Phillip Smith

10+ reasons to enter the Knight-Mozilla news innovation challenge

A handful of recent conversations, some public, some private, have uncovered that the incentives for getting involved in the Knight-Mozilla challenges are not as clear as they could be.

I sat down with Matt last week to try and hammer out some copy for the new site that focused on the incentives, but – oddly – that copy didn’t actually make it onto the site.

I’m a bit stubborn, and I kinda’ think that answering the questions “Why should I care?” and “What’s in it for me?” are important in the context of what the initiative is trying to accomplish, so in the interest of time & efficiency, I’ll just steal that missing Website text and re-use it here. :)

So, here’s the skinny on what’s in it for you to take part in the Knight-Mozilla challenges:

  1. Take your news-technology idea from napkin sketch to specification to working prototype, with Mozilla’s help. That is the core of what we’re trying to make happen over the next six months. We want to help you make your idea better, more clearly defined, and – most importantly – prototyped. We have a bunch of steps to make that happen. It all starts by entering a challenge.

  2. Put your best ideas in front of the people shaping online journalism’s future. Your challenge entry is a chance to say “Hey, I’ve really been thinking deeply about this,” or “I have an idea that is just screaming to be tested in the real world.” It’s also your chance to put your idea in front of an amazing community, other challenge participants, and – finally – a panel of whip-smart judges. Roughly sixty people who submit challenge entries will be invited to participate in what we’re calling a ‘Learning Lab.’

  3. Rub virtual shoulders with some of the Web’s leading luminaries, like Christian Heilmann, Burt Herman, Aza Raskin, John Resig, and many more. The learning lab is a four-week intensive online workshop aimed at pushing your idea one step further toward a working prototype. Each week, guest lecturers will wax poetic on how to take an idea from the drawing board to working demo. Our expectation is that participants will finish the lab with a blueprint for taking their idea to the next level. Roughly twenty participants will be invited to come together and use that blueprint to build a prototype.

  • Get flown to Berlin for a face-to-face prototype-building event with some of the world’s leading news app developers. This is where the rubber hits the road. We bring you and nineteen of your learning lab peers together for a ‘Hack Day’ (probably more than one day, actually) to build a prototype in record time. You’ll ‘hack’ side-by-side with other passionate designers, developers, and creative people of all stripes, in a hard-core endurance race to get a working demonstration of your idea finished and ready to present publicly by the end of the event. Hack day winners – everyone who presents a working demo – will be highlighted at the 2011 Online News Association conference in September, where the online news community converges to discuss the future of online news.
  1. The ‘big prize’: spend a year evolving your ideas in one of the world’s most prestigious newsrooms as a paid Knight-Mozilla fellow. A few short weeks after the in-person event, five individuals will be invited to become a Knight-Mozilla fellow.

What is a fellow? What does a fellowship entail? Great questions.

Practically speaking, fellows receive a stipend equivalent to a full-time salary, plus generous supplements for housing, childcare and health insurance as well as moving and research/equipment expenses. Fellows also get a desk one of the world’s most prestigious newsrooms, with access to some of the world’s best journalists, editors, and news app developers.

More than that, fellows are dubbed as Knights of the Idea Table, deputized to carry out brave missions, and to lead an army of awesome into the battlefield of ideas. (Okay, that’s more than a little bit corny.)

On a more serious note, being a fellow means:

  • A year to ponder deeply about the ideas that will shape the future of journalism & the open web
  • A year to sketch, mock-up, prototype, and demonstrate those ideas in action
  • A year to do research, conduct interviews, and organize events that bring thought-leaders together to discuss the nexus of the open web & journalism
  • A year to collaborate with four other Knight-Mozilla fellows, and the Knight & Mozilla communities at large
  • A year to soak up the newsroom experience, and to work with leading newsmakers on the big, pie-in-the-sky, ideas that might never get to see the light of day otherwise

If I wasn’t already working on the project, I would have just convinced myself to submit a challenge entry.

How about you? Convinced? If not, let me know what kind of incentives would get your attention when we run the challenge again next year.


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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