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April 20 2012

13:27

Catalysts of Collaboration: What Motivates New Journalism Partnerships

The shift from competition to collaboration in the American newsroom has been so profound that in 2009 the Columbia Journalism Review published an article on "Journalism's collaborative future," arguing that "there is something fundamental under way." That same year, Guardian Editor Alan Rusbridger wrote, "I've seen the future, and it's mutual." The trend is clear, and by all accounts collaborations are expanding and maturing, but do we have a clear enough understanding of what motivates these collaborative efforts? What are the factors inside and outside the newsroom that are inspiring this great collaborative shift?

At MIT's Center for Civic Media in 2010 Scott Rosenberg, executive editor of Grist and Salon co-founder, commented:

There is a professional transition in the field from an environment where competition was the dominant mode of interacting with other organizations to an era where dividing labor and sharing might serve the public better.

The past few years have created a perfect storm of economic crisis, technological transition, and cultural change that have combined to help inspire many journalists to explore news partnerships. Below, I explore three factors that are motivating journalists to work together.

Rapid Technological Change

Journalism practice has always been tied to technological development. In their book, "Four Theories of the Press," Fred Siebert, Theodore Peterson and Wilbur Schramm argue, "The press always takes on the form and coloration of the social and political structures within which it operates." Historically, we've seen this as the telegraph led to the development of the inverted pyramid, the telephone begat the phone interview, and the always-on cable news channels resulted in the 24-hour news cycle.

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One thing that differentiates the current batch of technological changes and their impact on journalism is the profound pace of that change. Now, the Internet, mobile devices and new digital tools are prompting the profession of journalism to become more collaborative, by fostering interaction with the public and with other news organizations.

Platforms like Publish2, a content-management system; Stroome, a browser-based video editing platform; and DocumentCloud, a repository for primary documents -- among many others -- are helping to lower the costs of reporting and publishing and connecting individual journalists and newsrooms around shared resources. One of the most ambitious of these projects is the Public Media Platform, which former NPR CEO Vivian Schiller said would "allow all of the content from [various public media] entities -- whether news or cultural products -- to flow freely among the partners and member stations, and, ultimately, also to other publishers, other not-for-profits and software developers who will invent wonderful new products that we can't even imagine."

In addition, collaboration between newsrooms and the public is growing. Examples include CNN's iReport, Huffington Post's OffTheBus and various crowdsourcing projects from ProPublica and others. As a society we are witnessing a technologically driven resurgence in all kinds of sharing, and journalism organizations are a key part of that development.

Economic Factors

This new era of collaboration is not just a function of shiny new gadgets, platforms or programs. It's impossible to ignore the effect the economic recession has had in prompting collaboration. We're living through one of the most difficult periods in the history of the news business (albeit, one of the most exciting), where sharp budget reductions, shrinking ad revenues, dramatic shifts in audiences' media consumption habits, and a range of self-inflicted wounds (from media consolidation to unhealthy debt loads) have upended news organizations' longstanding business models and sparked an age of reinvention and experimentation.

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Indeed, many collaborative journalism projects have either been started or are staffed by some of the 30,000-plus people who lost newsroom jobs over the last four years. Esther Kaplan of the Nation Investigative Fund, which "incubates and supports" investigative stories and journalists until the stories are published across a network of magazines like the Atlantic and Mother Jones, has called her effort a "social safety net" for laid-off reporters.

Journalism collaborations present opportunities to share resources and costs, allowing media outlets -- especially independent ones -- to maximize their dwindling budgets. Examples include the Investigative News Network and the Media Consortium, which help independent news organizations with things like back office support, fundraising, and the facilitation of editorial collaborations. In its big-picture report "The Big Thaw," the Media Consortium suggests that the rise of collaboration represents a shift toward a human-centered "alternative economy" that puts community impact and engagement at the center of journalism.

Finally, the economics of collaboration are not only driven by what has been lost, but also by what has been gained as foundations focus on expanding their impact by supporting collaborative projects across organizations. According to J-Lab at American University, foundations have spent upwards of $143 million since 2005 to support new journalism projects, many with collaborative elements. The Corporation for Public Broadcasting (CPB) provided $1 million in mid-2010 for the new Public Media Platform initiative that hopes to create a shared API for community and public media. CPB and the Knight Foundation have also funded regional collaborative journalism ventures between local public TV and radio stations around the country.

Better Journalism

Not all of the factors driving collaboration are external to the work of journalism itself. Many early converts to collaborative journalism argue that it produces a superior product. Spot.Us founder David Cohn has said, on more than one occasion, that if content is king, collaboration is queen. Through collaboration you can tap into skills and expertise outside your organization (such as multimedia production), uncover new story angles, bring in diverse perspectives, and extend the reach and influence of your work.

In the Columbia Journalism Review editorial mentioned above, the editors write:

From foreign capitals to U.S. statehouses, [journalism collaboration] is a way to extend our shrinking newsrooms, begin to rebuild public trust and ensure that the standards of the professional press help shape the development of new journalistic endeavors.

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In recent years, collaborative journalism projects have been earning significant awards. ProPublica has won numerous awards for its collaborations with NPR and other new organizations. The California HealthCare Foundation Center for Health Reporting and the Chico Enterprise-Record won an award from the Association of Health Care Journalists for their joint reporting on woodstove smoke pollution. And the Tiziano Project won a community collaboration award from the Online News Association for its work promoting collaborative journalism in Iraq.

While the other factors above provide external pressure on journalists, most wouldn't embrace collaboration if it wasn't helping them do better journalism.

From Safety in Numbers to Strength in Numbers

Regardless of the catalyst for collaboration, there is a growing sense in the news business that we are all in this together.

The magnitude of this shift toward working together, not just across newsrooms but across the profession as a whole, is perhaps best epitomized by the widespread adoption of a "Show Your Work" ethos. The credo, which encourages journalists and programmers to be transparent with the work they do and share the lessons of their work with the field, was first promoted by the Chicago Tribune apps team last year, and has also been embraced by ProPublica -- but the mantra has spread well beyond these two newsrooms. Dan Sinker, head of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, called Show Your Work "perhaps the biggest thing to affect journalism development" of 2011.

Show Your Work is a great example of how collaboration can turn safety in numbers into strength in numbers. Instead of collaborating simply because everyone around you is trying to do more with less, this approach suggests that by working together, we can all achieve more with more. We can build on each other's work, failures and successes to help build better journalism together.

What other motivations and external factors drive journalism collaborations, and how does understanding these catalysts help us better facilitate news partnerships?

Matt Schafer contributed additional research and reporting for this post.

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Josh Stearns is a journalist, organizer and community strategist. He is Journalism and Public Media Campaign Director for Free Press, a national, non-partisan, non-profit organization working to reform the media through education, organizing and advocacy. He was a co-author of "Saving the News: Toward a national journalism strategy," "Outsourcing the News: How covert consolidation is destroying newsrooms and circumventing media ownership rules," and "On the Chopping Block: State budget battles and the future of public media." Find him on Twitter at @jcstearns.

Photos above by Flickr users Chris Willis, Bart Heird, and Rob n' Renee.

