Knight Blog

The blog of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Discovering what ties people to where they live

Sept. 30, 2009, 1:51 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

This week, Knight Foundation and Gallup announced the second year of results from the Soul of the Community study - a three-year survey of almost 28,000 residents of the 26 Knight communities exploring what attaches people to where they live.

Two years of research have reinforced the finding that the top three community characteristics that connect to the passion and loyalty residents feel for a place are openness (how welcoming a place is), social offerings (fun places to gather) and aesthetics (an area's physical beauty and green spaces). These qualities rose to the top in both years of the study, despite its occurrence against the backdrop of the U.S. financial crisis.

The study also found that community attachment is tied to local GDP growth - communities with higher attachment saw the largest growth in their economies. In the third year of the study, researchers will explore this connection further.

At the Soul of the Community site, you can dig into the findings from the study - compare results from all 26 communities on an interactive map, add your thoughts and insights to the perspectives posted on our blog, view detailed reports from all the communities, read coverage from news outlets like the Wall Street Journal and USA Today, and even download the actual data, if you'd like.

3 tips to determine how much money you should ask for

Sept. 29, 2009, 5:23 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Cross-posted from the Knight News Challenge Blog Jose Zamora is a Journalism Program Associate at Knight Foundation 1. Do your research 2. Develop an accurate budget 3. Be reasonable

You have a great idea, and you want to apply to the Knight News Challenge, but you are not sure about how much money to ask for. The answer lies in how much the project will cost.

To decide how much funding to ask for you have to create a budget. And that budget should be as accurate as possible. You should take into account things like salaries, contractors, rent, utilities, travel, legal fees, marketing, etc. Include everything you are planning to do and how you will do it. Then do research and get real estimates of what each activity, salary and fee will cost.

It might also be helpful to look for other projects in the application pool and see how much they are asking for. You also could examine the budgets of organizations or individuals that are doing projects similar to the one you want to develop. That number should also help you determine how much you should ask for.

The Knight News Challenge contest does not request a line-post budget unless you are a finalist. However you need to know your general budget when you apply to be able to state the amount you are requesting. Creating a budget will be a helpful exercise. It will allow you to know how much to ask for and it will also allow you to have a budget ready in case you move forward in the contest to the phase where we do ask for a budget.

The most important thing to remember when asking for an amount for your project is to ask for an amount that is reasonable for what you are proposing to do.

Wichita's future is part of my past

Sept. 25, 2009, 12:37 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation announced a grant of $2.1 million in Wichita to take aviation composite technology, which we're very good at, and transfer it to a new industry, the manufacture of medical devices.

I actually learned about composites when I was a kid, but didn't know what I was learning. My dad built a sailplane in our garage while I was growing up. He bought plans and over a number of years, with help from his flying buddies, many of whom were engineers at Cessna and Beech, built the fuselage and wings.

He used fiberglass and epoxy glue to create part of the wings so they'd be lightweight. When the epoxy dried, the fiberglass was much more durable with the hardened resin on it. That's composites.

Dad is 75 now and building another plane. This time it's a Tailwind in their basement. And yes, he's still making stuff out of composites. I wasn't aware of it until I started telling my parents about the grant I'd been working on while having Sunday dinner with them. That's when Dad went down to his basement and brought up a little part he'd made from carbon fiber and resin.

He couldn't believe I was taking a class on composites. I couldn't believe he was making them himself.

So we had no choice but to open a great bottle of wine and toast all that is well with the world.

Transforming the Kansas economy with fiber, resin and heat

Sept. 25, 2009, 12:22 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

A few weeks ago I held in my hand what looked like the handle of a salad tong. Dark-colored, curved, and lightweight, it was really a surgical retractor made from composites instead of metal. Up close the fibers were arranged in a criss-cross pattern, like a tweed jacket. To create it, the fibers were covered with resin and heated in an autoclave. The result is a product completely different from its metal counterpart.

The retractor was lightweight yet strong, requiring at least 60 pounds of force to break it. Even more important, it was x-ray translucent. Used in place of a metal retractor during surgery means it can be left in place instead of being moved several times.

Fiber, resin and heat are the building blocks of aviation composites. The Center of Innovation for Biomaterials in Orthopaedic Research (CIBOR) is working to make them the building blocks of a new industry in Kansas: the manufacture of orthopedic medical devices. Knight Foundation's grant announced today, $2.1 million over five years, will help make this vision real.

Our grant will build the composite laboratory where this new work will happen. In just a few years the CIBOR team hopes to create new medical devices that can be manufactured here in Kansas, leading to new jobs and a more diverse economy.

