.

The protest started at 2pm. We decided that Richard would work on the text and I'd try to whip up a video slideshow. Over the span of two hours I shot a bunch of photos and recorded an audio track on my Flip camera (technically a video, but I only used the sound). We left the protest at around 4pm and settled into a nearby cafe to put together the piece.

Richard banged out some copy pretty quick and I threw the images into iMovie, dropped the audio on top, and then set it to bake. The subsequent upload to YouTube took about 30 minutes on the cafe's shoddy Wifi. We published around 5pm, around the same time protestors were packing up to head home. You can read/watch the piece here.

We had discussed mapping the protest route, but for some reason forgot to. We considered a narrative voiceover but the cafe was noisy. I have some decent video too but in the end left it unused. The end result was not outstanding, but it was a fair job done blazing fast ('That's what she said!'). We did it on the cheap and on the spot and had fun in the process.

I couldn't help but draw parallels with this whole process and 'pair programming,' a concept that Takaaki pointed out to me recently:

Knowledge passes between pair programmers as they work. They share knowledge of the specifics of the system, and they pick up programming techniques from each other. New hires quickly pick up the practices of the team and learn the specifics of the system. With "promiscuous pairing"—each programmer cycling through all the other programmers on the team rather than pairing only with one partner—knowledge of the system spreads throughout the whole team, reducing risk to management if one programmer leaves the team. --Wikipedia

Hermoine Way's Newspepper.com is a prime example of this idea applied to news. I'm still not entirely sure what TokyoSocial.com will be when it launches (stay tuned), but I hope that I can work in a little of this. I could certainly get used to this cafe newsroom idea. Read Richards reflections on today on his blog.

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