New Future of News initiative at MIT focuses on tools and techniques for newsrooms

technology / Article

Ethan Zuckerman is the director of the Center for Civic Media at the MIT Media Lab.

Matt Carroll is a research scientist at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology Media Lab. He is a former journalist with The Boston Globe and founder of Hack/Hackers Boston.

Some opportunities come along only once in a lifetime.

That’s why I jumped at the chance to help launch the Future of News initiative at the MIT Media Lab’s Center for Civic Media.

The news industry desperately needs new storytelling techniques, new research apps for industrious reporters and new streams of revenue. Now is the time to start turning that wish list into concrete tools.

Knight Foundation, which has been the chief financial sponsor of the Center for Civic Media, and Bloomberg, a leading global media company and sponsor of the Media Lab, are the first to back this new initiative. With their support, we are launching new research projects and new courses and working to connect the innovative work underway at the Media Lab with newsrooms around Boston and around the world.

Matt Carroll speaking at the Media Lab 

For me, it’s a chance to help give back to an industry that I love. I left a dream job at The Boston Globe, writing data stories and working with a tremendous newsroom team. It was difficult to leave The Globe after 26 years of bylines and so many close, great friendships. But newsrooms need help navigating the digital future, and the Future of News initiative will focus on finding solutions we can implement today, tomorrow and in years to come.

As traditional news models erode, we need new models and techniques to reach a world hungry for news, but whose reading and viewing habits are increasingly splintered. Newsrooms need to create new storytelling techniques, recognizing that the way users consume news continues to change. Readers and viewers expect personalized content, deeper context and information that enables them to influence and change their world. At the same time, newsrooms are seeking new ways to extend their influence, to amplify their message by navigating new paths for readers and viewers, and to find new methods of delivery.

To tackle these problems, we will work with Media Lab students and the broader MIT community to identify promising projects and find newsrooms across the country interested in beta-testing those projects. Each winter, the initiative will bring together Media Lab partners to discuss the pressing issues that face the news industry. In the spring, Ethan Zuckerman, director of the Center for Civic Media, and I will co-teach News and Participatory Media, a class that brings together mid-career journalists and top MIT engineering students to build new tools for newsrooms.

Some projects already under development:

· Fold: An authoring and publishing platform that allows storytellers to structure and contextualize stories. Readers can progress vertically through a story to read the narrative, then side-to-side to access blocks of content.

· Debate Plus: A “second screen” app that provides context to live political debates. For instance, while watching a political debate on foreign policy, a candidate mentions Iran’s nuclear program. On the laptop, Debate Plus immediately displays a map of Iran, plus links to stories about issues with Iran’s nuclear program.

· Scanner Grabber: Newsrooms have used scanners for decades to follow breaking police and fire stories. Yet scanner technology has barely changed. Scanner Grabber can record, replay, analyze and embed scanner transmissions. Think “TiVo for police scanners.” It empowers newsrooms with a sophisticated, affordable tool.

The Future of News initiative will work closely with the Center for Civic Media, which Knight has agreed to support for 2014-2015. I'll be working from the center and collaborating with Ethan on questions of how media can help citizens become more involved with their communities locally and globally.

It’s an exciting time for me and a time of great opportunity for the news world. I’m thrilled to be part of it here at the Media Lab, and grateful to Knight Foundation and Bloomberg for their support of this work.

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