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March 29 2012

14:00

The Difference Between 'Invention' and 'Innovation'

Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner.

From its inception, the site received a tremendous amount of attention. The New School, USC Annenberg, the Online News Association and, ultimately, the Knight Foundation all saw something interesting in what we were doing. We won awards; we were invited to present at conferences; we were written about in the trades and featured in over 150 blogs. Yet despite all the accolades, not once did the word "invention" creep in. "Innovation," it turns out, was the word on everyone's lips.

Like so many up-and-coming entrepreneurs, I was under the impression that invention and innovation were one and the same. They aren't. And, as I have discovered, the distinction is an important one.

Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I would help define the difference between the two. A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I'd share some key takeaways with you here:

INVENTION VS. INNOVATION: THE DIFFERENCE

In its purest sense, "invention" can be defined as the creation of a product or introduction of a process for the first time. "Innovation," on the other hand, occurs if someone improves on or makes a significant contribution to an existing product, process or service.

Consider the microprocessor. Someone invented the microprocessor. But by itself, the microprocessor was nothing more than another piece on the circuit board. It's what was done with that piece -- the hundreds of thousands of products, processes and services that evolved from the invention of the microprocessor -- that required innovation.

STEVE JOBS: THE POSTER BOY OF INNOVATION

If ever there were a poster child for innovation it would be former Apple CEO Steve Jobs. And when people talk about innovation, Jobs' iPod is cited as an example of innovation at its best.

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But let's take a step back for a minute. The iPod wasn't the first portable music device (Sony popularized the "music anywhere, anytime" concept 22 years earlier with the Walkman); the iPod wasn't the first device that put hundreds of songs in your pocket (dozens of manufacturers had MP3 devices on the market when the iPod was released in 2001); and Apple was actually late to the party when it came to providing an online music-sharing platform. (Napster, Grokster and Kazaa all preceded iTunes.)

So, given those sobering facts, is the iPod's distinction as a defining example of innovation warranted? Absolutely.

What made the iPod and the music ecosystem it engendered innovative wasn't that it was the first portable music device. It wasn't that it was the first MP3 player. And it wasn't that it was the first company to make thousands of songs immediately available to millions of users. What made Apple innovative was that it combined all of these elements -- design, ergonomics and ease of use -- in a single device, and then tied it directly into a platform that effortlessly kept that device updated with music.

Apple invented nothing. Its innovation was creating an easy-to-use ecosystem that unified music discovery, delivery and device. And, in the process, they revolutionized the music industry.

IBM: INNOVATION'S UGLY STEPCHILD

Admittedly, when it comes to corporate culture, Apple and IBM are worlds apart. But Apple and IBM aren't really as different as innovation's poster boy would have had us believe.

Truth is if it hadn't been for one of IBM's greatest innovations -- the personal computer -- there would have been no Apple. Jobs owes a lot to the introduction of the PC. And IBM was the company behind it.

Ironically, the IBM PC didn't contain any new inventions per se (see iPod example above). Under pressure to complete the project in less than 18 months, the team actually was under explicit instructions not to invent anything new. The goal of the first PC, code-named "Project Chess," was to take off-the-shelf components and bring them together in a way that was user friendly, inexpensive, and powerful.

And while the world's first PC was an innovative product in the aggregate, the device they created -- a portable device that put powerful computing in the hands of the people -- was no less impactful than Henry Ford's Model T, which reinvented the automobile industry by putting affordable transportation in the hands of the masses.

INNOVATION ALONE IS NOT ENOUGH

Given the choice to invent or innovate, most entrepreneurs would take the latter. Let's face it, innovation is just sexier. Perhaps there are a few engineers at M.I.T. who can name the members of "Project Chess." Virtually everyone on the planet knows who Steve Jobs is.

But innovation alone isn't enough. Too often, companies focus on a technology instead of the customer's problem. But in order to truly turn a great idea into a world-changing innovation, other factors must be taken into account.

According to Venkatakrishnan Balasubramanian, a research analyst with Infosys Labs, the key to ensuring that innovation is successful is aligning your idea with the strategic objectives and business models of your organization.

In a recent article that appeared in Innovation Management, he offered five considerations:

1. Competitive advantage: Your innovation should provide a unique competitive position for the enterprise in the marketplace;
2. Business alignment: The differentiating factors of your innovation should be conceptualized around the key strategic focus of the enterprise and its goals;
3. Customers: Knowing the customers who will benefit from your innovation is paramount;
4. Execution: Identifying resources, processes, risks, partners and suppliers and the ecosystem in the market for succeeding in the innovation is equally important;
5. Business value: Assessing the value (monetary, market size, etc.) of the innovation and how the idea will bring that value into the organization is a critical underlying factor in selecting which idea to pursue.

Said another way, smart innovators frame their ideas to stress the ways in which a new concept is compatible with the existing market landscape, and their company's place in that marketplace.

This adherence to the "status quo" may sound completely antithetical to the concept of innovation. But an idea that requires too much change in an organization, or too much disruption to the marketplace, may never see the light of day.

A FINAL THOUGHT

While they tend to be lumped together, "invention" and "innovation" are not the same thing. There are distinctions between them, and those distinctions are important.

So how do you know if you are inventing or innovating? Consider this analogy:

If invention is a pebble tossed in the pond, innovation is the rippling effect that pebble causes. Someone has to toss the pebble. That's the inventor. Someone has to recognize the ripple will eventually become a wave. That's the entrepreneur.

Entrepreneurs don't stop at the water's edge. They watch the ripples and spot the next big wave before it happens. And it's the act of anticipating and riding that "next big wave" that drives the innovative nature in every entrepreneur.

This article is the seventh of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.

January 09 2012

15:20

3 Keys to Naming Your Product

Two and a half years ago, I co-founded Stroome, a collaborative online video editing and publishing platform and 2010 Knight News Challenge winner. Considering the fact that "video" is one of the most searchable words on the web, our first startup challenge -- actually coming up with a name for our site -- proved to be extremely daunting.

Recently, I was asked by Jason Nazar, founder of Docstoc and a big supporter of the L.A. entrepreneurial community, if I had any tips for startups regarding choosing a name for their product.

A short, 3-minute video response can be found at the bottom of this post, but I thought I'd share some key takeaways with you here:

MAKE SURE THE DOMAIN NAME IS AVAILABLE

Let's face it: We live in a digital age. The fact that a record $35.3 billion was spent online this past holiday season is evidence of that. And in this digital age, the proverbial "open for business" sign that used to dangle in the front shop-window has been replaced with the search bar.

So the first thing to think about when naming your product is this: If the domain isn't available, you don't have squat (more on the concept of "domain squatting" in minute).

But finding an available '.com' is just the beginning. As the web becomes increasingly crowded, a myriad of domain extensions have emerged. A few of the more popular ones include: .tv, .me, .biz. And this doesn't even take into consideration domains for foreign territories.

With all these new extensions emerging, a natural question many entrepreneurs ask is: "Does a place exist that will check all the available domain extensions at the same time?" Actually, there are several.

