ProPublica releases style guide for news apps

February 27, 2013
Category: Uncategorized

News applications editor Scott Klein has written a “ProPublica News Apps Style Guide” that codifies “the typographic and technical best practices” its developers follow.

Much like the AP Stylebook, the News Apps Style Guide helps journalists resolve uncertainty and avoid common mistakes by providing guidance on the most important or often misunderstood points.

Also like the AP Stylebook, the News Apps Style Guide contains an alphabetical list of subjects — from Accuracy to Updates (no “z-” words yet) — with a brief discussion and guidance for each.

Which browsers should your news app be sure to work in? “The current and prior major release of Chrome, Firefox, Internet Explorer and Safari on a rolling basis” as well as “the built-in browsers in the latest revision of the iOS and Android [SDK],” and “if earlier releases represent more than 2.5% of our audience, continue to support them.”

Bylines? Every news app and graphic should have these “important measures of credit and responsibility.”

Corrections? “When data is incorrect, place the correction language on every page that once showed the incorrect data point. That may mean that a correction will appear on thousands of pages.”

You get the picture. There are detailed entries for what type of charts to use in various cases (avoid the ones named after food — pie and donut) and how to handle numbers.

It is of course a “living document” that will be updated and is open to suggested revisions. In the introduction to the guide, Klein writes that “forking these rules for your own newsroom is a good thing. These rules are not an excuse to avoid change, and nothing in this document should be taken as a discouragement to be weird. This is just a set of decisions we’ve decided work really well for us, and that we try to stick to.”

Along with the apps style guide, ProPublica also released a guide to designing news apps and a “coding manifesto” describing how its developers should write their apps and an accuracy guide to “bulletproofing your data.” All are published on GitHub, Klein writes, so others can fork them to new versions or suggest changes, just like open-source code.

The design guide offers sound advice for upfront planning decisions.

It advises data journalists that “when you begin a news app, ask yourself the two classic product management questions: ‘Who are our users and what do they want’ and then ask two more: ‘What story do we want to tell them? What do we want them to do with the information?'”

The answers to those questions set you on the right path to the visual design of the app and the features and functionality that users will need.

There’s also a reminder that “news apps tell stories.” Klein writes:

They’ve got much of the same structure as any news story. They’ve got the graphical equivalent of ledes and nut grafs. At their best, they help a reader to find their personal stories in a large data set and to understand the story you’ve reported using the example of themselves and their own community. A great news application lets a reader understand new concepts by relating them to their own experiences.