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April 21 2011


A template for successful 'Hack Days.' What are your tips?

“Always be releasing.”

I’m going to be helping with some ‘Hack Days’ later this year for the Knight-Mozilla partnership. One in Berlin in September or October, and another with the Boston Hacks/Hackers chapter during the Online News Association conference.

I’d also like to organize some here in Toronto with our local Hacks/Hackers chapter, and support from the local start-up community, and the media organizations that come out to our event, i.e.: CBC, The Globe & Mail, Postmedia, Global News, OpenFile.ca, and so on.

(Hey, while I’m thinking of it, the Toronto chapter of Hacks/Hackers is pushing toward 300 members — if you haven’t joined yet, why don’t you? It only takes a minute.)

I’ve attended more than a few hack days in my life (or hackathons, code jams, or whatever the kids are calling them now). Let me tell you, in case you don’t already know from experience, that building useful software in 1-2 days with people you don’t know is fucking hard.

That’s why I admire events that have the infrastructure figured out (and I’m not talking about pizza and Jolt cola). Specifically, I’m impressed when they’ve answered the question “how are we going to host these apps, show them off publicly, and make the code available for others to build on?”

It sounds like the recent Buttercamp in NYC did a great job, but they didn’t get 100% of the demos online at the end of the event, and that’s a missed opportunity.

That should be the target that teams strive for, and the eligibility criteria to ‘win’ at the event. Code and demos should be online and visible to the other teams and to the public. Always be releasing.

This must be a solved problem? I’m hoping that there’s a write-up somewhere out there that will be posted in the comments. But, if that’s not the case, here’s what I’m proposing:

  • The event organizers do a fair bit of prep-work in advance to make the above possible. Specifically, by setting up an event-specific Github’organization’ that participants will be added to.

  • There should be a straightforward LAMP-stack Amazon EC2 instance made available for each team, or a bare bones instance that they can set-up with their preferred stack.

  • Each of the public URLs for the instances should be listed, so that teams and organizers can check on progress. Always be releasing. (One could even have fun with a leader board type set-up, e.g., a simple HTML page with a bunch of iframes — one for each teams instance — that reloads their app every minute or so. Same goes for a tally of Github commits by team.)

  • With a bit more planning, organizers could even look into using something like DotCloud — or one of the PaaS providers — or a fancy set-up like this one for Node.js that auto-deploys to the EC2 instance with the ‘git push’ command.

For the finale at the hack day, each team should have to present their work live, via the EC2 instance URL. It should also be required that what’s running on the EC2 is a straightforward ‘git pull’ of the code in their Github repository.

Maybe that’s the suspense-building moment, where the teams — live, in front of an audience — have to run a ‘git pull’ and deploy their app, and then load it in a browser. Oh, the suspense!

That’s how I would add some exponential gnerativity to a hack day. Mark my words, it would work.

UPDATE: While I’m thinking of it, it would also be great if each team had a person willing to live blog, or status update, during the event, to expose the whole process — the challenges, the breakthroughs, and opportunities for others to check out their app.

April 13 2011


What schools offer innovative academic programs that mix journalism and technology?

Cross-posted from help.hackshackers.com.

I’m working to compile a list of academic programs that are experimenting in the news-technology space. The list will be used for outreach around the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership. We’d like to engage as many of the people as possible that have already self-identified as wanting to work at the intersection of journalism, storytelling, and computing — and academic programs are one of six areas that we want to reach out to, i.e.: undergrads, graduate students, or alums of innovative programs.

Some of the more obvious examples of what I’m looking for are programs like Studio 20 at NYU, Medill’s scholarships for programmers, and the new Tow Centre for Digital Journalism at Columbia University. I know there are more — hopefully many, many more — institutions doing this kind of experimentation in an academic setting. Can you help me find them (and not just the ones in North America)?

There’s a good list of journalism programs over on Wikipedia. Perhaps you know that one of them is doing some really innovative work? If so, please leave a comment below with a one-sentence explanation of what they’re doing, and a URL, and I’ll add it to the larger list.