If you just want to search the "big three" -- .com, .net, .org -- I suggest a site called Instant Domain Search. Just type in the name you want, and the website does the rest.

If you want to search all the extensions, give Check Domains a shot. Not only will it instantly tell you all the domains that are available, when you're done it even takes you to GoDaddy.com, a popular registry site that lets you purchase those extensions you've selected.

Because you never know which domain extension is going to be the next one to take off, my advice is to purchase as many domain extensions as possible. I know .cc (the domain for the Coco Islands) may seem completely unnecessary today, but the last thing you want to do is be held hostage by some domain squatter who had the foresight to buy your domain before you did.

YOU DON'T BE EXACT; YOU CAN ALLUDE TO YOUR PRODUCT

As your business grows, chances are your product line will expand as well. You want to make sure your name grows with it, too. It's okay to leave something to the imagination of your customers. In the "name game," being allusive can be a powerful attribute.

Take the word, "Amazon," for example. For Jeff Bezos, books always were just the beginning. From the very outset, the forward-thinking entrepreneur saw his company expanding well beyond the written word.

Don't kid yourself. The selection of the name "Amazon" was hardly happenstance. Bezos deliberately chose a word that alluded to the business he saw downstream, rather than the actual entrepreneurial waters he set out to navigate in 1995.

Inspired by the seemingly endless South American river with its countless tributaries, the notion of a continuous flow of consumer goods feeding into a massive marketplace perfectly aligned with Bezos' vision to create the world's largest e-commerce site.

Today, when we think of Amazon the first thought that pops into our mind is retail, not a river in South America. Apparently, the Googleplex agrees. Just search the word "Amazon" (preferably after you're done reading this blog).

The first mention of a river or rain forest doesn't appear until page three.

CREATE A NEW WORD THAT CAN DEFINE YOUR COMPANY

Google ... Yahoo ... Facebook ... Twitter ... These words may have existed before they found their way into the pantheon of contemporary popular culture. ("Googol" is the digit 1 followed by 100 zeros; a "yahoo" is a rude, noisy or violent person; "Facebook" is the nickname for the student directory at Phillips Exeter Academy, where Mark Zuckerberg went to high school; "twitter" is a short burst of inconsequential information.)

But the brilliance of the entrepreneurs behind the companies that bear those names is that those words are now so far removed from the original meaning associated with them that they are effectively new words altogether.

Yet just coming up with a catchy name isn't really the trick. The real magic is coming up with a word that's connected with your product in such a way that it becomes both a noun and a verb -- at the same time.

Let me give you an example from my own experience--

When we were coming up with the name for Stroome, we wanted a name that would work as both a noun and a verb. Much in the same way people now say, "Google it," we wanted people to say, "Stroome me," when they had some great content they wanted to share. Of course, we didn't have the word "Stroome" yet. But the Dutch did -- "Strømme."

It means "to move freely," which is exactly what we want our site to facilitate -- the movement of ideas, points of view and content freely between people. We played with the spelling a bit, but the name was perfect.

A FINAL THOUGHT

Without question, naming your product is important. But it's also a great opportunity. The right name can distinguish you from the competition, as well as differentiate your product from seemingly similar offerings.

So when naming your product here are three things to remember. First, make sure the name you chose is available across as many domains extensions as possible. And if the domains aren't available, don't get discouraged. Instead, get creative. Second, come up with a name that alludes to who you are, but doesn't specifically say what you do. And finally, if you do have to come up with a entirely new word, don't be afraid to really think outside the box.

Who knows, you might not just be naming your product. You may just end up defining an entire new product category.

This article is the fourth of 10 video segments in which digital entrepreneur Tom Grasty talks about his experience building an Internet startup, and is part of a larger initiative sponsored by docstoc.videos, which features advice from small business owners who offer their views on how to launch a new business or grow your existing one altogether.

July 05 2011

16:11

The New News Paradigm: 'Pivot or Perish'

At the recent MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference, I had the pleasure of speaking to 16 of the most promising thinkers in the area of digital news. Culled together from myriad of disciplines and backgrounds, some had already established themselves as pioneers in the digital space.Others had come from legacy newsrooms. A few had found their voices in the field.

But regardless of their backgrounds, they all were united by a drive to innovate, inform and empower. In short, these 16 new news entrepreneurs had come to Cambridge, Mass., with a plan: Reinvent the news business.

But if I had just one takeaway I wanted to impart in my talk to the newly knighted 2011 News Challenge winners, it was this: Those carefully crafted plans are about to change.

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Being Open to Change

There's an old axiom in entrepreneurship, and it goes something like this: Pivot or perish.

"Pivoting" -- the ability (and perhaps more importantly, the willingness) to change your course of action when you realize the ground beneath you is shifting -- isn't just the essence of entrepreneurship, it's the only way you'll survive.

Trust me, we've been at it for just a little over a year now with Stroome, and in that time we've had to pivot plenty.

Now let me be clear -- having a plan for the future is just as important as a good, solid pivot. Looking two, three, even five years down the road is critical, not just because it places your idea in a larger context, but because it forces you to realize that no one really knows what the future has in store. In the end, the best we can do is play the hand that's dealt us. And this is precisely where the concept of pivoting comes in.

When we set out last June to build the next iteration of Stroome, a collaborative online video editing platform to simplify the production of news and video, we sat down and diligently drew up a list of goals. The exact number was just short of a dozen or so, but the three key ones included: increase adoption in journalism schools, forge strategic allegiances, remain open to unforeseen uses.

It didn't take long before those goals started to come to fruition. Within four months of receiving our grant, Stroome was being used by a class of aspiring digital journalists at Columbia College Chicago to comment on the importance of voter registration during the highly anticipated mayoral election. In April, we partnered with USC Stevens Institution, relaunching the site at the third annual TEDxUSC conference.

And who could have possibly foreseen that we'd have found ourselves smack dab in the middle of the Egyptian revolution? But that's exactly what happened this past January when protesters began using Stroome to get their video out of the country when the government shut down Twitter and Facebook.

More than a 'to-do' list

Remarkably, in less than a year we had accomplished nearly every goal we had set for ourselves. But our goals had became more than just a list of "to-dos'' to be ticked off one-by-one. Instead, they became "listening posts." And by listening to our users, we were able to gain valuable insight into what is truly important to them.

In most instances, their revelations were consistent with our expectations. Yet at times, what we heard was completely incongruous with what we thought we should be building. And when that happened, we had to evaluate which comments to implement, which to set aside for the time being, and which to dismiss altogether. Said another way, we had to pivot.

Because while we may have had many goals, at the end of the day we only had one objective: Create the most intuitive user experience possible. But without those pivots, that objective would never have been achieved.

And as I looked out across the room and into the faces of this year's Knight News Challenge winners, I could see an unmistakable determination, an undaunted doggedness, an unrelenting sense of resolve. There was no mistaking it: Reinvention of an industry many have written off as outdated, archaic and obsolete is a goal well within their grasp.

They're just going to have to pivot to get there.

If you're interested, Los Angeles angel investor Mark Suster has written a great post on the importance of pivoting. Read it here.

Photo courtesy of flickr user Stacy Lynn Baum.

May 26 2011

13:44

Stroome Reels Filmmakers Into Online Collaborative Video Editing

While speaking in Tribeca a couple of months ago in front of a packed theater of New York independent fiction and documentary filmmakers, I introduced Stroome, a collaborative online video editing community, and was astonished to receive a standing ovation. One filmmaker explained to me that she had been sending clips back and forth with a collaborator in London, and having to take the time to re-edit a sequence to make slight changes or slowly upload finished segments was encumbering her entire filmmaking process. She, like many others in the room, envisioned how Stroome could vastly improve collaboration, and she greeted my demonstration with excitement.

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In fact, filmmakers are already working with Stroome to design useful implementations. Jason DaPonte (a longtime friend of Stroome) from The Swarm is currently in pre-production as the cross-platform producer for a new documentary about an Aboriginal storyteller named Francis Firebrace who has been living in the U.K. for the last 10 years and is soon returning to Australia to bring his stories back to his people. DaPonte plans to use Stroome as a core part of his cross-platform campaign to help engage users digitally with the ancient Aboriginal stories and the filmmaking.

I talked to him last weekend about why he's doing this and his thoughts on Stroome.

What made you think to use Stroome?

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DaPonte: One of the challenges we have with the film is to engage users with both the story of Francis' journey and the ancient Aboriginal stories he tells. The number and variety of Aboriginal stories Francis tells means that letting users explore them online is ideal, because they don't have to be wedged into the film's time limits.

When users engage with stories online, they do it at a variety of levels that begin with passively watching and absorbing. However, at the top of the ladder of engagement is creatively participating and collaborating with a story. I think that Stroome could be a great way of encouraging users to engage at a deep creative level and to let them work collaboratively with Francis (who's very engaged with the Internet for a 75-year-old!).

The stories have deep, transcultural meanings and significance, and I hope that we'll see some surprising output from people around the world as they interact with these traditional stories!

Francis Firebrace -- Teaser from Kevin Lee Brown on Vimeo.

How are you thinking of doing it?

DaPonte: We haven't got the entire campaign designed yet, but the hope is that we'll host a competition, judged by Francis, to find the best short videos of his tellings of a variety of Aboriginal stories that he has permission from his people to retell to the public. We want to put soundtracks of him telling the stories onto the platform, with additional material shot by the crew, and to let users mix and remix videos for the stories with this material and material they've generated themselves.

I'm hoping we can get users collaborating with each other and with Francis this way. It will mirror what happens in the real world when Francis brings his stories to the schools and prisons where he tells his stories and what will be happening at various events when he goes back to Oz.

What's the best-case scenario for the project?

DaPonte: I'd love it if there were an ongoing community of people from around the world engaging with the stories and building and working with them before, during and after showings of the film. One of the benefits of working with people online is that it isn't time-dependent like linear TV and film are, and we want people to be engaged with Francis beyond just when they watch the film.

It would also be great if work on Stroome helps Francis' versions of the stories spread across the web. Seeing users move their stories onto YouTube, Vimeo and social media like Facebook would be great -- it would build the reach and impact of the stories. We're going to do some of this ourselves too. I'm keen to try to put the stories onto Neighbourhub.org, a platform that helps you geo-locate stories on Google Earth.

The film is being directed by Kevin Lee Brown and co-produced by London Fields Pictures and Australian Documentaries.

April 25 2011

15:12

R.I.P. Flip Cam: The Smartphone Did It (Not Cisco)

Over the last three years, I've attended all three TEDx conferences on the idyllic campus of my old alma mater, the University of Southern California. And it's been my experience that TEDxUSC is where you go to be inspired, not have your dreams relegated to the heap bin of "what if..."

But for a brief, fleeting moment last Tuesday, I was certain that all the hard work done by myself and fellow Stroome co-founder, Nonny de la Pena, was about to go the way of...well, the Flip.

ripflip.jpgThere I was sitting in the audience along with my fellow 1,200 TEDxers patiently waiting for Krisztina Holly (affectionately known around the USC campus as 'Z') to announce the rules for a TEDxUSC-themed video scavenger hunt that would re-launch our newly designed site when all of a sudden a hundred cell phones (all muted of course -- TEDxers are "disruptors," but they're not disrespectful) suddenly came to life. The news was spreading like wildfire across the web: Cisco had discontinued the Flip!!!

Now, the fact that the popular, pocket-size camera had been shuttered probably wouldn't have prompted such a profound sense of panic except for the fact that I knew precisely what 'Z' was going to say next: "And now it's time to make something together. So pull out your smartphones, your digital cameras, your Flips..."

And there it was. I'm told 'Z' kept talking. I didn't hear another word she said.

Causing Trouble for Stroome

As the co-founder of Stroome, an online video editing platform built on collaborative content creation, creativity may be the fuel that fires the engine; but without a device that can get that content into a centralized place where people actually can do something with it, you're in trouble. For the last few years, the Flip had been that device. We were in trouble.

When the Flip was introduced in 2007, it had been hailed as "the easiest way to make and share videos." What once had required thousands of dollars to procure, and an instruction manual the size of a phone book to operate, had been reduced to a single, red "record" button on a small black box the size of a pack of cigarettes that fit perfectly in your front pocket.

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And while the Flip wasn't the only game in town when Cisco acquired it in 2009, by all accounts it was a game changer. Overnight, it seemed the way we documented our lives changed forever. Birthday parties, dance recitals, high school graduations -- all could be captured on a moment's notice.

But the Flip didn't just give us an easy and accessible way to preserve the defining moments in our lives; it let us do it in dazzling HD! And the best part? All this could be ours for the low, low price of $129!

And now it was over. Like some didactic Middle Eastern dictator able to cut the people off at the knees at his capricious whim, Cisco had pulled the plug on the whole damn thing.

But as I sat there in the darkness, the last 18 months of my life playing themselves out in front of me, an incredible thing happened -- a hundred incredible things, actually.

Killed by the Smartphone

As I looked around Bovard Hall -- a hundred iPhones, Androids and Evos twinkling on and off like stars against a dark night -- I suddenly realized it wasn't Cisco that had killed the Flip. The smartphone had.

iPhone4.jpgNot 15 minutes earlier I, along with my fellow TEDxers, had watched slack-jawed as former USC film grad student, Michael Koerbel, showed us a film he had shot, edited and distributed entirely on the iPhone 4. And it was in that instant that I again began to feel inspired.

But my inspiration didn't come from the fact that a 4.5" × 2.31" piece of perfectly buffed black chrome and circuitry had effectively replaced an entire film crew. My inspiration came from the fact that in the end, shooting, editing and uploading a film on a phone -- as incredible a feat as it is -- isn't enough. You still need a place to watch your 4-minute masterpiece. And if you want to watch it with others, then work together to collaboratively create the next iteration of your idea, you need a place to do that. Right now, the only place on the web you can do that is Stroome.

February 15 2011

15:48

Will the Next Revolution be Stroomed?

When you think of the recent unrest in the Middle East, social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube immediately come to mind.

