Phillip Smith

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:

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.

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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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