On the ground in York, PA: Thunderdome user research

Visiting local newspapers is an important part of Thunderdome user research. Here is the York Daily Record's offset printing press, located at its York, PA newsroom complex where Thunderdome technology producer Davis Shaver visited last week. (Thunderdome file photo)
Visiting local newspapers is an important part of Thunderdome user research. Here is the York Daily Record's offset printing press, located at its York, PA newsroom complex where Thunderdome technology producer Davis Shaver visited last week. (Thunderdome file photo)

Within the Digital First Media family, Thunderdome is a bit of an anomaly.

We’re not a local newsroom and don’t publish a print edition. We don’t even have a web presence of our own. But what we share with DFM’s local papers is a commitment to great journalism and a promise that we’re in this together. Thunderdome provides more than just content for DFM papers. We also function as as their backup, an editorial support service sharing training, guidance and tools with newsrooms across the country.

Many of us at Thunderdome used to work in publications very similar to the ones we serve. Yet we still find it important to constantly remind ourselves of their needs and pain-points. That’s why, last week, I paid a visit to the York Daily Record, a Digital First Media newspaper not far from my hometown of Lebanon, PA (where I began my career as a freelancer with another DFM outlet, the Lebanon Daily News).

I was there to gather feedback on the upcoming release of a new Thunderdome content management system, which we’re calling Mission Control. The site, built on WordPress, will be a space for Thunderdome to publish content and assist with editorial planning and collaboration across the entire DFM footprint. The primary end-users will be reporters, producers and editors in local newsrooms. We’ve made it a priority to engage them for feedback throughout the product development process.

Talking to the group at York reminded me of an important fact: Local news is not easy. It can be demoralizing to read constant doom-and-gloom press about an industry in peril, difficult to feel like you’re fighting with technology instead of benefitting from it. Too often it seems that the systems we use were built by people with little knowledge of how news organizations actually operate. That’s the legacy Thunderdome seeks to overcome.

Thanks to all the great feedback and ideas we’ve received, we are very excited to launch Mission Control and will provide updates here in the coming weeks. For now, though… back to work!

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