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Announcing the Knight Citizen News Network

Knight Citizen News Network: Helping citizens and journalists amplify community news

March 26 was the official launch of the Knight Citizen News Network, www.kcnn.org. We worked with Jan Schaffer and the other fine folks at J-Lab (University of Maryland) to design and build this truly enormous site where you can find all kinds of help and information on citizen journalism.

Some terrific citJ people are involved: Jan Schaffer, JD Lasica, Dan Gillmor, Amy Gahran. And, there will be more! The site’s future growth will be sustained by development of new learning modules. J-Lab will be giving out periodic grants to journalists and others to reseach some aspect of citizen journalism for publication on the site. We’ll let you know as these modules—pretty large websites in themselves!—become available. For starters, though, check out Principles of Citizen Journalism, Using E-Mail to Jumpstart your Newsgathering, Training Citizen Journalists, and the comprehensive Directory of CitMedia Sites.

Building this site posed some special challenges for Hop Studios. First of all, the site need to be part of a family of J-Lab websites we’ve designed—J-New Voices, and J-Learning—without too strongly having the flavor of one or the other of those resources. And, of course, we had to meet the particular design requirements of the KCNN site itself. We tackled the challenge by focusing on the details: rounded corners on boxes, color-coded sections, font faces, and use of color. The result makes KCNN a first cousin to J-Learning and J-New Voices. A cool first cousin.

The other big challenge also fell into the design area: Jan Schaffer at J-Lab wanted the module developers to be able to have control of their own designs, so that even if they were creating content for the KCNN site, they could do so in the style that best suited their presentation. And, for good measure, she didn’t want to make that privilege a burden, so that module developers who weren’t independtly design-minded, had a reasonable way of producing pages within a usable and attractive framework.

After we stopped weeping, we got to work. Our solution was evolve a set of requirements and suggestions, and then to produce some standard templates for the module developers. Among other things, module creators are required to include a standard header containing the KCNN site navigation on all module pages, no matter what they look like, and to make all pages printable. And we suggest that module creators standardize link colors, use certain font sizes, and provide ways for people to interact. Together, we hoped to create requirements and suggestions that left the door open for experimentation, but still resulted in modules that were accessible to KCNN site visitors.

Then we turned our attention to the templates. The idea was to create a set of standard templates in the formats most likely to be used by module creators: text pages, blogs, video files, and photo galleries. The style of these templates matched the overall style of the KCNN site, but included specific ways for the modules to include titles, credits, navigation, and of course, nice photos and quotes.

The templates are incorporated into our favorite content management system, EllisLab’s ExpressionEngine. Implementation hasn’t been without its foibles, as I know JD Lasica can tell you, but we’re pretty pleased with the result.

Why not head on over to KCNN and leave a comment?

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