Archive for the ‘Knight Foundation’ tag
Last week’s Future of News and Civic Media conference organised by the Knight Foundation in Boston (#fncm) was that rare thing – a #futureofnews conference where I came away feeling quite inspired and with a renewed optimism about the future of news (though not as we’ve known it).
In particular, I learnt that there are growing numbers of people in the States who have moved beyond the increasingly circular debates about how to sustain the incumbent news industry. Instead, they are working on lots of projects that use the internet and mobile to provide the public with timely information, in an accessible way. In other words, deliver what journalism did – or was meant to – deliver, without calling it journalism.
Take, for example, this year’s Knight News Challenge Winners (of which Paul Bradshaw tweeted ‘Very impressed… easily the strongest year yet’). Only one of the twelve winners is directly focused on addressing the travails of the existing news industry – and even this in a very non-traditional way. PRX StoryMarket will provide a way for the public to pitch and pay for news stories on US public radio. It is based on the ‘spot.us’ model (a Knight winner in 2008), but focused on radio.
Nine others (making up over 80% of the prize in terms of funding) are about enabling and enhancing information flows within communities and hardly mention the word ‘journalism’.
The Cartoonist will create a free tool that allows people to produce cartoon-like current event games
Local wiki will ‘help people learn and share community news and knowledge through the creation of local wikis’. The two young guys who won the award started a local wiki in Davis 6 years ago which has grown to be the biggest media source in the town.
GoMap Riga will ‘inspire residents to become engaged in their community by creating an online map where people can browse and post their own local news and information’. Again, this is about people – the community – putting up and reading content about their neighbourhood (run by a tremendous Latvian duo – Kristofs Blaus and Marcis Rubenis).
Front Porch Forum will help residents connect with ‘their community by creating open-source software for neighbourhood news’. Essentially micro local private sites based around a handful of blocks.
Stroome allows people to edit video online, for free, within their browser.
CitySeed will ‘develop mobile applications that enable people to geotag ideas for improving neighbourhoods’. The example they give is of someone geotagging a location for a community garden.
Tilemapping will enable residents to ‘learn about local issues by creating a set of easy-to-use tools for crafting hyperlocal maps’.
WindyCitizen’s real time ads will ‘help online start-ups generate revenue and become sustainable by creating enhanced software that produce real-time ads’. This may well help journalists and the news industry, but notice there’s no mention of news outlets, just ‘online start-ups’.
Of the final two, one enhances traditional reporting (Order in the Court 2.0), and the other will use social media to report on a US battalion in Afghanistant (One-Eight).
And it wasn’t just the Knight News Challenge winners that eschewed traditional ideas of journalism. Most of the conference was spent talking about new media tools that served a public purpose – or ‘civic media’ as its termed in the States. News is a part of this, but only in the sense that there is a public value to news.
We saw a demo by SourceMap – a site that helps you map where things come from and what they are made of; and of boy.co.tt – a site that makes consumer boycotts much more targeted. We were introduced to streetblogs – a ‘daily news source, online community and political mobilizer for the Livable Streets movement’; seeclickfix – like MySociety’s fixmystreet; transparencydata.com from the Sunlight Foundation; groundcrew.us – that uses GPS and mobile communication to coordinate volunteering, events, political canvassing etc.; and many other sites and services that enhance communication, focus citizen activism, bring people closer to public authorities, and fulfil those perennial twin goals of greater transparency and accountability.
There is lots of development already being done in the US with public data. In Boston, the release of real time transport data by the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (MassDOT) in November 2009 generated a slew of creative hacking (see this Wall Street Journal piece). The same is now happening in New York. There is also an open wiki for helping collaboration and gathering best practice at http://wiki.openmuni.org/.
Much of the new development is emerging from US universities, such as MIT. At the MIT Media Lab’s Center for the Future of Civic Media, for example. It defines civic media as:
“any form of communication that strengthens the social bonds within a community or creates a strong sense of civic engagement among its residents. Civic media goes beyond news gathering and reporting”
We in the UK are now expecting ‘a tsunami of data’ to flow from government thanks to the Big Society declaration (including a new ‘right to data’). Some people have begun using the data for development – such as the live train map for the London underground. But it is well worth casting our eyes across the Atlantic – we can learn alot from current developments in the US.
My week has been dominated by clouds, physical and metaphorical.
I spent much of the first half of the week talking about internet clouds and other online weather similes. I then spent much of the second of the week navigating my way back home through a cloud of volcanic ash.
First the metaphorical clouds:
I was on a news innovation panel at the American Society of Newspaper Editors conference in Washington DC, along with Eric Umansky and Amanda Hickman from DocumentCloud, Jeff Reifman from NewsCloud, Bill Allison from the Sunlight Foundation, Rick Allen from SnagFilms, and Dan Pacheco from Printcasting.
