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News from the clouds

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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:

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

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.

Written by Martin Moore

April 16th, 2010 at 4:36 pm

Posted in Uncategorized

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