Innovating from within: Five public media innovators to develop new digital prototypes

Journalism / Article

Photo credit: Flickr user Bartek Kuzia.

The future of public media is driven by the relentless creativity of talented individuals committed to storytelling in the digital age; it also hangs on their ability to experiment. The disruption of news journalism continues to happen every day. Stories may be here to stay, but how they are made, discovered and distributed is constantly evolving to keep pace with new information needs and innovation. That’s why we are happy to announce five prototype grants dedicated to public media innovation and driven by public media innovators.

Creativity and innovation can come in many forms and from within organizations of all kinds. Today, one of the most important jobs of effective leadership, especially within news media organizations, is to surface internal creativity and provide time and modest resources to understand if and how new ideas connect with audiences. With our Prototype Fund, Knight Foundation seeks to enable intrapreneurs, enterprising individuals within established organizations, to focus on the R&D that will open new pathways for storytellers and the media industry.

The prototypes, announced today at the Investigative Reporters and Editors (IRE) conference, are specialized tools especially relevant to journalists. Each of them also leverages specific expertise within their organizations for new digital projects. They include:

Curious City: As a co-production of Jennifer Brandel, the Association of Independents in Radio and WBEZ, Curious City originated as part of AIR’s Localore effort to lay the groundwork for a more inclusive public media. Curious City now has a permanent home at WBEZ (Chicago Public Media). The project is an experimental model for journalistic content creation that originates from the community it serves; the public (not editors) suggest and determine the stories covered as well as participate in reporting. With this grant, Curious City will develop their online platform into an open source system that can be replicated at other media organizations.

Transom Online Courseware: Transom, a project of Atlantic Public Media, has extensive experience teaching the aesthetics and technologies of narrative storytelling through their workshops and through articles on their website, Transom Online Workshops will build upon this experience and collection of knowledge to produce an online learning environment that explores new models of online courseware for journalism skill building.

APM Audio Search: At American Public Media, researchers and developers will determine whether it is possible to provide full-text search of audio files using open source software to automate the creation of text transcriptions. While automated transcriptions may be subpar for audience consumption, the team believes that they will provide a reliable search index and increase access to archived material. The project is led by APM Director of Software Engineering Peter Karman, who is also chair of the Apache Lucy search engine project.

CollabMatch: For seven years, PBS MediaShift has been a hub of discussion for what’s trending in the media industry. Building on that reputation, MediaShift will build a prototype project to facilitate connections between journalists, media makers, technologists and others. CollabMatch will be unique from other networking sites; it will help people find collaborators outside their networks and allow them to vet and recommend partners to others based on mutual interests and skill sets. It will utilize the LinkedIn API to make it easy for people to populate their profiles. For example, an investigative journalist covering immigration in Texas might find another journalist covering immigration in Arizona.

DocHive: A project of non-profit news organization Raleigh Public Record, DocHive aims to solve a problem for reporters, open government advocates, community groups, and anyone else with structured data kept on paper or scanned in as PDF image files. PDF image files do not allow users to sort and analyse data and users often have to resort to manually copying values onto spreadsheets. DocHive aims to change that. The program converts PDF image files of forms, such as the IRS 990 or campaign finance reports, into structured data.

The Prototype Fund, which is 1 year old, provides opportunities for small teams of intrapreneurs, entrepreneurs, media makers and hackers to build and test early-stage ideas from discovery to demo. Anyone can apply on an ongoing basis through a simple web inquiry. For questions, please contact me, Chris Barr, at [email protected] or on Twitter, @heychrisbarr.

By Chris Barr, media innovation associate at Knight Foundation