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April 09 2013

11:00

OpenNews Revamps Code Sprints; Sheetsee.js Wins First Grant

imageBack at the Hacks/Hackers Media Party in Buenos Aires, I announced the creation of Code Sprints -- funding opportunities to build open-sourced tools for journalism. We used Code Sprints to fund a collaboration between WNYC in New York and KPCC in Southern California to build a parser for election night XML data that ended up used on well over 100 sites -- it was a great collaboration to kick off the Code Sprint concept.

Originally, Code Sprints were designed to work like the XML parser project: driven in concept and execution by newsrooms. While that proved great for working with WNYC, we heard from a lot of independent developers working on great tools that fit the intent of Code Sprints, but not the wording of the contract. And we heard from a lot of newsrooms that wanted to use code, but not drive development, so we rethought how Code Sprints work. Today we're excited to announce refactored Code Sprints for 2013.

Now, instead of a single way to execute a Code Sprint, there are three ways to help make Code Sprints happen:

  • As an independent developer (or team) with a great idea that you think may be able to work well in the newsroom.
  • As a newsroom with a great idea that wants help making it a reality.
  • As a newsroom looking to betatest code that comes out of Code Sprints.

Each of these options means we can work with amazing code, news organizations, and developers and collaborate together to create lots of great open-source tools for journalism.

Code Sprint grant winner: Sheetsee.js

I always think real-world examples are better than theoreticals, so I'm also excited to announce the first grant of our revamped Code Sprints will go to Jessica Lord to develop her great Sheetsee.js library for the newsroom. Sheetsee has been on the OpenNews radar for a while -- we profiled the project in Source a number of months back, and we're thrilled to help fund its continued development.

Sheetsee was originally designed for use in the Macon, Ga., government as part of Lord's Code for America fellowship, but the intent of the project -- simple data visualizations using a spreadsheet for the backend -- has always had implications far beyond the OpenGov space. We're excited today to pair Lord with Chicago Public Media (WBEZ) to collaborate on turning Sheetsee into a kick-ass and dead-simple data journalism tool.

For WBEZ's Matt Green, Sheetsee fit the bill for a lightweight tool that could help get the reporters "around the often steep learning curve with data publishing tools." Helping to guide Lord's development to meet those needs ensures that Sheetsee becomes a tool that works at WBEZ and at other news organizations as well.

We're excited to fund Sheetsee, to work with a developer as talented as Lord, to collaborate with a news organization like WBEZ, and to relaunch Code Sprints for 2013. Onward!

Dan Sinker heads up the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership for Mozilla. From 2008 to 2011 he taught in the journalism department at Columbia College Chicago where he focused on entrepreneurial journalism and the mobile web. He is the author of the popular @MayorEmanuel twitter account and is the creator of the election tracker the Chicago Mayoral Scorecard, the mobile storytelling project CellStories, and was the founding editor of the influential underground culture magazine Punk Planet until its closure in 2007. He is the editor of We Owe You Nothing: Punk Planet, the collected interviews and was a 2007-08 Knight Fellow at Stanford University.

A version of this post originally appeared on Dan Sinker's Tumblr here.

April 24 2012

14:00

Knight-Mozilla OpenNews Sponsors Dual Journalism Hack Days

There's no better example of the global scale of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project than the dualing hack days we recently sponsored in New York City and Buenos Aires.

In New York, we gave money for travel scholarships to bring top-notch developers to town to take part in the Wall Street Journal's Data Transparency Weekend, which brought more than 100 developers and privacy experts to town to create tools to help people see and control their personal data online. The "hackathon" grew out of the Wall Street Journal's excellent ongoing series that looks at how your online footprint is being used by corporations.

The three-day event (documented extensively here, here, and here) resulted in code for almost 30 different projects with winners in "Scanning," "Education," and "Control" tracks.

hacks.jpeg

Five-thousand miles to the south, we sponsored the Hacks/Hackers Buenos Aires ShowTimeLine Hackathon, which brought 45 developers together to work on making new timeline-based visualization tools. The OpenNews sponsorship went to hosting the hack day, as well as a small amount of seed money to keep projects going afterward.

The team of developers and journalists in Buenos Aires took a series of different approaches to displaying data over time, from automatic data-and-date extraction from documents, to translating pre-existing timeline libraries into Spanish, and more.

These are exactly the kind of topic-driven code-based events that we're looking to help sponsor at OpenNews. If you've got an idea brewing for a journalism hack day, we'd love to hear about it. Let's work together to make this year the year of journalism code.

A version of this post first appeared here.

February 10 2012

18:00

Still shaping the way people think about news innovation? A few reflections on the new KNC 2.0

As someone who probably has spent more time thinking about the Knight News Challenge than anyone outside of Knight Foundation headquarters — doing a dissertation on the subject will do that to you! — I can’t help but follow its evolution, even after my major research ended in 2010. And evolve it has: from an initial focus on citizen journalism and bloggy kinds of initiatives (all the rage circa 2007, right?) to a later emphasis on business models, visualizations, and data-focused projects (like this one) — among a whole host of other projects including news games, SMS tools for the developing world, crowdsourcing applications, and more.

