Articles by

Aron Pilhofer

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    Knight Foundation recently took a look at the 2009 Knight News Challenge winners, including the success of the project DocumentCloud. Here, one of the founders Aron Pilhofer talks about how the site became a standard tool for newsrooms in just two years. It was four years ago when Eric Umansky, Scott Klein and I first met to discuss submitting a Knight News Challenge application to address the sorry state of document-based journalism. Scott, who took notes of the meeting, summed up as follows: “This project will fight the “dark web” nature of source documents on the Web, in which documents are difficult to find and often disappear when a news organization is done telling a particular story.” Eric proposed a name that everyone liked -- DocumentCloud.org -- and we bought the domain the next day. Our goals were modest: We hoped to create a platform that would encourage news organizations -- our own if nothing else -- to be more transparent by publishing source documents in a Web-friendly format. At that time, few newsrooms thought to publish documents online, and those that did used awful, bloated proprietary formats like Flash or PDF. None of us dreamed that in August of 2012, DocumentCloud.org would host more than 350,000 documents, comprising almost 5.5 million pages, for more than 650 organizations. We never imagined DocumentCloud.org would be serving more than a million document views per week, with peaks of more than a million per day.
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    Aron Pilhofer, editor of interactive news at the New York Times, was one of the 19 readers for the 2012 Knight News Challenge projects moving on to the next round. Here, he provides his thoughts on the entries the committee considered.   The folks at Knight asked me to jot down a few thoughts about some of the common themes and interesting trends that emerged from this year's crop of News Challenge applicants -- a task that ended up being a lot harder than I thought it would be. Going back over the 50-plus entries the committee considered to move forward in the challenge, it finally dawned on me that the one unifying theme of this year's challenge is that there was no unifying theme. Applicants were entrepreneurs, academics and technologists, pitching projects that touched every imaginable form of digital communications I could have imagined. Remote sensors? Drones? Mesh networks? I can only hope jet pack journalism isn't far behind. As in the past, there were very few applications overall -- and only a handful of folks heading into the final round -- emanating from "traditional" newsrooms. And even those proposals were more about getting information directly into the hands of citizens than they were about improving the toolset available to working journalists.