This is the fourth in a series of five blog posts this week dedicated to thinking out loud about the opportunities for the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership in 2012. It will culminate in Friday’s post announcing the 2011/12 Knight-Mozilla Fellows. Yesterday’s post dealt with the the possibility of peer-to-peer learning to advance journalistics skillsets.
A few weeks ago, Jonathan Stray wrote an incredible blog post called “Journalism for Makers” in it, he made an impassioned case for why makers, tinkerers, hackers, and all-round DIY folks, should be intersted in working in the journalism space. It’s an argument not too different than the one I wrote yesterday about the need to engage technically-minded people and communities in the creation of journalism. In this piece, Stray writes:
Where is the journalism for the idealist doer with a burning curiosity? I don’t think we have much right now, but we can imagine what it could be. The journalism of makers aligns itself with the tiny hotbeds of knowledge and practice where great things emerge, the nascent communities of change.
And he’s right—in fact, he’s hitting on the very themes I’ve touched on this week as well. But I want to reverse it: I want to talk about what journalism can learn from maker culture. I want to talk about creating a culture that’s fertile for the growth of journalism-makers.
Like many, I believe that experiments are crucial to new paths forward for journalism—that trying new ideas, making prototypes, embracing failure as an option (and learning tool), and iterating on experience are key. And so we need to try things, we need to build, Journalism needs to make.
There’s momentum growing around this idea—hackfests around journalism are starting to grow. The New York Times is hosting a hack day in December, the Guardian just held one in the UK. Mark Briggs, the guy who literally wrote the book on digital journalism, hosted one at the Seattle TV station KING-5 just a few weeks ago. They’re cropping up all over, and I want to see more—many more.
Because hack days don’t just produce hacks, it produces excitement. I’m convinced that a lot of the development community that has formed around the open gov movement is thanks to the many hackfests and app challenges that have surrounded the launch of civic datasets. That same kind of excitement can be built around journalism by other news organizations following the lead of the Times, the Guardian, and KING-5 and hosting their own hack days, helping to frame problemsets for people to build around. It can be done individually too, the Hacks/Hackers network, for instance, or independent developers wanting to pull together around news. Momentum builds on itself, and if we can start making at scale, we’ll really have something.
But hack days only go so far, so we also need to think about how to scale up making longer-term projects.
Obviously one answer to that one is the one that I’ll be announcing tomorrow: The placement of five technologist-fellows in newsrooms, as the 2011/12 Knight-Mozilla Fellows are announced. They are charged with doing long-term, open-source work in newsrooms for the year. If all goes well (and knowing who we’re announcing tomorrow, I think it will), there should be plenty of code made.
But there’s still more, I think. There are a myriad of projects that need more attention than a hack day might provide, but that a year is overkill. A great example would be something like the Look at Cook project, an amazing data-visualization of almost 20 years of county budgets. This kind of mid-range project—something that requires a dedicated time committment of only a few weeks or months—how do we support that? Because I think that may be the lynchpin for some really vital making.
Because there are so many great things to make in journalism. And making, in my opinion, is the best way to learn. It’s also—if we look at the massive size of the open-source world—a great way to build community. Maybe making is the key to all this? If so, we’d better go big.
What about you? Do you think there’s a potential for fostering a culture of making in journalism? And where do you see it moving us?
Tomorrow: This week of blogging is capped by the announcement of the 2011/12 Knight-Mozilla Fellows. Get excited.
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