Yet in an era where the revolution no longer need be televised -- now it's tweeted -- wouldn't a collaborative online video editing platform that allows producers, correspondents and reporters to create news reports in real time be a welcome addition to the insurgents' arsenal?

Well, such a tool does exist. It's called Stroome. And in a time when the journalist's traditional role -- to build and curate an informed public -- is rapidly eroding as citizens now are able to inform themselves and one another, is it possible that video will soon replace text as the central means of communication? Could it be that the next revolution will be Stroomed?

An Email Exchange

It turns out, the idea just might not be as far-fetched as you'd think:

Date: Thu, 20 Jan 2011 07:23:15 -0600 Subject: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Hello Stroome team,

Would like to thank you first for a great application and social network your team has created.

I work for a non-profit organization with a mission to enable young people from the West and predominantly Muslim societies to have cross-cultural dialogues using new media technologies.

[H]ow can [we] include Stroome within our online community?

And so began the email that Stroome co-founder Nonny de la Pena and I received the morning of January 20, 2011.

The sender's name was WilYaWil, and his request was simple: Would we work with his organization to facilitate dialogue between students with diverse backgrounds from around the world?

Considering collaboration is at the center of the Stroome experience, the connection was a no-brainer. Skype addresses were exchanged; a call was set for the following Wednesday.

Revolution Intervenes

But just minutes before the call was to take place, we received a second email from WilYaWil. Our conversation, it seemed, would need to be postponed:

Date: Wed, 26 Jan 2011 03:45:01 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Tom, sorry for the late reply. I hope we can postpone our meeting today. I'm in Egypt and we are living in exciting times with the start of freedom protests yesterday in Cairo and other cities around Egypt. I will be taking part today. I apologize for the short notice. I will get in touch with you and Nonny again on Friday to reschedule.

Frankly, I thought little of it. There was little in the tone of WilYaWil's email to foreshadow the extraordinary events that were about to unfold.

As it turns out, I had very much misread the situation.

The following morning, I -- along with the world -- woke up to an Egypt in crisis. This was more than simply an "exciting time." This was a revolution. Or at least it certainly had the makings of one.

By day's end, a third email arrived, and we learned -- again, just as the world was learning -- that the Egyptian government had blocked Twitter and Facebook.

Egypt screenshot.jpg

Nonny quickly sprang into action. A group titled "Egypt Protests" was created on Stroome. Open access was granted so that anyone could upload and edit their first-person video accounts of the protests. And the participants on the email thread were notified immediately.

Internet Shutdown

Unfortunately, our impromptu workaround was thwarted when the Egyptian government shut down Internet access to the entire country. And while President Mubarak's decision to plunge some 80 million Egyptians into the 21st-century of equivalent of "radio silence" would last nearly five days, it would be over a week before we heard from WilYaWil.

Then on Wednesday, February 9 -- almost three weeks to the day from our first correspondence -- WilYaWil resurfaced. Again, his tone was upbeat:

Date: Wed, 9 Feb 2011 13:21:00 -0600
Subject: Re: Integrating Stroome for cross-cultural dialogue

Hi Thomas and Nonny,

We are living in an exciting time here in Egypt. I've started using Stroome already, I've uploaded the videos I shot on Friday 28th January, I hope others find it useful and can remix it.

I would like us to meet soon so that we can discuss how [we] could work together. We can meet tomorrow or Friday anytime between 8pm - 10pm CLT / 10am - 12 noon LA time.

And while we had no way of knowing at the time, history was once again about to find a way of encroaching on our plans.

Thirty minutes before we were scheduled to connect with WilYaWil on Friday morning, CNN reported that Hosni Mubarak was going to make it formal: After more than 30 years in power, the Egyptian president was stepping down. Considering the momentous nature of the announcement, naturally I assumed the call would be pushed back once again.

Suddenly, the familiar "bing, bing, bing" signaling an incoming Skype call could be heard as a cartoon avatar of a young man wearing a pair of horned-rimmed glasses and neatly cropped brown hair appeared on my screen.

"This is a remarkable tool," WilYaWil said of Stroome, his voice brimming with enthusiasm. "The ability to collaborate and work together with video. No one is doing it. It's revolutionary. It's going to change things."

He was so passionate, so imbued with a renewed sense of purpose, so in the moment and excited about those "exciting times" in which he was living that I honestly think WilYaWil failed to grasp the irony of the words he'd just uttered.

I, on the other hand, caught every drop of it.

To see some of WilYaWil's Egyptian video uploads, register at Stroome.com and type "Egypt" into the search bar.

If you would like to follow WilYaWil's Twitter feed click here

October 22 2010

15:00

How a Fish Story Inspired Collaborative Video Platform Stroome

Like birds, most fish have something to say, especially when it comes to mating calls. You can read it about in a piece I wrote a couple of years ago for the New York Times' Science Times. But what does a talking fish sound like? Look like? In fact, it was exactly those questions that led to the creation of Stroome.

Rush to Produce video for the Times

The decision to publish the fish story happened in a hurry. On a Thursday afternoon, I received a phone call from one of my editors letting me know the piece would be running the following Tuesday. I had already decided that I wanted to create an accompanying web video but this was an unexpected hustle. I would have to have both the story and the video full edited and delivered by Monday evening.

I quickly called Cornell University's PR department. They agreed to film the aptly named professor Andrew H. Bass as soon as he was available on the next afternoon and send the footage overnight. However, they only had access to a video camera that shot pro DV sized tape. This meant that not only was I going to lose more than a day waiting for the shots but I would also have to hire a local video house here in Los Angeles to transfer the interview into a mini DV format which I could edit with my own equipment.

A similar scenario unfolded with professor Joseph Luczkovich from East Carolina University. He had a friend shoot him using a digital camera while I conducted the interview over the phone and while I received the file within hours, it was formatted for a PC and I had to find a way to convert it for my Mac. Since I had no time to find friendly shareware, I had to pay for a program that I only used once.

Thankfully, when the audio files of fish grunting, humming and jack-hammering came in, they were easy to incorporate.

By the end of the weekend, I had a cut ready to send to the New York Times for their approval. I began to upload the file, but in the middle of the transfer the connection dropped. As I did not have authority to alter any file on the New York Times' computer system, I had to start the file transfer all over again. This happened with several versions as the deadline approached in New York. A kind editor stayed late that Monday night to make sure the file had landed in the system properly and to drop it into the web version of the story.

noisy fish grab.jpg

On Tuesday, when the story ran, everyone's efforts paid off. The piece, What's Making that Awful Racket? Surprisingly, It May be Fish, raced up the popularity charts. I refreshed my browser every few minutes until I could victoriously watch it land on the "Top Ten Most Emailed List."

I am certain that images and audio certainly contributed to that result. However, the process to bring it all together made it clear to me that the production flow was profoundly flawed for collaboration and sharing.

Emergence of Stroome

Out of this confusion arose the phoenix we now call Stroome. The site was developed to solve the problems I encountered working on the fish story. Today, instead of files and tapes being sent from one location to another silo, everyone involved would simply join the "NY Times Fish" group that I would have created on Stroome. Each individual with content - video, audio or photographs - would then upload to that group. Using that material, I would have been able to edit the first version for the New York Times to instantaneously view. If any editor saw the need for a change, she would just click on "Copy and Remix" to make the changes or add any necessary comments. All of this would have been kept private to the group until the story was ready to be pushed across the web.

