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May 02 2011

15:03

Link love from BarCamp News Innovation Philly #BCNIPhilly

An actual session at an unconference! #bcniphilly on Twitpic

Before I hit the road back to Toronto today, I wanted to share a little link love from BarCamp News Innovation Philly.

The event drew more than 100 people from around Philadelphia, and as far away as Washington, DC, New York, and Sacramento, California. There were roughly 25 sessions with a keynote by Zach Seward, Outreach Editor for the Wall Street Journal. There’s a good summary of the event on Philly.com.

Here are some resources from the event:

Many thanks to Sean Blanda and the other folks at Technically Philly and Temple University for organizing a great event. Other cities that want to explore ‘news innovation’ should look at this event as a template for what to do.

As soon as I’m back at my desk, I’ll post a little video summary of the event. Stay tuned.

April 28 2011

15:23

Are legacy media organizations the place where news innovations go to die?

“I am passionate about both news innovation and the proliferation of openness and I want to see both concepts make significant progress.” — Geoff Samek

Hey there Geoff, I’m glad to see that we’re on the same page with regards to the outcomes that we’re both passionate about, and I’m excited about carrying on this conversation at BarCamp News Innovation Philly this weekend. (Have you got a session idea ready?)

Here are some quick responses to your latest post:

“Legacy media organizations are where brilliant news innovations go to die.”

Having recently had the opportunity to meet a whole bunch of innovators that are working inside of legacy media organizations, I just don’t believe that these people have hung up their spurs and put aside the notion of innovating inside their respective organizations.

To the contrary, I do see a fair bit of innovation happening inside of established news organization, just take Jonathan Stray (Associated Press), Andy Carvin (NPR), or Hari Sreenivasan (PBS Newshour), for example.

“What I really want to know, is how putting the very best and brightest news hackers in large media companies will proliferate the concept of the open web.”

It’s really quite simple.

Take a quick look at other fellowship programs around the world, for example the Knight fellowship at Stanford, the Reynolds Journalism Institute fellowship, the Shuttleworth Fellowship, or the Massey College journalism fellowship right here in Toronto.

These fellowships are an opportunity for people like Wendy Norris, Dave Cohen, or Mozilla’s own Mark Surman to step back from the day-to-day, and to focus on big-picture questions or projects that all too often get overlooked.

Here’s a practical example: Burt Herman, an AP bureau chief with more than ten years working as a reporter, accepts a Knight fellowship at Stanford where he works at the design school to explore the future of journalism. Today, Burt is putting meaning back into the term ‘entrepreneurial journalism’ through his award-winning start-up, Storify. Tools like Storify, and Document Cloud, are changing the way people produce news, and the way that news is consumed by users, and — thus — they are changing the Web.

“The concern being that your MoJo fellows might flourish as well as a Saber-toothed tiger stuck in the LaBrae Tar Pits.”

Let me conclude with this:

We don’t see our news partners as dinosaurs. We see them as hubs of important conversations about the future of the Web, journalism, and — more broadly — civic engagement and public participation in everyday life.

Will be challenges for the fellows? No doubt. But what fun is life without a few healthy challenges to overcome?

See you this weekend!

April 20 2011

00:45

Catalyzing news innovation: How would you do it?

I’m having an enjoyable back-and-forth with Geoff Samek — one of the smart folks behind the online news start-up Sacramento Press — about how to most effectively fund and catalyze “news innovation.” In the interest of engaging more opinions (and, heck, to have some fun), we’re taking the conversation public.

Here’s how it all started:

.@gsamek Wish there was more detail in your post “Knight, I know you can do it right” http://ow.ly/4yulX New pubs != easy wins.less than a minute ago via HootSuite Favorite Retweet ReplyPhillip Smith
phillipadsmith

@phillipadsmith What detail were you looking for? My point wasn’t that new pubs == easy wins. I’d love to chat more and elaborate further.less than a minute ago via web Favorite Retweet ReplyGeoff Samek
gsamek


Geoffrey’s was kind enough to kick things off with the post Knight, I know you can do it right, part deux.