I’m also looking for unusual suspects like the ITP at NYU, or any other programs that are producing potentially journalism-impacting innovations.

Again, suggestions for programs outside of the United States are highly encouraged.

Here’s the current state of the list (with thanks to Justin Arenstein, Brian Loffler, and Ross Settles for non-North American pointers).

Cross-posted from help.hackshackers.com. Feel free to leave a comment here, or on the original post.

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March 15 2011


Help define the Knight-Mozilla News Technology innovation challenges: Let's start with reporting.

Here's the 30-second summary of this post:

  • It's time to put the pedal to the metal and get the first component of the MoJo initiative really moving
  • To do that, we have to narrow down a long list of possible challenges to just three. Those three challenges will be launched publicly in the coming weeks.
  • We've spoken to our news partners; we've spoken to many of those working on the front lines of news innovation; Now it's time to ask you -- the MoJo community, and the Mozilla community -- to weigh in.
  • There are more than 20 ideas in six categories, so I'll be posting each category over the coming days and asking for input
  • If you just want to see the list of ideas discussed today, jump here. If you want the preamble, read on.

Since the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership was announced, the whole team -- Ben, Mark, Nathan, and yours truly -- have been pounding the pavement to gather as much input as possible toward making the challenges relevant for both our initial news partners, and the broader news-producing community.

We've listened on the MoJo community mailing list, reached out through groups like Hacks/Hackers, cornered people at the computer-assisted reporting conference and the Al Jazeera annual forum, and we were on the ground talking to people this week at South by Southwest. To put it simply, we're all ears. (So, if you haven't spoken up, don't say we didn't ask!)

From reporters to news-application developers, from managing editors to news users, we wanted to understand where technology was impacting your experience of news production and consumption -- making it easier, or making it harder; less complex, or more complicated; or providing a glimpse of a possible innovation down the road.

From those conversations, we identified more than twenty reoccurring ideas for possible challenges. Each idea falls roughly into one of six categories of news production:

  • Reporting
  • Presenting
  • Delivering
  • Searching & curating
  • Listening to news users & enabling news users
  • Funding & sustaining news

In the list below, I've done my best to present the essence of the idea that was shared with us, while distilling it down to a couple of sentences. Please keep in mind that these are rough drafts that outline just the kernel of the idea; the selected ideas will be developed into a more comprehensive challenge question.

So, with that said, let's start with "Reporting news."

"Reporting news"

  • Working with data: Reporters are more frequently being presented with data, or having to work with data, as a source for stories. Tools for quickly getting raw data into a workable format, or finding stories within large datasets, are often complex to use, or very new. But data in the hands of the right reporter can be like magic. How can this be solved?

  • Working with sources: Sources, one of the fundamental building blocks of reporting, are changing with technology. Once just a phone call away, sources today are as often a database, programmable API, or a PDF as they are a real person. What are new approaches for managing sources?

  • Crowd-sourced reporting: During the aftermath of events like Hurricane Katrina or the recent earthquake in Japan, aggregating first-hand accounts of the situation on the ground is critical. Once international media attention has subsided, investigations become increasingly challenging. In these situations, gathering data from a network of citizen sources can make all the difference. Tools for this are only starting to exist. What can be developed or improved?

  • Verification: In breaking-news situations, there's often a rush to get the scoop. As new types of sources become more relevant, like micro blogs and social networks, new challenges are introduced into the verification process. How can these news sources be verified and fact-checked in real time?

  • Semantic markup: In many news organizations content-management systems are still a challenge for reporters; getting data into the system can be tedious and time-consuming. As the Web moves toward an increasingly semantic future, how can interfaces be improved to make the addition of semantically-rich data easier, and to make the benefits of adding it more obvious? (And could this be done in the browser, side-stepping the I.T. hurdles presented by corporate CMSs?)

What grabs you from the above, based on your experiences? How would you prioritize these? What ideas would you add to the "Reporting news" category? Which challenge would you want to solve?

Feel free to comment here, or on the MoJo community mailing list (or via whatever medium suits your fancy).

Next up: Presenting news. Stay tuned.