There is a multitude of other ways to use Stroome. Anyone can create a group -- public or private -- and share and remix content with friends, colleagues or like-minded Stroome members. Shared video can be shot at the same place or from across the globe. Stories can focus on a single narrative or take multiple directions. I hope many uses will also be found for it which I cannot conceive. Kind of like the inconceivable idea of talking fish. Except it's true. Fish do talk. You can even get a ringtone for your mobile phone. Check it out.

September 22 2010

13:27

How to Build a Website: One Piece at a Time

The likelihood that an online video editing site, a 21st century technological innovation if ever there were one, would draw inspiration from a 34-year-old Johnny Cash song about a broken-down, piece of junk Cadillac is, admittedly, a tad anachronistic.

But as my partner, Nonny de la Peña, and I roll up our sleeves, crawl back under the hood and start fine-tuning Stroome, one of this year's Knight News Challenge winners, it seems we've found our muse in the most unlikely of places.

"One Piece at a Time"

Released in 1976, the Johnny Cash song "One Piece at a Time" tells the tale of a Detroit auto worker who watches wistfully day in and day out as one shiny Cadillac after another roll past him and out the door. Realizing he'll never be able to afford one himself, the resourceful auto worker recruits a co-conspirator and together they devise a rather envious plan: Create their own by stealing the parts, one piece at a time.

Unfortunately, after assembling all the pieces (the smaller ones are snuck out in the worker's lunch box; the larger ones in a mobile home), the men quickly realize the car is a little more than they bargained for -- literally. The transmission is a '53. The engine is a '73. As for the headlights -- there's two on the left, and one on the right.

One_piece_at_a_time.jpg

Can you imagine if websites were designed this way? Don't laugh. As it turns out, many are.

Take the best feature from this site; take the best feature from that site. Why censor yourself? Why limit your developer? Build it one piece at a time. Let the user decide what pieces she wants.

But there are dangers in letting functionality drive your build, rather than designing the site as a whole. Sure, you've got all the bells and whistles. But what good does it do if you can't figure out how to turn it on?

And so, with the words of that disillusioned Detroit auto worker ringing in our ears, three simple guidelines come to mind as Nonny and I ponder the next iteration of Stroome:

Three Rules to Build By

1. Don't build for yourself.
Sounds contradictory, I know. It's your site, after all. You know what you want better than anyone, right? Wrong. Unless you're the only one who's going to be using the site (and if anyone can figure out how that business model works, let me know), you need to take yourself out of the equation. You may know your demographic better than anyone else; you may know the competitive landscape better than anyone else; you may even be the world's pre-eminent expert in the field. But chances are you are not a web designer. So do your due diligence, then do yourself a favor: Get out of the way and let the guy you hired to build your site actually do his job.

2. Don't give your users everything they ask for.
Admittedly, consumer input is invaluable. But so, too, is consensus. So rather than kowtow to your customers' every whim and fancy, take copious notes. If you find you're writing down the same thing over and over, only then should you consider adding it as a feature. Otherwise, write it off as a distraction.

3. Don't try to be different; be distinctive.
Creating a batch of features just because no one else has them isn't always a good idea. There's a difference between being "different" and being "distinctive." You want to be distinctive. And the best way to distinguish yourself from your competitors isn't necessarily building a better mousetrap; it's solving a pain in the marketplace no one else has solved. Or better yet, that no one else has anticipated.

Looking back on it, when Nonny and I sat down to build the first iteration of Stroome last September, we did a lot of things right. But we had our fair share of detours, too. Enamored with what we could do, we probably did too much. Enthralled with all the options available to us, we probably opted for too many.

And while the current version of Stroome hardly resembles what Johnny Cash jocularly refers to in his rockabilly cult classic as a "Psycho-Billy Cadillac," it's not without a few misplaced headlights, either.

Of course, we have a plan to get rid of those. And we'll do it one piece at a time.

Want to hear the song that inspired this post? Click below:

August 20 2010

17:27

Stroome Helps Journalists Collaborate via Online Video Remixing

This post was co-authored by Nonny de la Peña

Stroome, a winner of the 2010 Knight News Challenge grant, fosters a social network that allows journalists to collaborate together by sharing content and stories that can be edited right in a browser and then pushed across the web.

Prototyped at USC Annenberg's pioneering Online Program on Online Communities in the fall of 2008, the idea was strikingly simple: Create a place where journalists can efficiently work together to create a culture that offers accurate, contextual news in real-time.

The result was Stroome, an online video editing platform crossed with a social network that allows you to upload, edit, and share thousands of clips from different users. In short, the perfect toolset for journalists aspiring to retool in the digital age. Learn more in the below video:

Knight News Challenge: Stroome from Knight Foundation on Vimeo.

Why Stroome? Why Now?

Anyone who has tried to work on a video project in which the stakeholders are in geographic locations knows the problems inherent in online collaboration. File transfer slows down the process; there are breakdowns in communication; the flow of critical information is often lost in the mix.

Stroome breaks that technological and communication bottleneck by offering revision histories and intuitive, collaborative editing tools that allow individuals and groups work together for the good of the whole to foster a supportive culture that can quickly produce accurate news stories.

Stroome not only enables the next generation of digital journalists to upload and edit content right in the browser but, more importantly, allows stakeholders in disparate locations to create a community around that content -- from small groups to national news outlets.

Stroome Dashboard_081610.jpg

Whether it's a small group of journalists working to get out a story quickly, or a community remixing pieces to reflect their points of view, Stroome focuses on visual journalism as a participatory process. Our unique browser-based platform allows you to upload, edit, and share thousands of clips from different users in real-time. Then you can push your projects out across the web to the major social media sites or share them on Stroome with other users so that they can open and edit your clips, too.

But the real breakthrough is that by publishing content quickly and allowing diverse geographic communities to communicate, we believe Stroome will rejuvenate the relationship between a news organization and its audience by radically increasing responsiveness with an inexpensive, agile online solution.

But don't count out the satellite trucks just yet. We fervently believe participatory video is the future of visual storytelling on the web, and we are devoted to trying to use the technology to support the idea that content creation can be a communal experience instead of merely a tool for passive viewing. But we also recognize that what we are asking will require a significant shift in thinking.

The Future of News is Digital

For us, that shift begins today. Over the next few weeks, our team will be working with local news outlets to set up a series of beta experiments in which the Stroome platform will be implemented in the field and in the classroom. So if you have a unique case study you'd like to test, email us info@stroome.com.

August 17 2010

18:25

10 Ways to Make Video a More Interactive Experience

I love my iPad. One of the reasons I love it is that it's a great device for watching video. Some mainstream media integrate video very nicely into their iPad applications. However, it seems that all this slickness comes at a price: The conversation with the people formerly known as the audience is often non-existent. It seems that the potentially-messy-but-genuine conversation with
the community is being shifted to Facebook and Twitter.

flipboard.jpg

The iPad (and similar products) is potentially a disruptive device, empowering people to publish not just blog posts or status updates but also their own books and magazines, as the example of Flipboard (left) demonstrates. There is a danger, however, that traditional media won't understand this and will revert to its old ways by producing slick end products that broadcast without actually engaging in a conversation.

You can see this tendency at work online in the videos produced by newspapers. Yes, you can (often) embed their videos, share them on Twitter and Facebook and via email. But often you can't participate in a discussion about the video. Sometimes you can't even leave a comment. Too little effort is being made to evaluate and integrate interactive and community aspects into video.

For example, have a look at the impressive video production on WSJ.com. The videos are well done, but the integration of community interactivity is underwhelming. We're struggling with this at my own newspaper as well, but we're in the process of applying some of the solutions I suggest below.

10 Suggestions

In order to help media organizations do a better job of making video interactive, here are 10 suggestions for integrating video into a wider discussion with the community.

  1. Enable people to leave comments on a video. What I often see on YouTube, however, is that the producer or uploader of the videos do not participate in the discussion. The same rules apply here as for text articles: If you don't respond to comments, there is a risk that people will consider the comments to be akin to graffiti on a blank wall, and not participate.
  2. When interviewing colleagues or experts in a video, provide a back-channel so the audience can chat along and add to the discussion. For example, Livestream.com and Ustream.tv offer a chat and social stream next to the live video. Ustream also does this rather well in its iPhone App.
  3. It's also possible to integrate video into a text-chat module, such as the previously discussed CoverItLive. A word of caution: Most people are not good at being a talking head on video while simultaneously chatting -- it tends to give clumsy and boring results. So let the live video host focus on her job.
  4. The same rules apply as for a regular chat session: It helps to have a fixed schedule for conversational sessions, and to provide an introductory article or post to provide context and discussion material, thus enabling people to ask questions in advance and to prepare for the discussion.
  5. You can invite community members to have a video conversation by using their webcams to appear directly on camera. I've done some experiments with Seesmic video and will note that some psychological and technical barriers stand in the way of doing this well. Which means we need more experimentation.
  6. Especially when it comes to local news coverage, it could be interesting to invite your community members to contribute their own videos. In my previous post about immersive journalism, I mentioned Stroome as an interesting platform for collaborative video editing.
  7. You can easily build a virtual studio in Second Life and invite guests to participate in a live discussion with an audience of avatars/community members. Second Life enables you to combine audio (for host and guests) and chat (for the audience/community members), and a video stream all in one. You can do this for guests who would be hard to convince to come in person to your newsroom for a live discussion. To see this in action, have a look at the Metanomics show. You can find other related practices in the aforementioned immersive journalism post and the comments on that post.
  8. Do not underestimate the importance of text. It could be interesting to have three live streams: 1) The live video stream of an interview; 2) the chat channel; and 3) a live blog. The live blog enables people who missed the live event to quickly find out what the chat was about. During the event it helps those who are hearing impaired, or who are in office settings and can't watch the video.
  9. A very simple but effective technique is to announce a video interview in advance and to ask the community for input in terms of questions or topics for discussion. This seems very straightforward, but it's mindboggling how reluctant journalists are to ask the community for input.
  10. Along the same lines, there are many ways to ask for help when preparing for a video interview: You could use a wiki, a collaborative mindmap, or let people vote for the best questions. But in my opinion the good old blog post does a great job because it's conversational and not technologically intimidating. Just explain what your intentions are for the interview, what the context is (as you would do for your newsroom colleagues), and ask people to react. A follow-up in the video or in a separate blog post would be nice. Be sure to mention which community questions made it into the interview -- and make sure you tell your guest when a question comes directly from the community.

Those are my ideas. Please share your own suggestions for turning video into a community experience below in the comments.

Roland Legrand is in charge of Internet and new media at Mediafin, the publisher of leading Belgian business newspapers De Tijd and L'Echo. He studied applied economics and philosophy. After a brief teaching experience, he became a financial journalist working for the Belgian wire service Belga and subsequently for Mediafin. He works in Brussels, and lives in Antwerp with his wife Liesbeth.

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June 17 2010

17:30

Knight News Challenge: Meet Stroome, the collaborative FlickrWikiGoogleDoc for video

Stroome began, like so many cool things do, with talking fish. Nonny de la Peña, a veteran journalist, had written a story for The New York Times outlining the sonic mating calls of fish (more specifically: “fish barks, chatter, groans, drones and cries”), and wanted to include video of the noisy-fish phenomenon along with her text.

This involved: getting the physical video from scientists at Cornell, waiting for the video to be FedExed to her, trying to edit the video on the Times’ system, and dealing with PC-to-Mac conversion issues — a process, all in all, that took a bunch of patience and several days to complete. Years, in WebJourno Time.

Wouldn’t it be great, de la Peña thought, if there were an easy way to store, edit, and share videos? Enter Stroome, the platform that de la Peña and her colleague Tom Grasty created to simplify the notoriously labor-intensive editing-and-sharing process. Named for the Dutch word “stromen” (“to move freely”) — and taking a cue from Google and Twitter and other quirkily-named phenoms — the platform “works like iMovie, allows for shared editing like Wikipedia, and stores content like Flickr,” Grasty told me. With Stroome, users get an “aggregated, rights-cleared, user-generated clip pool.”

One big selling point: Users can upload video and then collaborate on editing and remixing that video, all within the web browser. (“It’s the concept of being able to upload any piece of content from your phone, your webcam, your hard drive,” Grasty says.) Editing that used to be a matter of back-and-forth — one user editing, then sending the remixed product to other users for their edits — can, on Stroome, be done wiki-style: Think Google Docs for video. As Grasty, who has a background in film production, puts it: “It enables you to give your notes by literally doing your notes.”

This is Stroome’s second attempt at a Knight award. They applied last year, and got to the top-50 stage, but not beyond. But — and here’s a lesson for any would-be News Challenge grantees — they reapplied this year. (They were encouraged to do that, in particular, by Stroome’s win of the audience-choice award at last year’s “6 in 60” contest at ONA — a “great validation,” Grasty says, from “just squarely the group of people” they’d want to target as users.) Now, the team is the recipient of $200,000 to develop and distribute Stroome. But: “we look at it as one year,” Grasty says, “because we really want to deliver.”

In other words, as de la Peña and Grasty put it as they introduced Stroome at the Knight conference: “We hope this is a go-to global solution, and we think it’s starting today.”

June 16 2010

18:30

Announcing the 2010 Knight News Challenge winners: Visuals are hot, and businesses are big winners

They started out last year as a crowded field of hopefuls from around the world, each dreaming of a chance to perform under the big lights. Over months, their numbers dwindled as the level of competition rose; each successive round brought new disappointment to those eliminated and new hope to those left in the running. And now, whittled down to an elite few, they’re ready for the global stage.

Okay, I’m giving myself a yellow card: So maybe the World Cup isn’t the perfect metaphor for the Knight News Challenge. But the News Challenge is the closest thing the future-of-news space has to a World Cup, and while this year’s 12 winners — just announced at MIT — won’t be forced to battle each other for global supremacy, they do represent the top of a sizable pyramid of applicants — nearly 2,500 in all. You can judge for yourself which ones are Brazil and Germany and which are New Zealand and North Korea.

