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Five lessons for media innovators

Five lessons for media innovators

Nicole Martinelli | September 06, 2012

When yesterday's tweet is today's newspaper headline, journalists and news organizations need to evolve quickly.

To help spur this change, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation launched its Knight News Challenge in 2006 to reward new ideas for gathering, sharing and using local news and information.

Knight Foundation documented the successes and hiccups that nine News Challenge winners faced on the road to rebooting journalism in a new report. (A .PDF of the 41-page report is available here.)

Here are IJNet's takeaways:

Find a real need and fill it. Understand and identify the real challenges that journalists and news organizations face. The report highlights the fate of two projects that were both valid ideas, but showed how one filled a need and the other didn't.

Success story DocumentCloud provides a digital solution to the question of how to make sense of the piles of source documents journalists accumulate while investigating stories. The online open source database proved a hit with news organizations; more than 300,000 documents have been uploaded by 1,844 individual active user accounts in more than 600 organizations, according to the report.

On the other hand, Mediabugs, which publicly documents errors in the news, had "tremendous difficulty" gaining traction. "Some news organizations that already had an in-house corrections policy felt MediaBugs offered a solution to a question that they had already answered," the report said.

Remember the end user. Ushahidi is a platform that collects, visualizes and maps citizen reports from the web, SMS, Twitter and email. People have used it to monitor elections in Sudan, Mexico, India and Afghanistan and to map crisis situations after earthquakes in Haiti, New Zealand and Japan. Some users without consistent or high-bandwidth Internet had difficulty uploading reports, and the platform requires technical expertise to install, launch and maintain that many users didn't have. Developing a "light" version and community outreach training helped bridge those gaps.

Don't always start from scratch. Instead of developing all-new material, the VIDI data visualization project piggybacked off the Google Visualization API, which displays basic charts such as line, pie and bar graphs, to its open-source Drupal content management system. "This allowed the Data Visualization team to leverage the dynamism of both the Google and Drupal communities and pull them together to form a greater support network for their code," the report noted.

Gain trust. "Scratching an immediate itch encouraged greater adoption," the report noted. DocumentCloud first let reporters upload and annotate files privately, then go public with them. Once journalists trusted DocumentCloud to share materials privately, they became more comfortable going public.

Cultivate evangelists. Newsrooms need to evolve, but often resist change, presenting a challenge for innovators. DocumentCloud found an internal advocate with Brian Boyer, then news applications editor at the Chicago Tribune. Boyer also acted as as a troubleshooter helping other media organizations address questions about the platform. "Having internal advocates that can bridge the cultural gap between innovations and their target audience and provide quick and easy technical support for potential adopters is a great asset for any project," the report said.

The Knight News Challenge is currently accepting applications for innovative ideas about mobile news. The deadline for applications is September 10.

Image courtesy Knight Foundation.

Comments

Great synthesis!!

Nicole - thank you for capturing the insights from the report. I think you've done a great job summarizing the key points. It's better than our own synthesis! Mayur Patel, Knight Foundation

Thanks so much, Mayur! Being

Thanks so much, Mayur! Being based in San Francisco, I'm always looking out for lessons on what works and the report was chock full of ideas... cheers Nicole