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March 08 2011


MoJo goes to NewsCamp, Part II: How newsroom developers are reinventing the Web

Here's the 30-second summary of this post:

  • Some forward-thinking newsrooms are employing software developers, and these developers are influencing the direction of their news organizations from the inside.
  • At the same time, these "news application developers" often face a number of common challenges. For example, long-standing conservative approaches to information technology in print-first news organizations, and the intensely deadline-driven news cycle.
  • Party due to these challenges, they have limited time to A) work on long-term projects, or B) invest in thinking about how technology will have shaped news in a few years time.

This is another opportunity for the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership. Specifically:

  1. To highlight the amazing work that is already being done -- work that is producing tangible demonstrations of what happens when the Open Web is mixed with journalism, reporting, and news production;
  2. To help with some of the common challenges, which -- in turn -- could help to catalyze field-changing innovations.

If you have a few more minutes, you should check out the three-minute video report back from #NICAR11 that inspired this post. (There's also an earlier video report back from the same event here). Read on for the longer post...

Poster Image [There's an HTML video here--load this post with your open video-enabled browser.]

(Featured in this video are Derek Willis, Andy Boyle, and Michael Corey.)

The great thing about working on this initiative is that so many news organization are already rich with "Maker Culture". For example, a growing number of newsrooms are investing in what is quickly becoming know as the field of "news application development" or "news apps" (a term that covers almost anything from interactive time-lines to searchable online databases), and others go further by putting software developers inside the sausage factory to work along side reporters and editors on new forms of online storytelling.

These teams have produced award-winning, information-rich, stories, powerful data-driven narratives, and they have also been known to produce useful open source software along the way. That open source code, on occasion, finds its way into other amazing open-source software projects, and that is exactly the type of exponential innovation that we're hoping for with MoJo too.

However, the challenges facing news innovation are not insignificant. Starting with rather mundane problems like the limitations of archaic, inflexible, corporate content-management systems or servers that are secured to the point of not being experimentation friendly, and extending all the way to the ever-present question of return on investment -- news app developers are both at the vanguard and staring over a cliff. (For more on this, read Steve Myers' excellent piece.)

But there's another story here too: faced with these challenges, these "of the Web" teams -- like the Internet itself -- route around the problems to get their products into news users' hands, using agile development approaches, open-source frameworks, and cloud-based hosting. More importantly, they demonstrate how to take an idea from napkin sketch to prototype, from prototype to launch, from launch to Web scale, all with limited time and resources. The "learning labs" that we're developing for MoJo will be specifically focusing on helping our participants develop these types of skills.

I hope that the MoJo community can start to think about what resources we have to collectively address some of the types of challenges that Andy and Michael talk about in the video above from the NICAR "Hack Night", challenges like finding examples of prior art, or having a rich enough set of general solutions that can address broad categories of day-to-day newsroom requirements.

Let's start experimenting with how to make exponential innovation in the news-technology space more likely. I hope you'll stick around, or -- better yet -- join in.

March 01 2011


MoJo goes to NewsCamp: A report back from #NICAR11

I woke this morning having just experienced the first eight-hour sleep that I've had since last Wednesday. You see, I'm fresh back from Investigative Reporters & Editors Computer-Assisted Reporting conference and -- as un-sexy as the name of the event sounds -- I can tell you first hand that sleep is not a priority for attendees.

I was there with my "MoJo" hat on, and the thirty-second summary is:

  • 1 twelve-hour travel adventure to get to Raleigh, NC
  • 3 exhausting & informative days of conference sessions & one-on-one conversations with presenters & attendees
  • 10 video interviews
  • 30 pages of handwritten notes
  • 40+ conversations about the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership
  • And, last but not least, only one foot-in-mouth moment (sadly, in front of the venerable Aron Pilhofer - oops!)

On route back from the event, I was corresponding with an activist-journalist friend and she asked "What exactly is 'computer-assisted reporting' anyway?". I'm hoping that this three-minute video summary (please excuse my amateur video editing skills) might give a sense of what the event was all about, even though it does a lousy job of answering that specific question (you can watch the video below, or check it out on YouTube if you're using IE):

Poster Image [There's an HTML video here--load this post with your open video-enabled browser.]

Featured in this video are:

  • Mark Horvit, IRE/NICAR
  • Michelle Minkoff, PBS News
  • Tom Meagher, The Star-Ledger
  • Wendy Norris, Knight Fellow, Stanford
  • Joe Germuska, Chicago Tribune
  • (And cameo appearances by lots of others; see if you can spot yourself.)

More than anything else, this event galvanized a lot of my thinking about long-term potential for the Knight-Mozilla partnership, which I look forward to unpacking over the coming days. It also served to reinforce the theory of change that we're working with, i.e.: open innovation challenges & fellows embedded in news organizations. It has been rare that I've left a three-day conference with more tangible outcomes than that. Kudos to you, #NICAR11.

So, just to wrap things up, I want to offer a big, sincere, "thank you" to all of the people mentioned above and listed below. Each of these generous, wise, souls made time to ask about Knight-Mozilla partnership and to provide valuable input -- from a stolen moment between sessions to a shared meal -- these folks really gave of their time to support Mozilla's foray into the world of journalism. No doubt I've left a few people's names off this list, so I apologize in advance for any errors or omissions (feel free to report them).

  • Bill Allison, Sunlight Foundation
  • Jeremy Ashkenas, DocumentCloud
  • Jan-Morten Bjornbakk, The Norwegian News Agency
  • Andy Boyle, New York Times Regional Media Group
  • Aaron Bycoffe, Sunlight Foundation
  • Sarah Cohen, Duke University
  • Rhiannon Coppin, Data Journalist
  • Mike Corey, California Watch
  • Amanda Cox, The New York Times
  • Kevin Davis, Investigative News Network
  • Chase Davis, California Watch
  • Len De Groot, Knight Digital Media Center
  • Sarah Dorsey, Sunlight Foundation
  • Anders Eriksen, TV 2 Norway
  • Ellie Fields, Tableau Public
  • Jacob Fenton, Investigative Reporting Workshop
  • Richard Gordon, Northwestern University
  • Jacob Harris, The New York Times
  • Jeffrey Heer, Stanford University
  • Amanda Hickman, Document Cloud
  • David Huynh, Google
  • Scott Klein, ProPublica
  • Jennifer LaFleur, ProPublica
  • Jenny 8 Lee, Muckraker & Fire starter
  • Adam Marcus, MIT
  • Amanda Michel, ProPublica
  • Maggie Mulvihill, New England Center for Investigative Reporting
  • Anupama Narayanswamy, Sunlight Foundation
  • Mark Ng, Cronkite School at Arizona State University
  • Grant Smith, The Commercial Appeal
  • Matt Stiles, Texas Tribune
  • Jonathan Stray, Associated Press
  • James Turk, Sunlight Labs
  • Eric Ulken, Seattle Times
  • Matthew Waite, University of Nebraska
  • Kevin Webb, Open Plans
  • Derek Willis, The New York Times
  • Chrys Wu, Matchstrike
  • Lindsay Young, Sunlight Foundation
  • Also in attendance were two familiar faces from the Toronto chapter of Hacks/Hackers: Allison Martell & Tim Groves.

Once again, thanks everyone.

P.S. Stay tuned for a video from the all-night "hack-a-thon," featuring Andy Boyle, Mike Corey, and Derek Willis.

February 23 2011


Six questions about semantic data and news innovation

If there is no clear guidance on essential building blocks of the open Web, like rich semantic data, and every organization is left to draw their own conclusions, I ask myself, Is this the fertile ground where innovation takes root?

I've started interviewing our news partners in an effort to sketch the outlines of the first series of news-technology innovation challenges. There are a number of consistent themes emerging in these conversations: mobile & new devices, large datasets & presenting data in useful ways, HTML5 video & audio, and so on. The theme that I'm most curious about today is semantic data, and the question of what standards are going to lead to the most new, and interesting, innovations, e.g.: microformats, or microdata, or RDFa, or...

Specifically, I'm interested in asking:

  • What would it take to see a move toward one standard for semantic data on the open Web?
  • Would a broad adoption of one standard make new innovations more likely?
  • Is the choice of a standard simply an issue of matching project needs to the features provided by the standard, thus validating the necessary of several different options?

This curiosity stems from my excitement for the HTML5 specification and the aspirations it sets for the future of the open Web: bendable, programmable, and accessible (in other words, awesomesauce). It's also exciting because people are actually working with what is available from the HTML5 specification today -- it's not only possible, but practical. However, there is very little guidance provided (currently) on how to implement semantic data in the HTML5 universe.

From my (admittedly cursory) investigation, the situation exists because the HTML5 community hasn't agreed on the "one true way" to implement semantic data (perhaps that's not a realistic possibility). There are at least three competing semantic data standards that seem to frame the debate:

Last week I read on the Microformats blog that Facebook added hCalendar and hCard microformats to millions of events. This type of scenario is a good example of what I was referring to last week when I wrote about the decisions that news organizations are making today, and what impact those decisions could have on the future of the Web, e.g.:

  • On one side of the Internet seesaw (also known as a teeter-totter) are companies like Facebook, Twitter, Google that have the massive "weight" of large user communities and immense volumes of data;
  • On the other side are news organizations. News organizations that still have, I would argue, equivalent weight in terms of their reach, attention, and the trust they've earned over time.

So what happens if one side moves to the other? Or -- if that doesn't happen -- which side will be the first to convince a majority of developers to hop on their end and change the balance?

For example, the BBC has already made significant investments into RDF and actively advocate for other organizations to embrace Linked Data. Other news organizations are, no doubt, using Microdata and hoping to leverage Google's ability to turn that data into "rich snippets" that drive traffic. More still, and this is my point, are probably sitting on the fence waiting to see what happens.

So, as I rush to make my next connection on route to Raleigh, I'll finish off this post with these questions:

  • How can the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership play a role here? (And should it?)
  • What are the opportunities to work with news organizations, and the broader news innovation community, to explore the far edges of possibility for a semantically-rich Web?
  • Would broad adoption of an open standard for semantic data by large news organizations create new opportunities for innovation that have not been explore thoroughly yet?
  • Would this be the type of challenge that would pique your curiosity, and -- possible -- entice you to get involved?

If you have thoughts on the matter, speak up or drop me a line. :)

February 15 2011


The Web is changing, and we are changing with it

"The Web is changing, and we at the PBS Newshour are changing with it through experiments like these." - Hari Sreenivasan, PBS Newshour.

Mozilla's trajectory toward media, news, and journalism is not new. Recent experiments -- like collaborations with PBS Newshour to add a layer of analysis to the recent State of the Union, or enabling the New York Times Lede blog to embed crowd-sourced translations of an interview with Egyptian protester, Wael Ghonim -- are just the tip of the iceberg.

Back in the summer of 2009, Mozilla quietly got to work on Drumbeat as a way to encourage millions of people to act as stewards of the open Web by explaining and protecting the Internet as a critical public asset. Just a short time later, Drumbeat has helped to grow some critical pieces of the puzzle, like Processing.js, Universal Subtitles, and Web Made Movies / Popcorn.js.

Here's a quick run-down of each and some thoughts on their catalytic potential when mixed with news, journalism, and public media:

  • Processing.js: is a port of the Processing Visualization Language to JavaScript. The initial heavy lifting was done by none other than John Resig (the person behind so many great JavaScript projects, like JQuery) and has subsequently been pushed toward 1.0 by students at Seneca College here in Toronto with the support of Mozilla. As news organizations continue to build out their skills in data journalism and information visualization, it is open-source and Web-first tools like Processing.js and Protivis that will make these efforts available across a variety of devices and platforms.

  • Universal Subtitles: Launched in 2010, this is an ambitious project to make it possible for almost anyone to subtitle almost any online video -- enabling people to communicate with each other across language barriers. In a short period of time, Universal Subtitles has been adopted by organizations like Wikipedia, the Khan Academy, and -- most recently -- is being found on sites like the New York Times Lede blog. This last example shows the opportunity for news organizations, as the Internet facilitates access to a more global audience, to engage more people in the work of making information broadly available.

  • Web Made Movies / Popcorn.js: Last but far from least, I wanted to highlight the amazing work of Bret and the team working on Web Made Movies. Web Made Movies, is an open video laboratory researching the intersection of video and the Web and Popcorn.js is one of its first products. Popcorn.js enables publishers to add a rich layer of semantic data to online videos. I can imagine the example referenced above -- the PBS coverage of the State of the Union -- extended to large public media archives, or used for near-live events like the ongoing state senate coverage done by upstarts like The Uptake.

These three technologies alone have the potential to liberate volumes of online video from a closed-format prison, and -- instead -- to enshrine video as a first-class citizen of the open Web: searchable, semantically rich, and -- thus -- interactive.

I share this with you because I want everyone to have a context for the type of state-change that Mozilla is thinking about in the media ecosystem. The examples above are just the beginning: when I had the chance to sit down with Ben Moscowitz last week -- Ben's the new Chief of Cat-herding for Drumbeat "media" projects -- he was quick to point out that there is a lot more in the Drumbeat pipeline for media, like Hyper Audio, OpenAttribute and Privacy Icons, not to mention the amazing line-up of no-cost, peer-led, courses for anyone -- including journalists -- at the School of Webcraft.

To summarize, Mozilla is hard-core committed to playing in the media space. The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is feeds into this commitment, and will push it further than we can imagine today. If you can also imagine a fun, generative, future for Media, Freedom, and the Web, I hope that you'll take a moment to get involved.

P.S. Here's a quick example of Universal Subtitles that Ben, Nathan, and I put together last Friday that attempts to explains the "MoJo" project for Mozillians in under four minutes.

Poster Image Sorry, your browser doesn't support HTML video.

February 08 2011


Knight, Mozilla Partner to Boost Tech-Journalism Collaboration

I'm excited to announce the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, a Mozilla Drumbeat project supported by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation's Journalism Program.

For the next three years, we will have the opportunity to engage a huge community, bring people together for trainings and in-person events, and ultimately build software and thought leadership to address the challenges that news organizations are facing today.

We'll be working with some amazing news partners: BBC, Boston.com, The Guardian, and Zeit Online, who are launching the partnership with us, and many more who we will invite to join the initiative.

If you're excited about the challenges and opportunities facing journalism, we want you to be part of this: If you're interested, please join the project mailing list.

We are creating a major new opportunity for the growing community of news innovators, sometimes called news hackers. Every phase of the partnership, from the innovation challenges to our online courses and in-person news hacking events, will help participants learn, network and build a community around their interests, develop their careers, and take leadership at the intersection of news and technology.

Over the course of the partnership, we'll be awarding at least 15 year-long fellowships to participants who demonstrate passion, great ideas and collaborative skills. This fellowship cohort might include software developers, user experience designers and statisticians. We're open to many types of candidates. The fellows will be embedded within the news partner organizations, where they will work side-by-side with newsmakers, producing experimental news applications based on open-source, open-web technologies.

In the coming months, as we get the partnership going, I will be sharing more of our thinking, announcing new partners, and so on. In the next few weeks, we'll be asking some big questions that will help to refine the plan for the project.

We're aiming to formally launch the program with a design challenge in the spring -- aimed at finding great ideas, and great people -- so, if you haven't already, please join the project mailing list and follow along with our thinking on the project wiki.

Also check out the Knight Foundation's blog post here and a post from our news innovation consultant, Phillip Smith, here.

I will be writing about the project extensively here on Idea Lab and at my site: www.nathanieljames.org. Let us know what you think of the idea in the comments.

September 28 2010


July 29 2010


Hacks/Hackers and Mozilla want to know: How should we structure an online curriculum for journalists and technologists to learn together?

Hacks/Hackers, Mozilla, the Medill School of Journalism, The Media Consortium, and others are teaming to develop a solid six-week online curriculum that will benefit both "hacks" and hackers.