I’ve got information on all the winners below, but first a few observations:

Visuals seem to be this year’s theme: lots of projects about things like mapping, data visualization, video editing, and games inspired by editorial cartoons. Just one winner focuses on the business-model end of the equation (Windy Citizen’s real-time ads).

— This year’s new grants total $2.74 million. That’s up from last year’s total of $1.96 million, but still down substantially from the really big checks Knight was writing in the first two years of the News Challenge ($11.7 million in 2007, $5.5 million in 2008). The number of grantees is also up a bit from 2009 but well below earlier years (26 in 2007, 16 in 2008, 9 in 2009, 12 this year).

But that doesn’t necessarily mean that Knight’s overall commitment has decreased over time. Many of its grants are distributed over multiple years, so some of those early commitments are still being in force.

— Despite extending this cycle’s application deadline in part to encourage more international applicants, the winners are quite domestic — 11 American winners out of 12. In 2008, there were six international winners, and last year there were two projects that, while technically based in the U.S., were internationally focused — Ushahidi and Mobile Media Toolkit. (You could argue that this year’s One-Eight should count as international, since it’s about covering Afghanistan, but through collaboration with the U.S. military. And while Tilemapping will focus on Washington, D.C., a version of its software was used after the Haiti earthquake.)

That said, the deadline extension was also about reaching out for other kinds of diversity, and that happened in at least one way: Knight reports that nearly half of this year’s winners are private companies, up from 15 percent in 2009. That’s despite Knight’s elimination of a separate category for commercial applicants last cycle.

Below are all the winners — congratulations to one and all, and my sympathies to the thousands eliminated along the way. In the coming days, we’ll have profiles of all of the winners and their projects. In the meantime, for context, you can also read all we wrote about last year’s News Challenge and what we’ve written so far about this cycle.

CityTracking

The winner: Eric Rodenbeck of Stamen Design

The amount: $400,000

The pitch: “To make municipal data easy to understand, CityTracking will allow users to create embeddable data visualizations that are appealing enough to spread virally and that are as easy to share as photos and videos. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others. The creators will use high design standards, making the visuals beautiful as well as useful.”

The Cartoonist

The winner: Ian Bogost of Georgia Tech and Michael Mateas of UC Santa Cruz

The amount: $378,000

The pitch: “To engage readers in the news, this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games — the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don’t have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.”

Local Wiki

The winner: Philip Neustrom and Mike Ivanov of DavisWiki.org

The amount: $350,000

The pitch: “Based on the successful DavisWiki.org in Davis, Calif., this project will create enhanced tools for local wikis, a new form of media that makes it easy for people to learn and share their own unique community knowledge. Members will be able to post articles about anything they like, edit others and upload photos and files. This grant will help create the specialized open-source software that makes the wiki possible and help communities develop, launch and sustain local wiki projects.”

WindyCitizen’s Real Time Ads

The winner: Brad Flora of WindyCitizen.com

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “As a way to help online startups become sustainable, this project will develop an improved software interface to help sites create and sell what are known as real-time ads. These ads are designed to be engaging as they constantly change showing the latest message or post from the advertisers Twitter account, Facebook page or blog. Challenge winner Brad Flora helped pioneer the idea on his Chicago news site, WindyCitizen.com.”

GoMap Riga

The winner: Marcis Rubenis and Kristofs Blaus

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To inspire people to get involved in their community, this project will create a live, online map with local news and activities. GoMap Riga will pull some content from the Web and place it automatically on the map. Residents will be able to add their own news, pictures and videos while discussing what is happening around them. GoMap Riga will be integrated with the major existing social networks and allow civic participation through mobile technology. The project will be tested in Riga, Latvia, and ultimately be applicable in other cities.”

Order in the Court 2.0

The winner: John Davidow of WBUR

The amount: $250,000

The pitch: “To foster greater access to the judicial process, this project will create a laboratory in a Boston courtroom to help establish best practices for digital coverage that can be replicated and adopted throughout the nation. While the legislative and executive branches have incorporated new technologies and social media, the courts still operate under the video and audio recording standards established in the 1970s and ’80s. The courtroom will have a designated area for live blogging via a Wi-Fi network and the ability to live-stream court proceedings to the public. Working in conjunction with the Massachusetts court system, the project will publish the daily docket on the Web and build a knowledge wiki for the public with common legal terms.”

Porch Forum

The winner: Michael Wood-Lewis of Front Porch Forum

The amount: $220,000

The pitch: “To help residents connect with others and their community, this grant will help rebuild and enhance a successful community news site, expand it to more towns and release the software so other organizations, anywhere can use it. The Front Porch Forum, a virtual town hall space, helps residents share and discuss local news, build community and increase engagement. The site, currently serving 25 Vermont towns, will expand to 250.”

One-Eight

The winner: Teru Kuwayama

The amount: $202,000

The pitch: “Broadening the perspectives that surround U.S. military operations in Afghanistan, this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves. The troops, recently authorized to use social media while deployed, and their families will be key audiences for the online journal steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback. The approach will directly serve the stakeholders and inform the wider public by bringing in on-the-ground views on military issues and the execution of U.S. foreign policy.”

Stroome

The winner: USC Annenberg’s Nonny de la Peña and Tom Grasty

The amount: $200,000

The pitch: “To simplify the production of news video, Stroome will create a virtual video-editing studio. There, correspondents, editors and producers will be able to upload and share content, edit and remix with friends and colleagues — all without using expensive satellite truck technology. The site will launch as eyewitness video — often captured by mobile phones or webcams — is becoming a key component of news coverage, generating demand for supporting tools.”

CitySeed

The winner: Arizona State’s Retha Hill and Cody Shotwell

The amount: $90,000

The pitch: “To inform and engage communities, CitySeed will be a mobile application that allows users to plant the ’seed’ of an idea and share it with others. For example, a person might come across a great spot for a community garden. At that moment, the person can use the CitySeed app to geotag the idea, which links it to an exact location. Others can look at the place-based ideas, debate and hopefully act on them. The project aims to increase the number of people informed about and engaged with their communities by breaking down community issues into bite-size settings.”

StoryMarket

The winner: Jake Shapiro of PRX

The amount: $75,000

The pitch: “Building on the software created by 2008 challenge winner Spot.us, this project will allow anyone to pitch and help pay to produce a story for a local public radio station. When the amount is raised (in small contributions), the station will hire a professional journalist to do the report. The project provides a new way for public radio stations to raise money, produce more local content and engage listeners.”

Tilemapping

The winner: Eric Gundersen of Development Seed

The amount: $74,000

The pitch: “To inspire residents to learn about local issues, Tilemapping will help local media create hyper-local, data-filled maps for their websites and blogs. Journalists will be able to tell more textured stories, while residents will be able to draw connections to their physical communities in new ways. The tools will be tested in Washington, D.C. Ushahidi, a 2009 Knight News Challenge winner, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps used to crowdsource reports on places needing aid.”

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