San Francisco State University

San Francisco State University


San Francisco State University is one of the 2014-15 winners of the Challenge Fund for Innovation in Journalism Education. See all 12 winners and the Honorable Mentions.


  • Jesse Garnier, Assistant Professor, Journalism Department, San Francisco State University
  • Dragutin Petkovic, Chair, Computer Science Department, San Francisco State University
  • Arno Puder, Professor, Computer Science Department, San Francisco State University
  • Ken Kobre, Photojournalism Professor; Sean Connelley, Design Technologist, Stamen Design
  • Georgiana Hernandez, Accion Latina, oversees operations at El Tecolote
  • Gabriela Sierra Alonso, Editor in Chief, El Tecolote
  • Iñaki Fernandez de Retana, Managing Editor, El Tecolote

Describe your project as a tweet

#Newspoints guides, organizes and maps your #reporting, interviews and #multimedia. Put your reporting on the map.

What is your live news experiment?

The Newspoints tool — a mobile- and web-based guide for reporters through the news gathering process — connects and organizes interviews, notes, sources, data and multimedia by assignment, topic, time and geography.

The Newspoints project will demonstrate the tool’s effectiveness through community-based journalism projects including data, stories and multimedia. Our hypothesis is Newspoints’ guided approach — providing prompts and checklists to guide field reporting — will enable student journalists to effectively engage field work earlier in their academic careers. We will measure this by analyzing and comparing the effectiveness of student reporting with and without the Newspoints tool.

How is this project unique and innovative?

First, Newspoints organizes and connects assets collected during the reporting process. Notes, multimedia, interviews, data and research are automatically categorized, indexed, geocoded and linked in real-time. Assets and reporting can be synced and shared with other users, so editors and collaborators can remotely review and comment on field work.

Even for experienced journalists, disorganized reporting and disconnected assets can add overhead and complicate production in both deadline-driven and project-based environments. Newspoints automatically links reporting, research and multimedia in real-time.

Second, Newspoints offers guides and prompts to assist reporters through their news gathering. “Guides” providing templates for news reporting situations are developed through empirical analysis of news content and input from experienced reporters, editors, producers and journalism educators.

Story- or project-specific guides can also be created for customized lists of interview questions, shot lists, data points for collection. Having a guide through the earliest stages of field reporting can help instill confidence in student journalists and make the reporting process more efficient and less error-prone.

Third, Newspoints empowers smaller, community news organizations with the means to manage teams of interns or student journalists by centrally collecting, organizing, and offering a framework for feedback on project-based, reporting-intensive journalism projects.

Organizations like El Tecolote provide a fertile training ground for young journalists in a supportive, community-driven environment. But without tools to maximize and leverage limited editorial resources, publications are restricted from engaging projects with large-scale reporting and data collection requirements. Newspoints enables organizations to report and organize serious projects with limited staff.

How will you collaborate?

The Newspoints project includes several layers of collaboration during both the development process and the field demonstration. The development process itself is two-fold; first, the building of mobile and web-based apps to perform the necessary functionality; and second, the creation of the in-app “guides” to assist and prompt the reporting process.

The development process will be led by computer science graduate students at SF State University under the direction of chair Dragutin Petkovic and department faculty in collaboration with Sean Connelley of Stamen Design. User interface and usability is a key specialty of the Computer Science department at SF State, while Connelley contributes his background in digital mapping and data visualization.

Journalism students in Jesse Garnier’s Data Journalism class will also participate in the development process, integrating the guides developed via content analysis and expert contributions. The demonstration phase will bring together editors and reporters from El Tecolote with a team of SF State Journalism students. Early-stage journalism students will enter the field under the virtual and collective direction of experienced journalists, producing coverage of the Mission District and the 24th Street corridor in the areas of immigration, evictions, housing and gentrification.

What technology platforms will you use?

The Newspoints project is committed to leveraging open-source, freely-available tools wherever possible to minimize overhead and build real-world skills with student developers and journalism students.

Newspoints will manage development via Github and project management via 37 Signals’ Basecamp. PhoneGap will provide the multiplatform integration required to leverage the hardware and APIs of the iOS and Android platform while integrating with a encrypted MySQL data store via PHP and other high-level languages. User-facing elements of Newspoints will be developed for mobile users of both iOS and Android platforms.

The project will apply modern User Centered Design (UCD) to involve students and journalists in the design of the apps and web-based tool. The Computer Science department at SF State specializes in user interface and usability, and is experienced building assistive real-world applications for use in the natural sciences.

If this project works, how might the media organization and academic institution change its practices?

A tool like Newspoints can help community news organizations like El Tecolote manage, direct and provide feedback to teams of student journalists working with the organization as reporters or multimedia producers. Newspoints will also be flexible enough to allow news organizations of all sizes and types to develop their own guides in conjunction with company policy or reporting procedures without requiring programming or development knowledge to modify guides or reporting templates. Academically, Newspoints offers a framework to planning and preparing for interviews, planning and executing photo and video shoots, and the standardized collection of empirical data.

The San Francisco State University team provided an update on its project in a July 2015 report. The following are excerpts from that report.

Update: What is the most important impact of your experiment?

The most important impact of Newspoints will be in the traction and use the tool finds among student, citizen and professional journalists. We believe the real-time tagging of shot types alone makes the tool uniquely useful among all levels of journalists, and that the assistive prompting of questions and sources tailors Newspoints even further to less-experienced journalists.

Regarding the end product, the Newspoints application shows true potential, but its overall efficacy in the field remains unstudied due to the extended development schedule. A lack of competition for Newspoints in the area of assistive digital news gathering tools shows an opportunity to make a meaningful contribution to the toolset available to modern journalists.