Is it risky? Sure. Even with the best of plans, plans change. But the CIBOR team has what it takes to be transformational: vision, courage, tenacity and know-how. They're committed to improve the quality of life for people with acute and chronic orthopedic conditions. And they're committed to create new opportunities for Kansans.

Sometimes the simplest discoveries become the greatest. I'm optimistic that discovering new uses for composites can lead to the greatest possibilities for our state and its people.

More news from DocumentCloud

Sept. 24, 2009, 12:21 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

DocumentCloud, the 2009 Knight News Challenge project recently seen launching open-source parallel processing software, made two big announcements today.

First, they've assembled an unprecedented coalition of two-dozen, high-wattage partners to contribute documents and feedback to DocumentCloud. NiemanLab sets up the tremendous possibilities here:


Imagine being able to search across the New York Times' cache of records on Guant'namo Bay detainees, the ACLU's unrivaled set of documents on detention policy, Jane Mayer's source material for her coverage of the CIA in The New Yorker, and The Washington Post's valuable contributions to all of the above. That's the promise of DocumentCloud, which I've explained at length in previous posts.


Second, the project announced a partnership with Reuters' OpenCalais:


OpenCalais uses natural language processing to extract information from documents, instantly identifying and tagging the relevant people, places, companies, facts and events. This will make it easy for readers and journalists to explore connections between documents and across the full collection of source materials.


In other words, not only will the service be filled with a never-before-seen assemblage of hard-won source documents from some of our biggest journalism heavyweights, those documents will also be deeply searchable, linked in immensely powerful ways. Once again, NiemanLab's got the goods.

As ReadWriteWeb's Marshall Kirkpatrick says, "DocumentCloud is building up a whole lot of steam!"

How the Knight News Challenge was Born

Sept. 23, 2009, 6:10 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Jose Zamora is a Journalism Program Associate at Knight Foundation For a century, daily newspapers were the civic glue holding many American communities together. But today new technologies are rapidly changing the way we connect with each other.

First it was the rise of television. Now, it's the internet. Most of us use cell phones and other gadgets to find out what we want to know. Though technology connects us with the world, it can leave us disconnected from those right in our own backyards.

Knight Foundation wanted to help people use the new digital tools to find out what they need to know to run their lives and their communities.

Our founders, John S. and James L. Knight, served their communities with their newspapers. News and information that helped citizens in communities understand their common interests and opportunities. Knight Foundation wanted to know what, in the 21st century, will do what the Knight brothers used to do with ink on paper alone.

To reach this goal, Knight Foundation created the Knight News Challenge: A five-year, $25 million contest designed to spur media innovation.

We didn't want to limit the ideas by setting up too many rules, and that is how the contest was born, a worldwide open contest with very few questions and requirements. Worldwide because you never know where innovation will come from.

The deadline for year four of the contest is Oct. 15, 2009. Don't miss the opportunity to win part of the $5 million that will be awarded on this round.

Spot.Us expands to LA

Sept. 22, 2009, 5:26 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Spot.Us, which has been pioneering the practice of crowdfunded reporting in San Francisco, has expanded to Los Angeles in partnership with USC's Annenberg School of Communications. On the Spot.Us blog, founder David Cohn explains what this means:

The main Spot.Us homepage will aggregate pitches from both the SF Bay Area and Los Angeles regions. You can go to Subdomains to find pitches specific to those regions: and

As many know, I grew up in Los Angeles (Hamilton High School anyone?) so this is a bit of a home coming for me. I will remain up north running the Bay Area Spot.Us ' but will be working closely with folks in Los Angeles building up our SoCal presence.


Read more from the Spot.Us blog.

The Rapidian, a new news source, launches in Grand Rapids

Sept. 17, 2009, 8:27 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

This week, residents of Grand Rapids, MI, welcome a brand new citizen-powered news initiative created by the Grand Rapids Community Media Center. The Rapidian, a first-round winner of the Knight Community Information Challenge, has already enlisted dozens of local residents to receive training in covering their communities. Here's more, from Michigan Radio:


As a professional reporter, I can tell you, this is a real newsroom. A half-eaten muffin sits on a desk, coffee cups are everywhere. There are no windows. But there is a huge white board, with different colored writing that no one can understand except the people who work here.


One of the people who works here is Laurie Cirivello. She's the head of the Community Media Center. She likes to say she's the mom of The Rapidian. And it's a big family.

