The Innovation Project

October 1, 2009

The Knight News Challenge is made up of many diverse and sophisticated entries that contribute to a major area of advancement in both the fields of journalism and technology. From 2007-2009, winners in the Knight News Challenge have received various sums of grant money in order to make their proposal a reality. Several criteria for consideration in the Knight News Challenge include use of digital media, open source availability to users, specific geographical location and impact, and the ability of the idea to create and build communities through communication.  I would like to examine a few of the past winners and see where their strengths and weaknesses lie so that my proposal can implement or avoid certain aspects of these projects.

From the 2009 winners of the Knight News Challenge, the submission known as DocumentCloud is an interesting concept that could prove quite useful for students or reporters doing in-depth research on a particular story or case. The documents presented on DocumentCloud will be original source documents that will be contributed to the site by various news organizations. The sources may also include news bloggers and freelance reporters as well. The goal is to be an open source media outlet that allows not only for submission but also commentary and review. In a way, it works as a worldwide think tank for anyone who wishes to participate.

Another big winner in 2009 was the MediaBugs proposal. This particular website would act as a channel to allow readers and writers to be able to correct or identify errors in existing news stories. This is another example of complete open-sourced media, connecting the story’s author with person who found the error, and thus creating a dialogue about the validity or the importance of the story. This program allows the system to track the status of the story to see if any corrections were necessary, and perhaps most importantly, which news organizations are responsible for the most errors.

In terms of advertising and information, a major winner in 2008 was the Printcasting model. Printcasting is a sort of self-help software for individuals to design and personalize their own news. The person can combine separate news-feeds in a manner that he sees fit; this will help individuals localize their news or have the content tailor-made to complement their hobby or business. The news feed is then sent to their home or place of business electronically. Another big winner from 2008 is the RadioEngage software model that is meant to improve the quality and content of radio news via the internet. Radio broadcasts will be sent out over a news radio station’s website, which will also incorporate transcripts, live streams, video, podcasts and other digital features to enhance the station’s multimedia output.

Everyblock was one of the Knight News Challenge winners for 2007 and is also the recipient of one of the largest sums that the KNC has ever distributed at $1,100,000. The exact premise of Everyblock is stated, “To create, test and release open-source software that links databases to allow citizens of a large city to learn (and act on) civic information about their neighborhood or block.” This continues the trend of linking different sources of information between one another so that a person accessing one portal will, in fact have access to many portals. The largest grant the KNC has ever presented was also given in 2007, to the Center for Future Civic Media, for $5,000,000. The Center is described as “a leadership project designed to encourage community news experiments and new technologies and practices.” The Center was co-founded by one of the primary thinkers of the new web 2.0 journalism, Henry Jenkins. The Center website itself is primarily focused on civic media and community building and acts as a broad-based collection of links to many different citizen journalist projects. The website encourages new startup sites and also welcomes feedback from readers as to what content should be covered in the developing websites.

While many of these websites worked very well at incorporating open-sourced applications and allowing for plenty of reader commentary and feedback, many of them did not provide much localization of their proposal. Several of the entries were incredibly broad in terms of where they wanted their service to be provided. It would be quite difficult for any hyperlocalization to occur under any of these circumstances. The potential audience for MediaBugs and RadioEngage were particularly unclear.

For my project, I would like to create an all-purpose media news outlet whose primary goal was to communicate with the citizens of an area that is not used to quality news coverage on the local level. My hometown of Midland, Texas and neighboring Odessa, Texas was one such area where there was a distinct lack of local coverage. The local news was rarely newsworthy, much of what was found in the newspaper being AP articles or fluff pieces that were used as filler. Equipping the citizenry with the necessary tools and the experience of professional guides, while giving them an online arena to publish in would, I believe, see a drastic improvement in the topics that will most affect the livelihood of the people in the area. Establishing a website with plenty of links to local bloggers and access to each other through social networks such as Facebook and Twitter is also crucial to providing worthwhile content.

Links should be used for other news outlets in the area, but also for any type of national or international coverage that the site may deem relevant. However, since this is a local news organization, the primary focus would be on local coverage. This area of Texas is also close to many small towns in the Big Bend National Park that have a lot of local flavor and are mostly ignored by the news in Midland-Odessa. Coverage of the burgeoning world-class art scene in Marfa and Alpine or the historic rodeo in Pecos is rarely discussed in the larger towns of Midland or Odessa. Allowing plenty of forums for the locals in these areas would hopefully establish more of a diverse presence in the newsroom. This is where the website would greatly benefit from an open source attitude that allows journalists to interact with citizens and vice versa. Feedback would become the lifeblood of this format.

