You have 17 nights left to Challenge yourself.

I remember where I was the first time I read about the Knight News Challenge and was inspired enough to blog about it.

A tire shop.  This one:


(Photo yanked from Google Maps Street View.)

Seriously, it was late in September 2006 and I was sitting with my huge beast of a laptop in the waiting area at a tire shop on River Street in Santa Cruz, a few weeks after finishing an internship as a reporter for the ANG regional desk at the Oakland Tribune, and a few weeks into my last semester (of in-person classes, anyway) at San Jose State.

I needed a new tire because the 880 had not been kind to the Honda, which I had been driving back and forth to Oakland, 140 miles round-trip, four days a week for the duration of the internship.

There was no work in Oakland for me that fall, and to this day the Honda thanks Dean Singleton for that, but two weeks later I would find a job at the Santa Cruz Sentinel, which allowed me to *walk* to work for almost a year.


So that’s the story of where I was when I read about the Knight News Challenge and didn’t submit a proposal.  A year later I had an idea, sent it in, and joined a group of innovative thinkers who blow me away with their passion for building tools that enable those with less access, or fewer resources, or the odds stacked against them to communicate, participate, and inform each other.

You’re passionate about all those things, aren’t you?

But you’ve got to be in it to win it.

(Yeah, I said that, just now. Not out loud, but right here.)

The deadline is November 1.

It’s time for you to give that great idea of yours a chance to strut in the moonlight, to stretch its legs, to get some air, to get some life.  Bring out your brilliant plan to save Journalism — or better yet — to help improve the news, one town at a time.

Start at the Garage, where you can collect feedback and soak up some input from past winners and anyone else willing to help.

Refine your pitch by a few notches, then sit down and fill out the application form online. It won’t take long.

You’ll be glad you did it.

Keep this in mind: A real desire to improve the world is a prerequisite here.  But more practically speaking, there are four main parameters you’ll hear repeated a lot by the News Challenge folks*:

  1. Be innovative: Take it and turn it, don’t just build the same old thing in the same old places for the same old people.
  2. Be open-source: There’s not a whole lot of proprietary code kicking around here. You should plan to build something that can be repeated by others using free technology, whether it’s PHP or low-cost electronics to build hardware.
  3. Be local: This is crucial, and my project is a bit of a twist on this rule, but you should be proposing to save a town, not the whole world. Your testbed for this great innovative open-source idea of yours should be someone’s backyard. If you’re building a tool, plan to pick a geographic place to deploy your tool first.  It helps — greatly — if they need it.  Fill an unserved niche in an underserved place.
  4. Serve the public: You’re here to help. This idea of yours, it’s not for you; it’s for the greater good.

*(Note: These are my translations. For the official phrasing, check out the FAQ.)

Innovation is easy.

Here’s a PDF of the short presentation I made at SND in Las Vegas a couple weeks ago.

Innovation is easy

It’s remarkably simple.  I think I waved my arms a lot to fill up my five minutes.

This presentation goes well with the list of mostly free online news tools I posted a couple weeks ago, as well.  That seems to be generating a lot of traffic, which tells me there are still a ton of people out there who need a toolbox like this to work and play with.

My obstacles to innovation question, abandoned and rediscovered

From my living room at the crack of dawn on Sunday, getting ready to catch my flight to SNDVegas, it seemed like a good idea to give myself a reporting assignment.

I said that I would ask lots of people a question, on video, and post their replies.

Well, fail.  Epic fail.  Why?  Because, frankly, I was having too much fun learning from everyone, going to sessions, and spent my time talking to people about ideas and workflow and comparing notes, and usually, these moments were in loud places.

So, there’s no finished assignment to post here, and frankly, the amount of work and non-work I have on my plate between now and a few days from now is pretty much insane, so I wouldn’t have had the time to finish it anyway.  This way, instead of feeling guilty about having interviews in the can, unposted, I can feel guilty about not having done the interviews in the first place.


Someone else asked the first question, on Seesmic, to a different audience and is getting some great replies.

The surprise connection: It’s the Knight News Challenge asking the question.  Here it is:

What are the obstacles for innovation?What have been your obstacles to turning a great idea into a great startup? http://www.newschallenge.org

Check out my online news toolbox

I finally finished a basic Tools page to start a list of some of the basic, mostly-free, mostly-embeddable applications that I recommend for quick and simple Web production.

It’s not intended to be all-encompassing; it’s just a short list of things I find useful.  You might find them useful, too.

But if you have any suggestions for additions, feel free to shout ’em out.

I’ll be giving a *short* presentation about the magic of the “Embed This” button during the panel I’m on this afternoon at SND.  Planning to post the simple slides later.  No bullet points, I promise.  Zero.

