Joe Germuska

Chief Nerd

Joe runs Knight Lab’s technology, professional staff and student fellows. Before joining us, Joe was on the Chicago Tribune News Apps team. Also, he hosts a weekly radio show on WNUR-FM – Conference of the Birds.


Projects Joe Germuska has worked on.

Audience Engagement and Onboarding with Hearken

Students are working closely with the team at Hearken, and are gaining valuable insights into how important audience engagement is to our media landscape.

Civic Engagement with City Bureau

As local news organizations shrink, many civic advocates fear that no one will be monitoring the day-to-day processes that make city governments run. As part of their innovative approach to closing news gaps and promoting civic engagement, Chicago’s City Bureau has developed their “Documenters” program to train citizens to observe and record public meetings. As they develop this team of citizen journalists, they are now considering the complementary question: what is the most effective way to make the work they produce available and useful to Chicagoans?

For this project, the Northwestern student team will conduct design research and prototyping to explore solutions. Students will be expected to be in close contact with City Bureau’s team, with current documenters, and with engaged citizens who want to stay informed about what’s happening at the heart of these civic processes. Students should be prepared to go out into Chicago to meet with these people face to face for interviews, observations, and prototype testing.

Creative Co-Author

Creative Co-author is a creative writing enhancement tool that focuses primarily on pounding out the first draft. It is type-ahead cranked up to eleven. It types ahead, lurks behind, and generally peers over your shoulder while you pound out words in a speed-draft writing reverie.

Crowdsourcing for JournalismMany hands make short work, crowdsourcing document interpretation

Many important news stories are buried amidst huge numbers of documents. And sometimes, those documents are hard for news organizations to process, either because of the sheer number, or the formats in which the documents are published.

Fact FlowEfficiency for editing. Credibility and trust for publishing

Editorial fact-checking is a mess at best and readers don't see the benefits. Typically they doubt it happens or don't appreciate the work it takes to make it happen. On the editing side, almost everyone who does it uses an antiquated process derived from print production habits even though most writers and editors are drafting in Google Docs. This can be better. Let's make it better for both editorial and readers!

Historical Census Data

Census Reporter is a tool that helps journalists find and understand data from the US Census American Community Survey (ACS), making that data much more easily accessible and digestible. However, it only presents data from the most recent ACS releases.

JuxtaposeImproving a Storytelling Tool

Juxtapose helps storytellers compare two pieces of similar media, including photos, and GIFs. It’s ideal for highlighting then/now stories that explain slow changes over time (growth of a city skyline, regrowth of a forest, etc.) or before/after stories that show the impact of single dramatic events (natural disasters, protests, wars, etc.). This popular tool could be more useful to storytellers and web-makers if it had a couple of key features that have come up in user feedback. Auto aligning images and animated GIF social sharing are two features that would be of great improvements.

Legislator Tracker

Since the last elections, public interest in contacting elected representatives about legislation under consideration has boomed. News organizations could do better addressing the public's interest in understanding how their representatives are planning to vote on various issues.

Music Magazine

Music fans today have trouble finding the stories they want to read. Following all your favorite artists on social media is overwhelming, and searching Google turns up page after page of irrelevant junk. We'll build a system that finds just what a fan wants to read.

Open Data Reporter

“Open data" might be a buzzword, but there are still significant obstacles to taking advantage of valuable datasets. They can be hard to find, hard to clean, and hard to manage. Human-centered design and a little coding energy can make it substantially easier for people to find stories and explore data. This team will approach a high-value public data set and aim to make the data more usable.

Photo Bingo

Create a mobile application which could be used by a news organization to involve their audience in covering a festival while having fun.

ProPublica Illinois

Students will design, develop, prototype and test one tool for community engagement, with a likely focus on the listening and information gathering stage.

Rethinking Election Coverage

In the popular imagination of American democracy, the press informs voters so that they can make the best choice at the polls. However, many citizens feel as though that contract has been broken. People are frustrated with “horse-race coverage” of elections—that is, journalism focused more on who is “electable”, who is “winning” and the mechanics of campaigning than on policy and helping voters make the best choice. Rather than seeking a technology-first solution, this project proposes to begin with Jay Rosen’s suggestion that journalists ask "what do you want the candidates to be discussing as they compete for votes?" and work to make the coverage about that.

SidebarContext without Clutter

Publishing a story requires a constant balancing act: you have to get to your point, but you don’t always know whether your audience is fully up-to-speed on the content. Or maybe in your research you found some really fascinating information, but you have to admit it’s kind of a distraction from your main point. The web was developed on the promise of linking between documents, but too often a simple link fails -- it doesn’t give the reader much sense of what sort of information is at the end of the link, and it runs the risk of sending your audience off down a rabbit hole, never to return to your work.

Writing and Designing for Chatbots

Students will examine conversational user interfaces—that’s to say, using chat as a medium to interact with a bot.