Phillip Smith

Stop Yammering and Start Hammering: How to Build a 'Maker Space' for News

Cross-posted from the PBS MediaShift Idea Lab.

Over the next four weeks, a very interesting experiment is going to unfold. The most exciting part about it is that it’s entirely open source: You can observe it, interact with it, and improve it.


We’re calling this experiment the “learning lab.” It’s the second stage of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, which kicked off in May with an online competition that solicited 300 news innovation ideas from people around the globe.

With the competition complete, it’s time put on our mad scientist lab coats and start mixing things up. Our aim is to find an antidote to “yammering” about the future of online news – instead, we want to start building that future today.

Let the experiment begin

At its core, the first learning lab sets out to:

  • Build an online “maker space”: Create a place where people can start hammering out software ideas that could be part of tomorrow’s online news experience.

  • Put our foot on the accelerator: Taking a cue from Mozilla’s Web FWD initiative, we want to dramatically speed up the process of taking ideas “from concept-to-code” by bringing smart people together with other intelligent folks.

  • Demonstrate how to “work open”: Actually showing how the idea of working quickly, iteratively, and in the open can lead to better ideas, improved software and collaboration.

Into the glass beakers and test tubes, we are also going to mix:

Put on your lab coat and help make something

One of the most valuable parts of the Knight-Mozilla partnership is the community that is growing around it – well over 500 people at last count. Bringing that community into the lab is something that we’re striving to do – but we could really use your help here.

Here are just a few of the ways that you can jump in:

  • Compile resources, readings, and follow lists for each weeks’ topics, simply by editing one of the course Etherpads. You’ll find them listed under ‘External links’ on the P2PU course page.

  • Respond to questions from the participants, by keeping an eye on #MozNewsLab on Twitter or

  • Comment on participants’ weekly assignment to ‘think out loud’ about the ideas they are developing

  • Send a ‘message-in-a-bottle’ from your newsroom into the lab: simply shoot a short video (less than 3-minutes, please!) and post it to YouTube tagged with #MozNewsLab and we’ll make sure they see it. Here’s a great example from Jacob, one of the members of our lab faculty team.

Each week we’ll also be profiling the best thinking from the lab on Planet Mojo. We’ll also be posting the lectures – three each week – to the P2PU course page, so you can follow along at home.

We’re working hard to create a MakerCulture in the news production, reporting, and journalism space – so, why don’t you put on your mad scientist lab coat too? All you have to do is suspend your disbelief for the next four weeks, commit to put no limits on your imagination, then pick up a hammer and start hammering.

Cross-posted from the PBS MediaShift Idea Lab. Feel free to comment over on the original post.


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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