"We have 500 people on our Facebook group," Cirivello tells me. "Some of them came to a meeting, some of them have written in comments. Some of them have stepped up and put in massive amounts of hours trying to sort through editorial policy and mechanics. We have 97 people so far who've signed up to be reporters."

Ninety-seven people. Each one of them says they'll put in the grueling, thankless job of being a news reporter. And they're going to do this work voluntarily for The Rapidian. As in, they won't be paid.


Impressed by what the folks from the Grand Rapids Community Media Center and the Grand Rapids Community Foundation have accomplished here? You've got till September 23 to submit your application for the Knight Community Information Challenge. Applications must satisfy three rules:

* Applicants must be U.S. community or place-based foundation (though community partners are welcome);
* Projects have to meet a local information need;
* Foundations must match Knight Foundation's investment.

Read more about the Info Challenge at

Latest Nieman Reports filled with Knight affiliates

Sept. 16, 2009, 7:26 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Twitter is a-buzz with conversation today about the latest issue of Nieman Reports, "Let's Talk: Journalism and Social Media." (Full disclosure: I wrote an article for this issue, wearing my other hat as a student of journalism's evolution.) Knight grantees and affiliates compose a nice chunk of the issue's contributors list. Here's a round-up:



Did I miss anyone? The issue is a great read*, so take a look.

Update: I have it on good authority that Mr. Hagerty is, in fact, a mister. I regret the error.

* I promise I'd say that even if I weren't in it.

Center for Public Integrity trying out Fast Flip

Sept. 15, 2009, 6:56 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

On Monday, Google launched a product called Fast Flip, a new way for users to browse through articles from different Web sites. In this beta period, only a select group of publishers are included in the Fast Flip catalogue. One of them is a Knight grantee, the Center for Public Integrity. Here's what Bill Buzenberg says about the effort on the Center's blog:


In-depth, highly credible, fact-checked, no-stone-unturned investigative journalism is seldom going to appear as the highest post in a quick-hit search engine sweep. But with Google's new Fast Flip service, the Center for Public Integrity sees hope. Here, at last, is a way for the deep-dive content we create to rise to the surface by a new algorithm.


Fast Flip, launched by Google Labs on Monday, offers a new way for users to view online media through an easy-to-use format that resembles magazine browsing. The Center is among dozens of publishers included in Fast Flip's experimental launch.

There are still bugs to be worked out with Fast Flip such as making sure the Center's most important investigative projects are there for flipping but we believe the work we do will find new audiences. And, if that happens, and if Fast Flip and the Center are successful, this can mean shared revenue for a non-profit investigative news organization. It goes without saying that investigative journalism is expensive, time consuming, and yes, risky. So, added revenue for the heavy-lifting investigative work we do is no small matter.



DocumentCloud releases first piece of software: "CrowdCloud"

Sept. 14, 2009, 4:22 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Warning: Geekspeak™ ahead!

As the folks at DocumentCloud (2009 Knight News Challenge winners) got to work on building their document crowdsourcing platform, they quickly realized they were going to need a lot of processing power:

Our PDFs need to have their text extracted, their images scaled and converted, and their entities extracted for later cataloging. All of these things are computationally expensive, keeping your laptop hot and busy for minutes, especially when the documents run into the hundreds or thousands of pages.

So they've created a program called CrowdCloud that will allow all these tasks to be distributed across a set of machines, and released it as open-source. (True geeks will delight in the pun inherent in the name of the software: while we're crowdsourcing the task of sifting through PDFs to a group of people, why not crowdsource the task of making those PDFs siftable to a group of computers?)

This means other developers can use the CrowdCloud software to distribute their processor-heavy tasks.

Read more about the software on the DocumentCloud blog.

Update (9/15): The headline and body of this post were edited after publication to reflect the fact that this is central to the DocumentCloud software, not just an extra add-on. Scott Klein, one of the collaborators on the DocumentCloud project, told me we can expect incremental code releases like this in the future: "We're going to be releasing components as we go instead of doing a big code release at the end," he said.

Marc Fest talks about Online Community Manager opportunity

Sept. 14, 2009, 10:03 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Interested in helping move forward the evolution of a foundation perched on the cutting edge of society's digital transformation? In this video, Marc Fest, the Knight Foundation's VP of Communications, talks about why our Online Community Manager opening is such an excellent opportunity:

CBS News interviews NewsCloud founder Jeff Reifman

Sept. 10, 2009, 4:21 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Yesterday, we blogged about how Jeff Reifman used Knight-funded technology to track down missing Wired contributor Evan Ratliff. Here's more about Jeff's incredible, cross-country cybersleuthing, from CBS News:

Knight is seeking a social media superstar

Sept. 10, 2009, 11:35 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

We're looking for someone to supercharge Knight's transformation into a truly interactive foundation:


Online Community Manager
Do you live digital? Have a track record of building online communities? A knack for engaging readers? Passionate about how the digital age is impacting journalism, communities and democracy?


