Phillip Smith

Creating a space for journalism-technology experimentation

At its core, the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership sets out to do three things:

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

We want to encourage experimentation and create the space for new ideas to emerge, and then we want to embed a small number of those experiments -- and the people behind them -- into newsrooms around the globe. Our hope is that some of the experiments take root and grow.

The program is not setting out to solve technology staffing challenges, or to just provide an extra pair of technically-talented hands. That would not be a "fellowship," and it would not have the impact that Mozilla and the Knight Foundation are hoping for. More importantly, the fellowships are only one piece of the larger objective of introducing new thought leadership in the news-technology space.

Mozilla just so happens to have a bit of experience when it comes to great ideas, great people, and great software, and there's a real opportunity here to introduce a bit of the Mozilla MakerCulture into the news-technology space. Specifically, we believe that there are many common "news-technology challenges" that are faced by news organizations of all types and sizes, and it is our belief that successful experiments from this program will result in usable software and ideas that can be implemented almost anywhere.

So, what are those common challenges? That is, indeed, one of the most interesting questions that lies ahead.

One example of the type of challenge that we're hoping to uncover, as well as a powerful illustration of what success could look like, is told in the story of Document Cloud. Looking at the problem of publishing primary-source documents online, a group of programmer-journalists saw an opportunity and set out to solve that challenge. In the process of creating a solution, Document Cloud has engaged a community, built a whole bunch of great open-source software, and -- most importantly -- changed the field. Their software is changing the way news organizations publish primary-source documents, and their thought leadership is changing the way we, as users, interact with, those documents and stories.

We're hoping to bring similar ingredients -- great ideas and great people -- into the Mozilla "Iron Chef" kitchen. Lots of recipes will be tried, lots of messes will be made, and -- in the end -- you will be the judge of what comes out of the oven. If we get it just right, it might be just as tasty as Document Cloud.

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Hi, I'm Phillip Smith, a veteran digital publishing consultant, online advocacy specialist, and strategic convener. If you enjoyed reading this, find me on Twitter and I'll keep you updated.


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