To make this work, we need feedback from both journalists and programmers on the questions:

  • What topics should be covered?
  • Would you be interested in helping to teach a topic?

Read on for more context, or just jump to the topic suggestions posted below as answers and add your vote, or -- better yet -- ideas.

Quick background

As some of you in the this community may have read, Hacks/Hackers and Mozilla are teaming up to run a six-week peer-to-peer course for "hacks" and hackers. The overall theme of the course will be "Open Journalism on the Open Web," and -- being a peer-to-peer course that is all about "open" -- we need your input and involvement to make the course a success.

As part of Mozilla's ongoing work to keep the web open, we've been supporting a number of exciting education projects through the Mozilla Drumbeat initiative & Peer-to-Peer University (P2PU). Two great examples are the School of Webcraft course -- the ultimate environment in which to learn the craft of open and standards-based web development. -- and the recent Digital Journalism course with Joi Ito of the Keio Graduate School of Media Design.

Course format

Each week the course will focus on a different topic, and each week the participants will be joined by a different subject-matter expert from the field of news innovation. The weekly course readings, online participation, and a seminar are expected to require roughly 4-6 hours.

The topics that we've outlined to date are posted below as answers to this question. Please give them a vote up / vote down to let us know what you think, or -- better yet -- add your own answers.

We also want to know:

  • Courses you want: If you were running the show (and you are!), what topics would you want to see covered?
  • Courses you want to teach: Did I mention that this is a peer-to-peer course? Seriously, what topics are you a subject-matter expert on? Would you be willing to be part of our teaching team?

We need your help to make this happen. Please take a moment to vote on the answers posted below, or comment with your ideas. (Please also indicate your interest in attending, volunteering, or teaching.)

We're hoping to run a pilot course in September, so it would be great to have your quick comments as soon as possible.

Many thanks in advance for your input.

(On behalf of Mozilla)

June 28 2010


Free Online Journalism Classes Begin To Gain Ground

news21 small.jpg

Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

The CEO of Creative Commons, Joi Ito, is currently teaching a free online journalism class through Peer 2 Peer University, an online community of "open study groups for short university-level courses." The online class syncs with a graduate-level class Ito teaches at Keio University in Japan, and features a UStream presentation and IRC chat once a week.


IRC chat? Yes, the class glues together tools like UStream and IRC, and the platform, which was built on a Drupal base, continues to evolve. P2PU's organizers make it clear they know the tools aren't perfect, so they're using feedback from participants to refine things as they go.

I joined the class at the last minute. The New York Times had written about P2PU in April, as well as other open learning communities outside of traditional institutions. I stumbled across the article while searching the word "edupunks."

A Proposal

The concept of providing coaching outside of traditional educational institutions has fascinated me for close to a year. I'm focused on how professional journalists can share their knowledge with new creators of online content, be they "citizen journalists," neighborhood activists or seasoned newspaper people working on building online skills.

In the fall, I submitted a Knight News Challenge proposal for an online class, 260 Open, with face-to-face components. Students would have been required to produce coverage of civic events, and experienced journalists would have edited their work closely. The concept was designed to not only spread civic knowledge, media literacy and strong journalism skills, but also to increase the amount of news coverage in particular communities.

moodle-logo.gifI proposed that the class use Moodle, an open source learning management system that has been adopted for institutional use in many places, including the University of North Carolina at Charlotte and Central Piedmont Community College. (In the end, I didn't receive a News Challenge grant.)

Then, in May, I pitched the concept at the news entrepreneur boot camp held at the Knight Digital Media Center at the University of Southern California. One strength of that pitch was that many others at the boot camp are building news organizations with educational components to broaden the capacity of communities to help cover their own news.

What I needed, though, was a proven business model with customers who can pay.

Certainly, many large media companies are seeking help from their respective communities in covering the news, and the need exists to improve skills in communities that have lost local news coverage. But finding actual paying customers willing to support classes for the public good is a tough nut to crack. As large companies rush to create content to wrap around new online local ads for small businesses, though, perhaps the business model will become clearer.


In contrast, P2PU isn't focusing on the business model at the moment. Instead, organizers are building a community, refining tools and experimenting. That's inspiring.

P2PU co-founder Jan Philipp Schmidt explains the concept of the online school:

In fact, Mozilla teamed up with Hacks & Hackers in a collaboration launched at Knight's recent Future of News and Civic Media conference to use P2PU to allow programmers to teach journalists and journalists to teach programmers. Mozilla and P2PU are also launching the School of Webcraft, with a call for course proposals by July 18.

P2PU's current journalism class has shown me that perhaps it's possible to just start, with imperfect tools, even before funding or business models are clear.

In Charlotte, where I'm based, media folks have demonstrated a commitment to peer coaching and support with some journo/bloggers meetups. We just started holding them, with little regard to organizational structure. David Cohn of Spot.Us showed up via Skype for one meeting.

P2PU shows that possibilities exist. It demonstrates the power of asynchronous communication and online tools for learning, as students in Japan go to class at 9 a.m. on a Monday and I listen and watch at 8 p.m. on a Sunday, at the same time. It's quite a time shifter, right out of "Harry Potter."

What's Next

What I'd like to see next: Take the concept to local communities, with tools that individuals can use to easily create independent, civic journalism courses. Those classes could be augmented with local meetups to strengthen ties and build strong networks. Local journalists familiar with the civic and social nuances of particular communities would add unmatched value.

Perhaps there's a business model in there somewhere. But, more importantly, the concept provides more tools for journalists to share knowledge and perhaps help sustain themselves as teachers and coaches, while broadening the capacity for communities to tell their own stories.

Maybe we can make it so. What do you think?

Andria Krewson is editor for two community sections of the McClatchy-owned Charlotte Observer in Charlotte, N.C. She is @underoak on Twitter.

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Education content on MediaShift is sponsored by Carnegie-Knight News21, an alliance of 12 journalism schools in which top students tell complex stories in inventive ways. See tips for spurring innovation and digital learning at Learn.News21.com.

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June 21 2010


Hacks/Hackers, Mozilla team up for Peer-to-Peer course

One of the standing features of Knight’s Future of News and Civic Media conference is an award for collaborations that arise during the conference. And one winner this year was Hacks/Hackers — the journalists-and-programmers Meetup-group-turned-veritable-movement — and Mozilla, the open-source-oriented nonprofit. Together, the two groups will create a course through Peer-to-Peer University, with the aim of collective eduction: the hackers teaching the journos, and vice versa.

“We thought this was a perfect fit with Hacks and Hackers,” says Burt Herman, the group’s founder. “We have journalists teaching technology people about what that is, and the technology people teaching journalists.” The class fits in perfectly with that mission, he told me. “I think everybody is coming more and more to the realization that you need both sides of this to make something that works. It’s about great reporting, great writing, photos, video, content — coupled with amazing technology and innovation to help reporting and to present this to audiences.”

The class will be a six-week commitment, with one hour a week of lectures and one project. It will cover a broad range of topics, and instructors will (tentatively) include NYT interactive guru and Hacks/Hackers honcho Aron Pilhofer, Amanda Hickman (teaching about mapping), and David Cohn (instructing students on online collaboration). “And we’ve talked to a bunch of other Knight News Challenge winners about doing classes each week on data journalism, on online collaboration, on new business models for news,” Herman says. So “we’re looking forward to getting some interesting people…doing some training things. Which people have definitely asked for — on both sides.”

So what’s the ultimate goal — of the course, and of Hacks/Hackers more broadly? “The vision for Hacks and Hackers is to go beyond just Meetups, and to have people collaborating and doing things,” Herman says. (See, for example, last month’s KQED Hackathon, through which developer/journo teams built 12 new iPad apps in a period of 48 hours.) “Maybe people start companies out of these collaborations, maybe this is where new news organizations are born, or ideas that can help feed innovation,” Herman says. “Because it’s sort of outside any one news organization, that means we have the freedom to do what we want to — and that’s really what you need to innovate.”

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