What should the Knight News Innovation Lab focus on in year one?


The Knight Lab has a generous four year funding stream to do work in the overlap of journalism and engineering. What should they do with it?

Options include:

  1. build new tools
  2. catalog, case study, and rate existing tools (Knight funded, perhaps)
  3. build platforms for others to build tools (contests, forums, hackathons etc)
  4. work to implement/improve existing tools in new settings
  5. lay low, build relationships and listen for a while
  6. connect resources to needs (students to newsrooms, for instance)
  7. facilitate newsrooms to make better tech decisions
  8. ???

…or some combination of the above. What are your thoughts?





Their self description:

“Responding to the critical need for dramatic improvements in the digital tools used by journalists and community news and information providers, Northwestern University and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation have created the Knight News Innovation Laboratory at Northwestern.

The Knight News Innovation Laboratory will develop both existing and new digital technologies aimed at better informing and serving local communities and work to deploy them in partnership with a wide variety of media enterprises. In doing so, the Innovation Lab will work with developers and media organizations to craft ways to make these technologies best fit their needs and those of their communities.

The overall goal of the Knight News Innovation Laboratory will be to dramatically accelerate the deployment and adoption of new media and information technologies to inform local communities, and to foster the development of communities of innovation. As part of this effort, the Innovation Lab will create an ecosystem of innovation and development in partnership with local media organizations and nurture a set of self-sustaining communities built around the relationships among these organizations, the developers involved in innovating for them, and the technologies themselves.”

Tags: asked March 8, 2011

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2 Answers


The Knight News Challenge already leads to the creation of enough new tools. The issue is that only a few of these make it big (like DocumentCloud and Ushahidi). I think the Innovation Lab should go through past projects, pick those that are most valuable/promising, and figure out what it will take to increase adoption. So 2 and 4 above ("catalog, case study, and rate existing tools" and "work to implement/improve existing tools in new settings"). Unlike the other options, this is not something anyone else will do, but it is something worth doing.

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+1 on James McKinney's Nos. 2 & 4. What's needed are efforts to drive these tools down into the news organizations where the one or two Web folk wear about four different hats (newsroom support - content creator - developer - respond to over-the-transom reader inquiry - sysop, etc.)

A worthy model is the EveryBlock -> OpenBlock Project. It's my casual observation that the Open Block people have done loads of great work, with more still to come.

And in cases where the implementation can be done in sort of a SaaS/Web site, such as DocumentCloud.org, than that's a good thing too.

The ultimate fantasy is great tools that can be had with as little as a sudo apt-get install and/or sudo pip install -r requirements.txt

  1. I’m with you both.

    For the “new news” media, I think SUDO GET is too high a bar. Think community blogs, nonprofit organizations, ad hoc reporting networks. For them, it’s usually a hosted Web application with impeccable usability and design, or nothing at all.

    To that point, I think the lab could contribute greatly by transitioning good platforms to really good products in a way that honors the contributions of the people who got them started. Ushahidi > Crowdmap. WordPress.org > WordPress.com. There are plenty of examples to choose from.

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