Each of us had received a Knight News Award, and Knight had invited us to tell US newspaper editors about our work, and how they could use what we’d done in their newsroom.
Given how little I knew about some of the other innovations it was an education for me too, and I was impressed. So much so I figured I should do my best to describe the other innovations in case you wanted to try them:
Document Cloud: Eric Umansky, editor at ProPublica, was frustrated. He couldn’t find anywhere where he could upload a document – a confirmation hearing transcript say – such that he could then do a whole bunch of textual analysis on it, and then share that analysis with other journalists. So he, working with Amanda Hickman and others, built a site that does just that: http://documentcloud.org
NewsCloud: have developed an open source Facebook application that allows news organizations to create a Facebook page for their site that more closely mirrors their own site, but also benefits from the community feel of Facebook, and that has the added benefit of enabling the news organization to host their own ads on it
[Neither of these clouds should not be confused with MediaCloud – another very cool, foundation funded innovation that enables news media analysis – developed by Ethan Zuckerman and others at Harvard’s Berkman Center. I went to Berkman to talk about that on Wednesday. But that’s for another blog]
The Sunlight Foundation (yes, more weather): are developing a range of ‘politiwidgets’ – software tools to ‘provide journalists and citizens “integrated information” on Congress’. The one that Bill Allison – editorial director of the Sunlight Foundation, demonstrated was a little widget that any news site could integrate with basic information about a member of Congress (sort of like an integrate-able version of www.theyworkforyou.com).
Snagfilms: Rick Allen has built up a collection of 1,150 non-fiction films – from organizations like National Geographic, PBS and the Sundance Channel that Snagfilms is enabling news sites to embed to relevant stories for free (i.e. they’ve cleared the rights etc.), like this one on Afghanistan
Printcasting: Dan Pacheco has developed wonderfully future-retro software that lets you create print documents very easily from online content, and combine it with higher value print advertising
And I explained what hNews was, why it was important, and why more than 250 US news sites have now integrated it to their articles.
The physical clouds came on the way back. Like many thousands of others I was knocked off course by a cloud of volcanic ash from Eyjafjallajoekull in Iceland. Our overnight flight from Washington to London touching down in Paris lunchtime Thursday.
My favourite part of the lengthy overland journey back was the approach of the United airlines staff at Charles de Gaulle airport. When asked what United recommended its stranded passengers do to find their way home their response was along the lines of, ‘That’s up to you, from here you’re on your own’. Somehow I can’t imagine the American staff at United being so disarmingly phlegmatic.
- A journalist, or someone producing journalism, can accurately identify their work on the web
- A member of the public has more information with which to assess the provenance of an article when they’re looking at it (i.e. who wrote it, when it was first published etc.)
- A member of the public can search the web using the news mark-up to focus their search
- News organisations, third party aggregators, and members of the public can use the news metadata to create new ways in which to access and navigate news
I can now explain why I’m in Las Vegas (and it’s not so I can enjoy the biggest seafood buffet in the US at this, the Rio, hotel – in a city that’s an hours flight away from the sea). Up till now we’ve been told we can’t talk about why we’re here.
We (we being the Media Standards Trust and the Web Science Research initiative) have won an award from the Knight Foundation to fund our joint transparency initiative. The Foundation has given us a grant of $350,000 (about £175,00) to develop ways to enable journalists – and people producing journalism – to add information to their articles online so the public can search for them more intelligently and, when they find them, assess them more fairly and consistently.
The project hopes to start to address the growing issue of how, given the astonishing accumulation of information on the web, people can distinguish journalism from commercial content, from government information, from personal posts etc. It will do this by developing the tools that allow journalists, news organisations, and those producing journalism (i.e. bloggers too!) to highlight basic factual information about their articles (or, to use that wonderful word ‘metadata’).
Information like, for example: that it is intended to be journalism, who it is written by, who it is written on behalf of, when it was first published, when it was last updated…. Once this has been highlighted it then becomes much much easier to enable people to search for it.
This is NOT about telling people what’s a good article or a bad article. It is NOT going to enable people to tell truth from falsehood. It is not about protecting ‘mainstream media’. Nor will it predict the winner of the 2010 election.
What it will do, we hope, is start a process in which journalists and news organisations become more transparent about their work and more consistent in describing it – to the mutual benefit of the journalists themselves and the public.
It’s non-profit, it will all be open source, and it’ll be evolutionary. We want to encourage as much flexibility and decentralised development as possible. We don’t yet know what information would be most useful to capture or indeed the best way to capture it (though we’ve got some ideas). So we’ll be documenting what we do and putting it online for people to comment on, use, adapt, develop etc.
If you have any questions about it you’re welcome to email me at email@example.com and I’ll get back to you once I escape this bizarre town in the middle of the Nevada desert.