The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation may have the job for you as its online community manager based in our Miami, Florida headquarters.

' Play a key role in making Knight the first truly interactive foundation by creating genuine, two-way digital communication thereby enriching the connections with the big thinkers and innovators we seek to invest in;

' Be both an evangelist and player-coach who helps Knight staff and the foundation's community of grantees use social media and technology for the greater good.

' Establish the foundation as the leading proponent of community engagement in the digital age and as a leader in our field in the use of digital resources.

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. Discover more at

If you are a digital media pro known for your innovative work in stimulating community/social network interactions, and our mission and this opportunity excites your passions, we want to hear from you. Please send your resume and links to examples of your best work to Henry Scott at

Knight Foundation is an equal opportunity employer.


In the video below, Marc Fest, Knight's VP of Communications, explains why this position is such an excellent opportunity.

Update: Also, read this interview with Marc Fest for more information on how this position came about.

Creation, destruction in the digital age

Sept. 10, 2009, 11:31 a.m., Posted by Michele McLellan and Eric Newton

From Eric Newton, VP of Journalism, Knight Foundation:

At Harvard, Shorenstein Center's Alex Jones gets attention for his latest book, Losing the News. The Pulitzer winner and Harvard prof describes the "erosion" of traditional news media. (See too President Obama's remarks at the Walter Cronkite memorial.) Shorenstein is trying to improve the future of news as part of the Carnegie-Knight Initiative on the Future of Journalism Education.

At Yale, the "creative" side of the story of the "creative destruction" of news media is explored by Richard Foster, past McKinsey exec, in books like'' Innovation: The Attacker's Advantage . Foster has been talking for decades about how some companies are destroyed by new competitors but how others survive.'

In his book, Jones writes: "The Knight Foundation, which is dedicated to journalistic priorities, is helping uncover all kinds of new models for news that will engage and also stay true to the essentials. The most encouraging aspect of Knight's enterprise is that new ideas poured in when they offered funding for pilot projects, which is a demonstration that news remains exciting as an ideal and a vocation. People want to do news, and this time of transition has been a catalyst for creativity after far too long when the traditional media were too comfortable. Being terrified as prompted more energy and innovation in the news business than ever."

Knight is funding the pilot projects Jones talks about under our Knight News Challenge. Apply here.

Look for more on the state of the nation's information health in the upcoming report of the Knight Commission of the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy.

NewsCloud helps locate missing Wired writer

Sept. 9, 2009, 11:22 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Evan Ratliffs fake Facebook pageBack in August, Wired contributor Evan Ratliff vanished. Before disappearing, he issued a challenge: whoever found him would win $5,000. He purposely left a few obscure digital breadcrumbs to make the challenge winnable within five weeks, and then got lost.

Yesterday, the challenge was won by the makers of Knight-funded software NewsCloud, a Facebook application for creating social engagement around news. Using a mix of high-tech digital forensics and old-fashioned footwork, Jeff Reifman located Ratliff in New Orleans and conspired with the proprietors of a joint called Naked Pizza to catch him there.

You can read the full account of the sting operation at the NewsCloud blog, and more about the contest on Wired's Vanish blog.

Update - More on NewsCloud: A Slashdot post and hundreds of tweets later, I asked Jeff Reifman a little bit more about NewsCloud, the software he put to unconventional use to help locate Evan Ratliff. NewsCloud's potential as a way to engage younger folks with the news was recently studied in two pilot projects targeting 16-to-25-year-olds, in partnership with and the University of Minnesota.

"What we found," Jeff said, "was that the design of the Facebook news application was great at improving daily news habits of young people in the 16-to-25 age range. We found that people started returning every day to get a sense of what's going on."

You can explore the NewsCloud app on Facebook at And you can read more detailed findings from the study on the NewsCloud blog.

Looking for a great Web designer

Sept. 3, 2009, 6:45 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Update: We've chosen a designer to lead this project. Thanks to everyone who inquired!

