Catching Up With The Future of News

I recently attended the Future of News and Civic Media conference at MIT. One theme throughout the multi-day conference focused on the convergence of local online journalism experiments with open government initiatives, and on the larger implications for community action in a era of data-driven knowledge.

Photo by Teddy Link

The MIT conference brought together winners of the Knight Foundation’s News Challenge program (past and present), researchers affiliated with MIT (myself included), as well as others who are working at the intersection of journalism and technological innovation. Videos of the Plenary sessions Crowd building and Data Into Action are now online. The event also announced the 2010 News Challenge winners.

They include:

  • Stamen Design, which will create CityTracking an initiative that will make municipal data easier to access by allowing users to create embeddable data visualizations. The dynamic interfaces will be appropriate to each data type, starting with crime and working through 311 calls for service, among others.
  • Tilemapping, created by Development Seed, will help local media create hyper-local, data maps for their websites and blogs while also allowing citizens to draw connections to their physical communites in new ways. [Ushahidi, whose leadership team includes PopTech Social Innovation Fellows Erik Hersman and Ory Okolloh, used a prototype after the earthquake in Haiti to create maps that were used to crowdsource reports in places needing aid.]

In addition to the News Challenge winners, another Knight initiative was announced, this one a partnership with OpenPlans. Called OpenBlock, this project will further develop, an earlier Knight-funded journalism experiment that tied public records, news stories, and other data to city neighborhoods, by simplifying the project’s source code to make it easier for news organizations to adopt the technology. [OpenPlans is also part of a collaborative effort called Open311 that is working to create a standardized, open-access model for citizens to report on non-emergency issues.]

These projects, like the rest of the conference, suggest the degree to which the early enthusiasm for small scale innovation has been joined by conversations on fostering stable, coherent best practices and on replicating these practices across multiple domains and at scale. Such questions also confront the distinctions between the informal crowdsourced peer production, and more expert-forms of peer-production, and what each might have to offer each other in building projects from the ground up.

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