Hopefully this has given you some idea of the approach I would like to take. Primarily, I would like to incorporate a website that uses audio, video, text, podcasts, and social media to enhance user-friendliness. The site could possibly establish chat sessions with various members of the reporting staff and any readers who may be interested. This is an area of the country that desperately needs a new angle on the changing face of news, so bringing the content to them instead of waiting for them to come to it is vital for the survival of real reporting in this area.

What Will Work?

September 22, 2009

In recent years, many journalistic business models have emerged or are currently emerging that many believe will replace currently outdated modes of information gathering. The formation of new models has become necessary in today’s current economic climate, where many prestigious, big-city newspapers are struggling to attract new readers and keep old ones. The future models of the news industry that will be seen in the next few years can be divided into two main categories: business models and reporting models. The business model specifically determines the cost or lack of cost that will be available to customers over the Internet. A reporting or journalistic model refers to the myriad of ways in which the news can be presented online. News agencies will have to make good use of both in order to compete in a technologically advancing age.

The emerging business models that are going into widespread use include a variety of scenarios that each have their own separate pros and cons. In the face of lost revenue due to fewer subscriptions and loss of advertising, many newspapers are contemplating the “pay wall” business model. This business model typically involves existing newspapers charging readers a subscription fee in order to access their online content. The fee is usually charged on a monthly or yearly basis, but some have chosen to just charge a one-time fee for unlimited access to the material. As with many of these models, there are both advantages and disadvantages to consider for the reader and the organization.

Despite the fact that some critics feel that it is impossible to convince readers to pay for online content, many prestigious and big-city market newspapers have found success by charging for online use. In the case of publications like The Wall Street Journal, many readers feel that the content is indispensable and therefore worth the price. Similarly, the major news organizations that are charging for content are offering premium access to a complete package of all of their coverage. While many of these papers have maintained a loyal following, there is still the underlying concern that the sheer abundance of free online content will trump the pay websites at some point in the near future and force them to retract their payment policies. Several papers, such as The New York Times, have already dispensed with their payment system due to public demand.

Another proposed platform for supporting a news website is a system similar to that of NPR or PBS where a single wealthy donor, a group of donors, or the general public take it upon themselves to fund subsidize the cost of independent journalism. This method would theoretically prevent any heavy influence by corporations or other special-interest groups that would seek to affect the content made by journalists. As for content, both PBS and NPR are regularly cited as having some of the best quality reporting of all of the major news outlets. It is reasonable to assume that newspaper-style content in online form would fare just as well.

More and more newspapers are moving their content online.

More and more newspapers are moving their content online.

Within this new sphere of technology and growth, various kinds of reporting models have emerged as a result of the rapid expansion of the internet. Many bloggers have taken up the mantle of “linking”, wherein a website has a relatively small staff who mostly synthesize and categorize content from other sites and mainly act as a conduit to outside resources. Most of the original content for these sites comes from freelance writers and independent contributors. The most prominent sites with this feature include both The Huffington Post and The Daily Beast. These websites provide an aggregate of information on a countless number of topics. Despite their tendency to send people away from their site, these blogs remain immensely popular, as the public will continually return to them for more information.

In stark contrast are specialty blogs such as Politico. Blogs such as these take one particular subject or area of study, be it entertainment, science, politics, sports, or technology, and focus their coverage solely on that topic. These blogs go into great detail and provide an ample of specific information on a variety of subjects. In a similar fashion, many small-town newspapers have found thrived online by creating “hyperlocal” specialized coverage exclusively on the events in that part of the country. In some cases, many small towns are having more success with these particular blogs than they are with their own newspaper, resulting in some eliminating their print version altogether.

In terms of who is doing the reporting, the availability of technology that allows one to record and publish material for public consumption has empowered the citizenry to be its own reporter. This increase in the number of amateur journalists and the increase in the number of freelance professional journalists is a situation that is suited well for the workings of the internet. In some instances, the amateur journalist who is highly proficient in their knowledge of a particular field may be preferable to the professional who must cover a wide variety of topics. Another factor that may empower the citizen journalist is their proximity to an event or an individual, gaining them a level of access that the professional journalist can only dream about.

Personally, I think that a successful system of journalism will incorporate a delicate balance of both professional and amateur journalists, working together to provide the best quality material for the consumer. The availability of the amateur will be well synthesized with the expertise of the professional to provide fast, accurate content. As for the business side, as NPR and PBS have shown, quality journalism need not rely on advertisers nor the incentives of lucrative profit in order to be successful.

A great summary of what the future may hold for journalism and newspapers can be found here in this video featuring Ellen Hume of Boston University: