Announcing: ReportingOn 2.0 is live

ReportingOn 2.0 is live and ready for your questions. And answers.

It’s still the backchannel for your beat, but it’s an absolute re-imagining of the network.

For those of you who haven’t been keeping score, ReportingOn is a project funded by the Knight News Challenge, and it’s a place for journalists of all stripes to find peers with experience dealing with a particular topic, story, or source.

ReportingOn 2.0 on the morning of launch, July 2, 2009.

(You can catch up with our progress reports from year one and related concepts at the PBS Idea Lab blog.)

The first time out, I built it to be quite Twitter-esque in the hopes that journalists would use it like Twitter, asking questions of their followers and sharing ideas about stories they were working on.

That didn’t happen organically, or if it was going to, it was going to take years. So, with the help of a professional development and design team, we’ve rebuilt the site from the ground up, framed around the act of asking and answering questions.

There’s no 140-character limit, but what you will find are lots of basic features that make sense in this sort of social network.

You can ‘watch’ users, beats, or a particular question, viewing everything in an activity feed that brings you the latest questions and answers from the journalists, topics, and particular issues you’re interested in.

I think you’ll like it.

And, as the grant year for ReportingOn comes to a close, we’re also making the source code for ReportingOn available here under the GNU General Public License (GPL) version 3. You can use that to build your own backchannel question and answer tool for the journalists in your news organization, or even let your readers ask and answer questions.

I want to repeat that and extend it a bit…

Here are four things that could happen next:

  1. itself is a stunning success, with thousands of journalists asking and answering great questions every day, finding peers and mentors, improving local news by adding context and insight gleaned from others working similar angles on stories in far-flung locales.
  2. A media company uses ReportingOn’s open-sourced codebase to build their own internal backchannel, probably on an intranet, or requiring authentication so they can limit it to members of their own organization.
  3. A single news organization uses ReportingOn to do the same thing — build an internal backchannel.
  4. A single news organization uses ReportingOn’s open-sourced codebase to build a public tool that allows readers, sources, and reporters to ask and answer questions in a sort of open forum.

What else could you do with ReportingOn? Give it a shot, and let us know.

What’s next for 2.01 and beyond? We’ll let the dust settle over the next few days and figure out which additional features we want to build first, then we’ll take a look at our budget and consider the options. Feel free to check out to get an idea of where we might go next, and add your own ideas, too!

Thanks to everyone who helped get this launch out the door on time and on budget, especially the Lion Burger development and design team, all the friends and colleagues who gave me their input over the last year, those of you that answered my last-minute call for beta testers, and the Knight Foundation staff for supporting the first year of ReportingOn.

So… Any questions?

Highlights from four days with my head in a blender full of wildly intelligent people

What follows is intended as a brief personal braindump from the four days I spent in Cambridge, Ma. last week, most of it deeply entrenched in the guts of #KNCMIT, a conference hosted by the MIT Center for Future Civic Media featuring Knight News Challenge winners from 2007-2009, and the announcement of this year’s winners.

Tuesday night, Margaret Rosas (of Radio Engage) and I took the train out to Harvard’s end of Cambridge to sit in on a conversation Doc Searls, David Weinberger, Jonathan Zittrain, and a classroom full of brilliant people were having about the 10th birthday (and a new edition) of the Cluetrain Manifesto.  (For an actual idea about what was said at the proceedings, see Ethan Zuckerman’s notes here.)

Made it to the Cluetrain talk at Harvard with @mrosas - Searls, Weinberger, and Zittrain talking.
That’s Jonathan Zittrain, David Weinberger, and Doc Searls leading the discussion about Cluetrain at Harvard.  Fact: Zittrain is a very funny guy.


I read the Manifesto at the beginning of my research as a grad student at San Jose State, when I was following the oversized head of the blogosphere, rather than the long tail of my interest group. Doc and David W. and Scoble and Dan Gillmor and Jay Rosen and Dave Winer and, for different reasons, Romenesko, formed the core list of names I paid attention to and used as hubs for my initial explorations of the intersections of media and technology.

