Wrap-up: The philosophies behind Argo

Every project should be built on a philosophy. (cc) Sidereal / Flickr

As we prepare to retire the Argo blog, we’re producing a series of wrap-up posts that capture key aspects of the model we used. This post is part of that series. You can find all our tools and lessons here.

Every project should be built on a philosophy. Argo’s had several elements, all of which guided our thinking as we developed tools and techniques for the bloggers in our pilot.

1. Efficiency

At the core of all our thinking was our desire to enable one person to produce as much good material as possible with as little effort as possible. We were asking this person to do a lot, so we wanted to develop software and workflows that enabled them to do a lot with a little. This applied both to the tools we built (read Nieman Lab’s story about our link roundup tool) as well as to our approach to building tools (read “The Argo Philosophy: Capitalize, synthesize, harmonize”).

2. The “Three-Legged Stool”

At some point during our planning discussions for Argo, our project director Joel Sucherman borrowed the metaphor of the three-legged stool to describe the three elements we felt were essential to each site:

    • Strong original content. One surefire for a site to become a destination is to consistently provide distinctive, informative, enjoyable stuff. We encouraged the Argo editors to put most of their effort into reporting and writing enterprise posts on their beats. I’ve been particularly vocal about the power of the quest narrative as a wellspring for compelling reporting and storytelling, and about the importance of developing deep understanding of a topic to find the most important stories within it.
    • Community and conversation. In the age of social media, we all know that conversation is a powerful draw for people. Sparking conversation – being the subject of watercooler chatter – has long been seen as a primary goal of journalism. In developing Argo, however, we stressed the role of community and conversation not just as an outcome of the journalism, but as an aspect of it. We encouraged the bloggers to treat comments as content, to turn their sources into commenters, and to take feedback – both praise and criticism – seriously.
    • Smart curation and aggregation. As everyone becomes more and more flooded with information, people increasingly look to journalists not just as discoverers of new information, but as filters for all the stuff that’s already out there. Every good journalist is an avid consumer of information on her beat; the best digital journalists are just as ardent about sharing the best of what they find. We stressed the value of informative, well-synthesized aggregation to all the Argo bloggers throughout the project.

Each site placed a different emphasis on these three components, but they were all present.

3. Open-source

One of the requirements of the grant that funded Argo was that the software we produced would be released under an open-source license. We extended this open-source ethos to several other aspects of our approach; it guided decisions about which software to use as well as conversations about what to build. This site is another reflection of our commitment to sharing our thoughts and lessons as the project progressed. I think the team would agree that our adherence to this philosophy resulted in a stronger project with a bigger impact.