Now, after five years and $27 million in its first incarnation, Knight News Challenge 2.0 has been announced for 2012, emphasizing speed and agility (three contests a year, eight-week turnarounds on entries) and a new topical focus (the first round is focused on leveraging existing networks). While more information will be coming ahead of the February 27 launch, here are three questions to chew on now.

Does the Knight News Challenge still dominate this space?

The short answer is yes (and I’m not just saying that because, full disclosure, the Knight Foundation is a financial supporter of the Lab). As I’ve argued before, in the news innovation scene, at this crossroads of journalism and technology communities, the KNC has served an agenda-setting kind of function — perhaps not telling news hipsters what to think regarding the future of journalism, but rather telling them what to think about. So while folks might disagree on the Next Big Thing for News, there’s little question that the KNC has helped to shape the substance and culture of the debate and the parameters in which it occurs.

Some evidence for this comes from the contest itself: Whatever theme/trend got funded one year would trigger a wave of repetitive proposals the next. (As Knight said yesterday: “Our concern is that once we describe what we think we might see, we receive proposals crafted to meet our preconception.”)

And yet the longer answer to this question is slightly more nuanced. When the KNC began in 2006, with the first winners named in 2007, it truly was the only game in town — a forum for showing “what news innovation looks like” unlike any other. Nowadays, a flourishing ecosystem of websites (ahem, like this one), aggregators (like MediaGazer), and social media platforms is making the storyline of journalism’s reboot all the more apparent. It’s easier than ever to track who’s trying what, which experiments are working, and so on — and seemingly in real time, as opposed to a once-a-year unveiling. Hence the Knight Foundation’s move to three quick-fire contests a year, “as we try to bring our work closer to Internet speed.”

How should we define the “news” in News Challenge?

One of the striking things I found in my research (discussed in a previous Lab post) was that Knight, in its overall emphasis, has pivoted away from focusing mostly on journalism professionalism (questions like “how do we train/educate better journalists?”) and moved toward a broader concern for “information.” This entails far less regard for who’s doing the creating, filtering, or distributing — rather, it’s more about ensuring that people are informed at the local community level. This shift from journalism to information, reflected in the Knight Foundation’s own transformation and its efforts to shape the field, can be seen, perhaps, like worrying less about doctors (the means) and more about public health (the ends) — even if this pursuit of health outcomes sometimes sidesteps doctors and traditional medicine along the way.

This is not to say that Knight doesn’t care about journalism. Not at all. It still pours millions upon millions of dollars into clearly “newsy” projects — including investigative reporting, the grist of shoe-leather journalism. Rather, this is about Knight trying to rejigger the boundaries of journalism: opening them up to let other fields, actors, and ideas inside.

So, how should you define “news” in your application? My suggestion: broadly.

What will be the defining ethos of KNC 2.0?

This is the big, open, and most interesting question to me. My research on the first two years of KNC 1.0, using a regression analysis, found that contest submissions emphasizing participation and distributed knowledge (like crowdsourcing) were more likely to advance, all things being equal. My followup interviews with KNC winners confirmed this widely shared desire for participation — a feeling that the news process not only could be shared with users, but in fact should be.

I called this an “ethic of participation,” a founding doctrine of news innovation that challenges journalism’s traditional norm of professional control. But perhaps, to some extent, that was a function of the times, during the roughly 2007-2010 heyday of citizen media, with the attendant buzz around user-generated content as the hot early-adopter thing in news — even if news organizations then, as now, struggled to reconcile and incorporate a participatory audience. Even while participation has become more mainstream in journalism, there are still frequent flare-ups, like this week’s flap over breaking news on Twitter, revealing enduring tensions at the “collision of two worlds — when a hierarchical media system in the hands of the few collides with a networked media system open to all,” as Alfred Hermida wrote.

So what about this time around? Perhaps KNC 2.0 will have an underlying emphasis on Big Data, algorithms, news apps, and other things bubbling up at the growing intersection of computer science and journalism. It’s true that Knight is already underwriting a significant push in this area through the (also just-revised) Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project (formerly called the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership — which Nikki Usher and I have written about for the Lab). To what extent is there overlap or synergy here? OpenNews, for 2012, is trying to build on the burgeoning “community around code” in journalism — leveraging the momentum of Hacks/Hackers, NICAR, and ONA with hackfests, code-swapping, and online learning. KNC 2.0, meanwhile, talks about embracing The Hacker Way described by Mark Zuckerberg — but at the same time backs away a bit from its previous emphasis on open source as a prerequisite. It’ll be interesting to see how computational journalism — explained well in this forthcoming paper (PDF here) by Terry Flew et al. in Journalism Practice — figures into KNC 2.0.

Regardless, the Knight News Challenge is worth watching for what it reveals about the way people — journalists and technologists, organizations and individuals, everybody working in this space — talk about and make sense of “news innovation”: what it means, where it’s taking us, and why that matters for the future of journalism.

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