We're working on a project that could use the talents of an experienced Web designer. We seek someone with an eye for highly usable, uncluttered design, who knows how to accommodate a good amount of regularly-changing content, and who can take us from specs to mockup pretty quickly. Initially, the work will be short-term and fairly limited in scope, but this might expand into a larger opportunity. If you know someone who might be interested, tell them to send their portfolio site my way. Thanks!

Behind the guy behind the '08 campaign

Sept. 3, 2009, 8:47 a.m., Posted by Michele McLellan and Eric Newton

From Eric Newton, VP of Journalism, Knight Foundation:

A lot of people know Haynes Johnson. He's one of the nation's leading political journalists. You see him on TV's Meet The Press. He's got a big new book out, The Battle For America, explaining once and for all the story behind the historic'election of '08.

You can read more about it in Time, The New York Times, Politico and, of course, the Washington Post, where the Pulitzer-winning Johnson worked and where his co-author, Dan Balz, works today.' A good sample of the press tour is this Newseum'video.

I Googled "Haynes Johnson," and got -- in'0.15 seconds --'96,900 hits.''There is one of particular interest to us here.'Haynes is'a Knight Chair in Journalism -- one of two dozen great professors in America who not only does fantastic journalism of his own but teaches the next generations.

Most of the people who have heard of Haynes -- as well as other famously-published writers such as'Michael Pollan and Sylvia Nasar -- have no idea that these folks are Knight Chairs. They'produce good journalism faster than their universities can brag about their teaching roles.

Haynes holds forth at the University of Maryland's Philip Merrill College of Journalism. As much the exploding digital age is changing news, he'tells students, "the standards don't change: our mission is to tell the story of our time as compellingly and fairly and honestly as possible, with distinction of analysis and perspective. This has always been the lodestone of great journalism. It is even more important now at a moment when the news business is changing as never before...

The purpose'Knight Chair program aims'to strengthen American journalism education by infusing academia with'top professionals. Virginia Dodge Fielder, our journalism program consultant, takes an independent look each year'at the Knight Chair activities.'Here's her latest report.

Journalism Education and The Turbulent Century

Sept. 2, 2009, 2:44 p.m., Posted by Michele McLellan and Eric Newton

From Eric Newton, VP of Journalism, Knight Foundation:

Stop the presses ... The Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly has published a piece of writing with a'relatively good'Flesch readability score'...

"Changes in Professionalism..."'(Summer 2009 edition), by David H. Weaver et. al., starts this way:

"In 2002, Knight Ridder was one of the biggest newspaper companies in the United States. Time Inc., the nation's largest magazine publisher, had more than 140 publications reaching about 300 million readers. John S. Carroll was editing a resurgent Los Angeles Times, which eventually won thirteen Pulitzer Prizes under his leadership. The McClatchy Company's flagship newspaper was the Star Tribune in Minneapolis, a publication for which it had paid $1.2 billion in 1998. And the nightly news programs of the major broadcast networks were poised for growth in ad revenues after several years of decline.

"By the end of 2007, none of those things was true."

Wow. Nice to see scholars writing that way.

The article goes on discuss how the changing'news ecosystem seems to be'hurting'professionalism.'Researchers report'erosion of the'progress they saw'in "The American Journalist in the 21st Century."' Fewer journalists'in'professional groups (47 percent in 2002,'39 percent in 2007) ... fewer at dailies say they can "almost always" get subjects covered (59.6 percent in '02,47.1 percent in '07)... 'If we're lucky,'we will see a'press release on it all'on J&MC Quarterly's' Reasearch You Can Use page.

What's more, the study was done'before the news ecosystem'really started changing in 2008 and 2009.' More timely'surveys are available by the Associated Press Managing Editors and American Journalism Review and at American Society of News Editors.

... and that's the rub.' The later surveys are more useful.

What good is it for scholars to put into'our hands today a survey of American journalism professionals from'2002 to 2007 when much bigger changes happened'in 2008 and 2009?'

In this age of instant publication, why can't'journalism scholarship'move faster?

Ernie Wilson,'dean of the Annenberg School'at the University of Southern California,''asks Where are J-School in Great Debate over Journalism's Future? ' Great question.' He raises good points on the value of'digital innovation on the professional'side of journalism education with experiments such as News 21.' But the'scholastic side shouldn't be'exempt from digital revolution, either.

Now that computers can tell us whether or not their research is readable, why not make it readable?'Since computers can publish it immediately, why not release it when it can really be of use?

2010 Knight News Challenge is now open for business

Sept. 2, 2009, 11:10 a.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Click Now to Visit the Knight News ChallengeGot a great idea for transforming the future of news? The 2010 Knight News Challenge is now accepting applications, through October 15th!

