Stepping Up the Pace of Innovation

By Jan Schaffer

Posted on September 15, 2010  |  Blogically Thinking

The level of creativity was dizzying at this year's Knight-Batten Awards for Innovations in Journalism. And the winners are already taking their prize-winning ideas to the next level:

  • Ushahidi is moving towards making its platform - so critical to Haiti's earthquake relief efforts - easier for anyone to deploy on the ground.
  • The other winner that harnessed simple mobile phones, WNYC's The Takeaway, has stepped beyond its rapid prototyping experiments in Detroit and Miami and invited people to text their experiences with the Sept. 14 paper ballot in New York.
  • PolitiFact.com is taking its platform to the state level, with regional news organizations in six states using it to truthsquad promises by state officials.
  • Longshot Magazine is making plans for its third issue with its 48-hour social networking formula.
  • Publish2 continues rolling out its NewsExchange platform around the country.
  • And ProPublica is expanding its network of reporters and turning its sights on claims filed in the BP oil spill.

You can watch the entire event here.

Meanwhile Grand Prize winner The Sunlight Foundation is taking its "data jamming" mindset into new frontiers, breaking news at the symposium with its latest plans.

Honored speaker Ellen Miller, Sunlight's co-founder and director, detailed three major developments in the organization's attempts at government transparency.

For one thing, Sunlight will put its $10,000 prize award toward developing its winning project, Sunlight Live, into an open source platform. The project brings together streaming video, live blogging and social networking with publically available disclosure or ethics data for the coverage of hearings or events.

Sunlight's long-term plans include adding a facial recognition component that will pop up information on an individual instantly.

Also introduced was a crowd-sourcing tool: Sunlight CAM [Campaign Ad Monitor], a platform that will let anyone log political advertisements, including claims made by the ad and who paid for it. That data would then be available for download to reporters, and presumably others, who could sift through as they'd like.

Miller also said Sunlight Foundation is about to formally announce the launch of InfluenceExplorer.com. This site is actually the platform that fuels another Sunlight site, Poligraft.com, where you can enter the URL of a news article, blog post or press release and it will display connections of people and organizations mentioned. InfluenceExplorer.com will do the same for state and national campaign finance and lobbying data when you enter a politician's name.

See her remarks here.

In keynoting this year's Knight-Batten Symposium, New York Times media columnist David Carr drew many chuckles with his optimistic, but pithy, observations about the future of journalism.

"We generally forget how much more powerful a reporter is than he used to be ... because technology is invisible," he said. "All known thought is one click away."

Journalism on the fly has become deeper and richer because of reporters' access to information and databases in real time.

He paid tribute to the digital natives now populating newsrooms. "When you're older, you can either consume media or you can make media," he said. "With the people who have grown up with multitasking baked into them, I think those are not separate acts. They are constantly annotating and republishing what they see."

"These instincts and behaviors native to this generation are going to make a powerful cohort of journalists ... They have a different approach."

What advice would he give to young journalists besides "Run?"

"I'd say, Run toward it," and embrace new opportunities in journalism, he urged.

Some highlights of his remarks:

  • "It's a freaky age ... where brands can pop up and become really meaningful" almost overnight.
  • "Twitter is our friend. It looked like our enemy." The magic of Twitter is how reporters can use it to put out queries and deliver news instantly.
  • It's much easier for a reporter to reach people. Using business and personal emails, Facebook and other connections "you can surround sources in a way that you couldn't before."
  • Reporters can have their own audiences. "That is a really big deal."
  • As for the Gawkers and Huffington Posts, "the insurgency and the mainstream media are creeping towards each other, where some of the voices of mainstream media and some of the best practices are changing. In this march towards the middle, we'll end up with another sort of hybrid and it will not really be distinguishable what you are looking at."
  • "I think content is on the rise. You have Yahoo! and AOL that believe you need human intervention to come up with great copy. Algorithms will not get you everything. Algorithms will not make phone calls."
  • "When it's time to think long thoughts, I can't do that. Going forward, my value will be determined by durability and chronicity, not my expertise. It's about velocity and productivity, and I worry about that."

But given the choice, he said, he would choose the frontiers of new media.

Watch Carr's entire remarks here.

While you're at it, check out all the winners and notable entries this year. You can watch the entire event here.