5 steps to catch up on news after the Winter break

A few days before Christmas, my co-fellow Andrew Donohue teased me, asking on Facebook “with everything that’s been going on, I could really use MCB’s innovation when I return. Do you think you can have it finished by Jan. 3?“.

I decided to take him up on that challenge and work out manually a prototype of the service I hope to offer to people in his situation. On January 4th, I shared with him (and my social media friends) a Google Doc, inspired by a friend’s mention of Jason Calacanis debut with Launch ticker. It listed one major event per day since his Winter break had started and a link to catch-up on the story.

newsyoumissedHere are the steps I took to get there :

  1. Read paper copy of USA Today, on January 2nd. Goal : get an overview of the topics in the news, in order to identify things that are unfolding and that one might need context for, if they missed the story that set events into motion. Stories on the fiscal cliff, Hillary Clinton’s health and North Korea stood out after an hour of reading.
  2. Check out Twitter and Google News to see what’s trending. Twitter was mostly about sports, following the Rose Bowl and Sugar Bowl. On Google News I confirmed that Hillary Clinton was a widely covered, as were stories on Hugo Chavez in Venezuela and Syria.
  3. Check out “pictures of the week” features of several online news outlets. Objective: find out about events that happened during the elapsed time but aren’t in the headlines anymore. This is how I decided to add different moments of the days after the Sandy Hook mass shooting, such as Obama’s speech and the NRA’s news conference. I also realized with these images that protests in Egypt and the adoption of their news constitution had been a major event during the past month.
  4. Rewind major events of each week with the perfect “10 things you need to know today” feature of The Week. Goal : find what I missed. Here I narrowed my stories on Syria down to the talks between Brahimi and Assad, discovered the terrible snow storms in the North east of the US, was reminded of the resignation of the Italian Prime Minister and the death of a first Gulf war commander.
  5. Search for useful link to catch-up on the story. Depending on the topic, it was either the article of that day, a timeline or a dynamic infographic that proved to be most useful.

Here are the things I learned with this “Andy” experiment, both through my own experience and users feedback:

  • when narrowing the media offering down to ONE article per day, the user needs to know precisely the criteria used to do the selection
  • Google Docs is bad for gathering data on the number of visits
  • the catch up digest has to mix context for unfolding stories as well as brief reports of one shot events that still matter in the future
  • it would make sense to be more explicit about what the user is going to find in the catch up link
  • calendar-based catching up works for general news, but there’s demand for topic-centered catching up
  • major news outlets are still useful to understand the global agenda.

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