If you read this blog regularly, you probably know about the many stellar projects Knight has funded in the past through the News Challenge. This year, the contest is back with a few excellent twists:

  • In the past, all applications were submitted through an open process, where applicants could allow others to discuss their ideas. This year, to accommodate innovators who don't want to go public with their idea immediately, we've added a closed category, in which your pitch will only be reviewed by Knight staff and our panel of reviewers. (Of course, if your idea gets funded, it will be revealed publicly.)
  • Another new addition to the News Challenge is the blog, where we'll be sharing tips on applying, lessons from past winners, peeks into the selection process and much more. The blog will run during the entire application period. Knight staff will take to the blog for a couple of live chats at 2 p.m. Sept. 9 and Oct. 8 to answer questions from prospective entrants.

Check out the News Challenge site, track the challenge on Twitter with the hashtag #knc10, and submit your idea early to get feedback!


Students go deep to cover US issues

Sept. 1, 2009, 3:59 p.m., Posted by Knight Foundation

Screenshot of News21's News21 has pulled together more 90 students from university newsrooms across the country to produce a number of deep multimedia reports, freely available to newsrooms everywhere. Funded by the Knight Foundation and the Carnegie Corporation, the initiative expanded significantly over the last year, now including students from 12 different newsrooms who have produced more than 60 in-depth projects to be syndicated across the country.

From the release:

"Our strategy with the News21 students is to task them to tell complex stories in ways other young people might find interesting and relevant," said Jody Brannon, News21 national director and a Cronkite School professor of practice. "This summer, in a short 10-week period, their experiments produced some approaches that do just that."


Photojournalist Jose Castillo, an associate fellow from Texas who joined the University of Maryland's summer program, studied voter data to see what it reveals about race and identity in America.

"In 2008, we elected a black president, and I was intrigued by how this speaks to who we are and how we've changed over the last 100 years," he said.

Castillo settled on telling the story Allensworth, Calif., a community founded in 1908 by a black man seeking his fortune, which has evolved into a town with a majority Latino population. To tell the story over time, he used an experimental interface that lets the user to 'step to the side of the story' while providing a biographical sketch of the video subject.


You can check out the students' work at More work will be added as the summer winds down.

"Unit of Organization"

Sept. 1, 2009, 10:45 a.m., Posted by Michele McLellan and Eric Newton

From Eric Newton, Knight Foundation VP of Journalism:

Much summertime discussion, at, also at the Aspen FOCUS web page, and elsewhere, about the new ecosystems of news.

Heard Google's Marissa Mayer talk again about the "story" being the "unit of organization" in the digital news world. We think about news in terms of individual stories that we care about,'rather than the package of stories formerly known as the newspaper. A real insight.

Consider this: even a story can be big and complex. This made me think' there are units of organization even smaller than the story, as the human cell is even smaller than the human organ. Whatever point is being made within a story, whatever idea is being put forward, could be a unit of organization.

Was discussing it with Kim Spencer of Link TV .'Seemed to me'that an even more pure'"unit of organization" is this "moment of attention."

My oldest son provides'a good example of this. He'can situate himself in front of various electronic devices and organize himself so that:

--'several of his instant messages at any given moment are about the guitar he's playing,

--'several others are about the research he is doing for the homework he is doing,

-- several others are about the song he's listening to on his iPod (and trying to learn to play on the guitar)

-- and so on, until his "continuous partial attention" (credit Linda Stone, Microsoft) encompasses dozens of instant messages and four or five core activities all sort of mashed together.

When I come into the den,'he looks'up at me and says, "Dad, how come there's no TV in here?"

That's because someone has just messaged him about something on cable.

For my son, the cellular unit of organization is the moment of attention. Not the whole story, but whatever part of a story he's looking at -- wherever'his consciousness is fixed.

Combine that with the semantic web and you get some interesting'digital media ideas.

Can computers come to understand our "moment of attention' and build everchanging contextual frames around those'moments?

The pieces are there, with our click-history, wherever the mouse is, whatever's on the screen. The computer'can know what we've cared about in the past, what we are doing at the moment and what it is showing is in moving images and sound.

As intelligent agents''get smarter, they should be able to offer everimproving'real-time recommendations. Not' "because you bought this in the past, we recommend this" but more like "because you seem to be thinking or doing this right now, we recommend all of this..."

May well be that tomorrow's web pages may move around much faster than today's, sort of like the difference between high definition color video and the old black and white still photo.