My e-mail response follows. Feel free to jump in via the comments, twitter, or — better yet — on your own soapbox in the cloud.

Hey there Geoffrey,

It was fun re-reading your e-mail over coffee this morning. Good start to the week; got the juices flowing. The three central themes seem to be:

  1. Technology companies are more innovative than ‘traditional’ news organizations
  2. Knight funding to help ‘long-established media organizations’ results in “inch vs. mile” progress
  3. A TechCrunch-style event with $5M in funding could produce ‘better’ outcomes than Knight’s current investment approach

I’ll tackle the third point first.

From your comments, I get the sense that the idea behind Knight’s investment in Mozilla is not entirely clear. That is, no doubt, our fault for not explaining it well enough yet. We are working to address this.

When I consider the TechCrunch Disrupt idea, I don’t see a huge difference between that concept and what the Knight-Mozilla program is actually aiming to do. Specifically, the program sets out to do three things:

  • Generate great ideas: through design challenges & open conversations;
  • Train people: on taking ideas from concept to code;
  • Make software: demos & reference implementations of the best ideas and experiments.

We’ve looked at many models for doing this — from Mozilla’s own Labs experiments to YCombinator-type start-up acceleration programs to XPrize-style competitions — and this program attempts to mash-up the best elements of each.

On point number two, “inch vs. mile progress,” — again — I believe that we’ve not done a great job surfacing Mozilla’s goals for the “MoJo” (Mozilla + Journalism) initiative. Mozilla is interested in news for one reason, and one reason only: to advance its mission of protecting the open nature of the Internet. ‘Saving the news’ per se is not part of Mozilla’s mission broadly, or as part of this program.

Mozilla is interested in seeing the advancement of the same fundamentally-powerful ideas that make the Internet awesome — openness, generativity, co-creation, massive collaboration, “hacking” and MakerCulture, and so on — embedded and embraced by news organizations around the world. The theory of change is quite simple “The Web is changing, and we are changing with it.” Put another way, news organizations are changing the Web, and Mozilla wants to help ensure they change it for the better.

By working with the news partners that we’ve chosen this year, and those we’ll chose next year, we’re hoping for the broadest possible exposure of the new ideas that come from the fellowships, and we believe those ideas will be embraced by news organizations of all shapes and sizes, both ‘traditional’ and radically new.

The other thing we’re looking for in partners is their ability to host fellows effectively, which Nathan explains well here.

Point number one deserves an e-mail (or a blog post) on its own, because I largely disagree that tech companies are wholly more innovative or capable of producing the types of innovations that Mozilla is interested in. The shortest possible summary is: today’s current start-up frenzy is resulting in the “appification” of everything, which is reinforcing some negative trends: encroachment on user privacy, social silos, and — potentially — less focus on the creation free and open-source software. I believe that a technology-company-centric approaches can lead to market failure, i.e., why would a start-up company advocate for open data when they could instead lock it up and charge $9.95/month?

(This of course is not the case with newer ‘values-based’ start-ups like your own, or organizations like TheTyee — both are more like ‘public trusts’ than start-up companies.)

On the flip side, Knight-funded projects like Document Cloud are:

  1. Highly innovative with broad adoption in the news community,
  2. Born out of ‘long-established media organizations’ with ideas that come from newsroom experience,
  3. Producing re-usable, open-source software that benefits the Web as a whole.

Perhaps there are similar examples in the technology start-up space? If so, I would be appreciative of a pointer.

Update: on re-reading your post, Geoffrey, I note that you’re proposing to hold a TechCrunch disrupt-style event for only news/journalism/reporting start-ups. I do like that idea, and — admittedly — it doesn’t carry all of the same concerns that I’ve outlined above. However, in the case of news/journalism/reporting start-ups, I would swap out the ‘market failure’ with financial failure; I don’t get the sense that the news innovation community is short of ideas, but — most pressingly — the financial models that can sustain the ideas.

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