OpenNews: Elections, News Apps, and the Mozilla Festival

This is the first in a series of posts this week about the state of development in journalism, where we’re at with the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, and where we’re going. It caps off on Thursday with the announcement of the 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellows, an announcement that then launches us into the Mozilla Festival in London, starting Friday.

Election season is the Super Bowl for news-application teams. There isn’t a single developer at a US- or global-oriented news organization that hasn’t been bringing their A-game these last months. And in just a few hours, as election day begins in the US, the big game is played.

The in-depth articles and weekly newsdev roundups we publish in Source have charted the projects news apps teams have built around the debates, around election returns, and looking at swing-state outcomes, and much more. Now, all that work comes to a head.

It’s going to be a fun night for people who want their election information visualized, streamed, plotted, mapped, or presented pretty much any other way you can imagine. These aren’t election night holograms, but instead are genuinely innovative ways to improve the user experience of news and help people to better understand the information flow in what might be a chaotic news night.

This is what news application developers do best: They take information and they make it easier to parse, navigate, and understand. Which is exactly what we’ve always turned to journalism for and is why the growing news-dev community is filled with luminaries like Jeremy Ashkenas, creator of Backbone.js and Mike Bostock, creator of the d3 visualization library. People want to set information free on the web, more and more, those people are drawn to journalism.

We’ve been able to watch that draw lead to real growth in the community of people actively building new tools in journalism over the course of the last year of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project. Helping to build and strengthen that community is job one at OpenNews, and that’s why we’re excited that this week, post-election, people from that community—people doing news dev from the New York Times, the Guardian, the BBC, Zeit Online, La Nacion, Al Jazeera, the Boston Globe, ProPublica, Bloomberg, and many, many others—will convene in London for the Mozilla Festival.

With the Festival happening so quickly after the election (and with all fingers and toes crossed that the election, you know, ends by then), it seemed like a great opportunity to bring the community together to compare notes on what we built this election season, and make big plans for building new tools. So guess what we’re going to do?

That’s right: At the Mozilla Festival, we’re going to bring together the incredible talent that’s descended on London for three hours of thinking about what we built for elections this year and—more importantly—how we build upon what we learned from it all. We’re going to bring people together to sketch, design, and hack together new ideas and tools for election coverage, from visualizations to the backend.

This is the very best of what we do at OpenNews: Get smart people in a room together and turn them loose on creating new things in journalism. So if you’re in London, be one of those people and join us at the Mozilla Festival for some election hacking. And if you’re not, follow along at #mozelect, and look for a compilation of how news orgs approached the election on Source next week.

Tomorrow we’ll continue this series with a look back at what we’ve accomplished with OpenNews this year. And Thursday: NEW FELLOWS ANNOUNCED!