Finding my people, new tools for journalism at Mozilla Fest

Jon Vidar, a 2011 Knight News Challenge winner, photojournalist and digital strategist, covered the Mozilla Festival earlier this month for KnightBlog. Here, he reflects on the state of media innovation and what he learned at the gathering in London.

The last two years have been a blur. The organization I lead, The Tiziano Project, has gone from a team of scrappy volunteers wanting to build something because we thought it would be cool, to an organization that is not just competing with, but actually beating the likes of CNN and NPR for awards.

After completing our flagship project in Iraqi Kurdistan last summer and launching The Tiziano Project | 360 Kurdistan, I have spent the last year going to conferences and meeting with organizations to discuss what we see as the future of journalism through collaboration. 

Often, I am met with glazed-over eyes, or questions of “How much it is going to cost” and “What are the returns?” When I am able to get past this and connect with someone who truly understands innovation, I am often stone-walled at the point of implementation by bureaucratic red tape or contracting processes that are as out-of-date as the systems we are trying to replace.

At the Mozilla Festival in London, however, I found my people.

I never heard the phrase “It’s never been done that way before” as a line to shut down ideas. Instead, one idea led straight into another that was often just as, if not more, far-fetched.

By its nature, the festival paired journalists, creatives and technologists so that, in real-time, as ideas were being conceived, they were also being prototyped.

End of the day show-and-tells featured working demos of new ideas or implementations of new features.

To carry on this energy after the festival, the Knight Foundation and Mozilla announced their News Technology Partnership, which named five technologists who will serve as Fellows to be “embedded” in newsrooms around the world. These five fellows have no little background in news and are solely meant to bring new ways of thinking about technology into their partner newsrooms.

Returning to my team, I am excited to bring back some of the ideas that I saw prototyped at the Mozilla Festival. Popcorn.js for example is an amazing HTML 5 framework for adding time-based interactivity to online videos. As we are currently working on developing an HTML5 platform for community journalism, I am very excited about the possibilities that this could provide us for creating an engaging experience around our students’ videos.

I’m excited to see what develops from the bonds that were formed at the Mozilla Festival, and I’m even more excited to see what is demoed next year.