[UPDATE: Check out this list of 60 sites presented by Ron Sylvester and Virtual Farmgirl at SPJ in Atlanta this week.]

The question I’m going to ask everyone at SND and APME

I’m off in a few minutes to the airport to SND and APME in Las Vegas for a few nights.

Here’s the plan I’m cooking up for a little video interview project:

  • Carry my point & shoot camera.
  • Ask lots of people I meet to answer one question on video.
  • Post all the answers.
  • Edit together the best into a short promo.

So what’s the question?

That’s where you come in. Help me refine this angle, or come up with your own:

“In the media blogosphere (and media in general for that matter), we tend to talk about the problems of ‘newspapers’ as if every single publication were exactly the same.  But we all know there’s no one-size-fits-all solution.  What’s the biggest obstacle you face, at your job, to innovation?”

What do you think? Am I on the right track? The goal here is to get real boots-on-ground answers from working journalists — in this case, I’m expecting most of them will be print and online designers or editors of some stripe at major metros.

I’m most interested in obstacles to innovation, but there might be a better way to word that — or even a more positive way to frame my question?

[UPDATE:] Commenters and tweeters want something more positive, something along the lines of this:

What are you doing in your organization, right now, to drive innovation?

Help me work on the question here.  Post a Seesmic video comment for super extra bonus points, and you might show up as a talking head in the video stream later this week.

See you in Vegas?

I can’t believe it’s Friday already, which means I’m just a couple days away from hopping a flight to Las Vegas for the massive SND/APME conference.

Check out the schedule of speakers at SND for starters and drool: DeVigal. Curley. Veen.

The “Young Voices” panel I’m on (yes, yes, they know I have a gray hair or four) has moved from Sunday afternoon to Monday at 4:30.  Stop by, check it out, and let’s talk about how you can drive innovation from the bottom-up at your newspaper.

And then I’ll latch onto every editor I can find in the APME crowd and pitch ReportingOn as a way to help their reporters network with the cloud of knowledge about their beat out there in the professional and citizen journalism worlds.

If you’ll be there next week, track me down early and often.  You should be able to find me here or on Twitter easily enough.

Many, many thanks to the SND crew for inviting me and to the Knight Foundation for sending me.  See you in Vegas on Sunday night.

Innovation is messy

Michele McLellan has been doing some liveblogging of the Knight Digital Media Center’s Leadership Conference this week.

Check out her notes from Krisztina Holly’s talk about innovation.  Holly mentioned seven myths about innovation; I’m going to flip the proverbial script and turn them into Seven Reasons Innovation is Messy:

  1. Focusing your vision on the core problem means missing opportunities popping up in your peripheral vision.
  2. Fail fast, fail often, move on.
  3. Innovators can be irritating.  Especially to fans of the status quo.
  4. Innovation isn’t about putting together the puzzle pieces; it’s about rethinking whether or not that’s the right puzzle you have spread all over the floor of the newsroom.
  5. All the market research and focus groups in the world can’t tell you how readers, or customers, or users will feel about the product of innovation until they have it in their hands.
  6. By definition, planning and management of innovation can be stifling.  You really don’t want to find  yourself on an “Innovation Task Force” unless you’re really into meetings.
  7. Innovation isn’t a race.  First isn’t always best.  Use the tools that are available right now and build on the work of others as necessary to improve incrementally.

To explore this a little further, take a look at some of Matt Waite’s notes on rolling out Politifact.  Someone had an idea, and someone happened to have a way to implement it.  Getting those two serendipitous elements together was the easy part.  Implementing it took a lot of pushing through versions of the messiness above to make something happen.

RelatedMindy McAdams relays this list of seven steps to writing like a digital native from Bill Dunphy.

Next Newspaper

Funny thing about the newspaper business.

If you’re interested in innovation, you find yourself constantly trying to demonstrate the present to people with their feet (and desks, workflow, and hierarchy) planted firmly in the past.

And while The Future of Newspapers mostly gets ink for being bleak, the future of news does not blink, or miss a beat, or stop to have a meeting to decide what color the background of its new Web site will be.

The future of news is Qik and Twitter and Friendfeed and Google Reader and Seesmic and Yahoo Live and whatever launches tomorrow that lets the people in your community share information and produce content by pushing a big red record button.

The future of news looks more like Blade Runner than Minority Report. And I don’t mean the part where Deckard reads the print edition. I mean the crazy chaotic floating blimp advertising and the bits of information flowing around mobile screens in places like taxicabs and the exposed innards of machinery.

So stop waiting for The Future of Newspapers to arrive, wrapped in a plastic sleeve with a business model printed on the outside, slipped politely behind the screen door by the paperboy. He got laid off last week. You’re going to have to try something new if you want to survive.