Final MoJo Challenge: People-Powered News

Over the past few weeks, the Knight Foundation and Mozilla have been running a series of news innovation challenges. The goal: get the world’s smartest hackers, designers, and tech-saavy journalists thinking about how news organizations can harness the open web.

The first challenge was all about “unlocking video“—bringing the best qualities of the web to the staid medium of news video. The second was about “going beyond comment threads“—using open web technology to create more dynamic spaces for news discussion.

Today, submissions are open for the final news innovation challenge. The topic: harnessing the power of the web to make news better for the people who create and read it. Of course, there’s a twist—you can only use open web technologies. That means no Flash, iOS, or any other proprietary SDKs.

How do we get data, reporting and local knowledge into the hands of users, wherever they are, no matter what devices and platforms they’re using? This is an open-ended opportunity to share your world-shattering news innovation concept. You could end up with a paid fellowship to work on this problem inside Al Jazeera, the BBC,, the Guardian, or Zeit Online.

The Open Web Opportunity

For this challenge, we’re looking for your most revolutionary ideas. How can we harness the open web—the technologies, the connections, and the people—to make news better for the people who create and read it? What should a news website look like in 2011 and beyond?

We’re not talking about infographics, mashups, or interface tweaks. We’re not talking about solving corporate IT problems. We’re talking about reaching right into the core of journalistic endeavors and hacking the system. As Matt Waite writes at the Nieman Journalism Lab:

All this talk about a digital future, about moving journalism onto the web, about innovation and saving journalism is just talk until developers are allowed to hack at the very core of the whole product.

And as Stijn Debrouwere writes,

The news industry needs to start thinking about journalism in terms of information and the myriad ways in which we can present that information to our readers.

The open web offers unique, as-yet untapped advantages to journalists. New types of newsgathering, new types of presentation, new types information and engagement. As our own Phillip Smith writes,

Many news organizations are still thinking about innovation (as pointed out frequently on [the MoJo community] list) through the lens of corporate IT… there needs to be a radical shift toward thinking about news as a problem of creating successful consumer Internet experience vs. filling column inches or news holes, press deadlines, and delivery trucks. That is where the innovation and potential lies, I would propose, not in a re-arrangement of the chairs on the deck of the corporate IT Titanic inside of news organizations.

For the final MoJo challenge, we’re looking to you for this kind of radical thinking. We want to work with you to develop new technologies to inform, educate, and elighten. We think that participation is the key. And we think journalism can learn a lot from the open web here.

Some Examples

In all our dicsussions during the first months of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, a few themes keep emerging. Here’s some ideas to get your brain spinning:

1. People-powered curation and editing. Instead of putting curation and editing in the hands of a single indidvidual, what would it look like to put it in the hands of many people? From sources and experts to those directly impacted by the story. Like a “Storify” for the people. What kinds of tools could be put in the hands of young people in the midst of a popular uprising to help tell their story?

2. Visualizing how stories evolve online. Where does a story start and end? What are the people involved in the story saying, and what are reporters and other trusted sources saying? How does that relationship, and the story, evolve over time and by geography? How can we give journalists and readers a context that goes beyond a single moment, site or page?

3. Interfaces that balance real-time information with deeper context. News organizations are struggling to find the right balance between the presentation of breaking news and more in-depth ‘explainers.’ And the larger challenge of making it all mean something. What possiblities open up when you bring ‘the people formerly known as the audience’ and new user interfaces into the mix?

4. Crowd-sourced verification and fact-checking. In breaking news situations, there’s often a rush to get the scoop. As new types of sources become more relevant, like micro blogs and social networks, new challenges are introduced into the verification process. How can these news sources be verified and fact-checked in real time with the help of people outside news organizations? What workflows would you build?

5. Community rewards and incentives. How can news publishers create “better readers,” readers that are more engaged and that provide quality contributions? What would rewards and incentives achieve on their own, and in the context of the many ways news organizations seek to involve readers across issues and across sites? Think of this as “Badges for news participation.”

These five areas exemplify problems that the web is uniquely suited to solve. Of course, there are many more challenges and opportunties in news the web can tackle—it’s up to you to define and propose them.

We’re not looking for marginal improvements that orbit legacy technologies like content management systems. We’re looking for ways to foster more participation in the important local, national, and global issues of the day. We’re looking for compelling news experiences, for journos and readers alike (after all, that distinction is blurring every day).

Mozilla focuses on those point where the Internet and people come together. That’s where this challenge lies as well: the place where news & people come together on the Internet. So, let’s hear your ideas!

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