So Cluetrain, for me, was a list of clues that led from one node in the system to the next like a scavenger hunt — or maybe, more accurately, a geocaching game.  Now I feel like I travel (or traffic?) in the diaspora of clues, learning from a corporate media refugee here, an unemployed reporter there, a blogger with 16 nonprofit affiliations over there, and running through cycles of employment and organizations myself, as I bounce from node to node in the evolving media system.


I spent Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday bashing heads together with Knight grantees and friends old and new, as we all tried to accelerate the evolution of that aforementioned media system.

When you’re in a roomful of geniuses, I recommend you try to get them to shout out their ideas.  They tend to oblige.

Then, get the people-who-physically-build-things (I sometimes call them Web developers around these parts)  to help them translate those awesome ideas into action.  Every idea can be a work in progress.

Knight News Challenge 2009 winners
The 2009 Knight News Challenge winners.  And @agahran‘s Tweetdeck lower-right.

Everyone present came up with some awesome ideas.  And we started translating some of them into action.  Interested in a hackathon to build social tools for SMS services?  There’s a group working on it.   How about a way to track (and score) the predictions made by sources in the news, including pundits, officials, and so-called experts?  Ask Dan Schultz about that.  And lastly, what if you could get a Twitter notification every time legislation related to your interests gets close to a vote in Congress?

How about a few lists of people who inspired me?

Inspiring as always: Lisa Williams, Susan Mernit, David Cohn

People I want to collaborate with, soon: Matt Thompson, Aron Pilhofer, Nick Allen

Great conversations with editors: Tom Fiedler, Owen Youngman, Anders Gyllenhaal

One of the most personally satisfying experiences of the whole week for me was showing off ReportingOn 2.0 (coming soon!) to real live journalists of all stripes who might be interested in setting up backchannels for their beat, or their organization, or their company.  Just like it says in my script, right?

Hint: There is no script, but I’ve spent more than a year honing that pitch.

Of course, if you want to check out ReportingOn 2.0 for yourself, I posted a screencast tour on IdeaLab, though it will cost you eight precious minutes of your life.  You have eight minutes free, right?

Thanks to everyone who made my week so inspiring, and to the Knight Foundation and Knight News Challenge staff as always for funding ReportingOn’s first year.  Have an innovative idea for local news?  Apply for a grant, and I’ll see you on stage next year.

Upcoming proof of my physical existence: Boston and Pittsburgh

I’ll be showing up in person in at least two different places outside the lush springtime confines of Western New York over the next few weeks, believe it or not.

The rough details

Next week, I’ll be in Cambridge, Ma. at MIT for the Future of News and Civic Media Conference, including the announcements of the 2009 Knight News Challenge winners.

What I’m psyched for: Hanging out in Barcamp-esque sessions with the brilliant squadron of past and present Knight grantees, with the added salt of supergenius MIT grad students and their professors.  Oh, and I’m planning to pressure at least a couple people into designing mockups or developing prototypes — on the spot, in the hall, or back at the hotel — for some cool idea that starts out as a conversation in a session.  So, beware, if you speak the words “wouldn’t it be cool if…”

Later in June, I’ll be unleashed on the APSE conference in Pittsburgh for an afternoon, where I’ll lead two sessions on networked journalism.  I still like that term, because it gets straight to the point: Use (social) networks as a reporting tool.  I’ll talk about Twitter, share my recommended social media guidelines for reporters, and touch on some tools for collaboration, like Ning, and beatblogging.

What I’m psyched for: Hanging out with sports writers, finding ways to take cheap shots at the Red Sox, showing off how simple it is to get started with lightweight tools to engage your community in conversation.


My new gig at Publish2 has kept me extremely busy, and it’s likely that many of you reading this have heard from me about it lately, usually trying to get your newsroom involved in one way or another with the set of tools Publish2 has to offer.  But, I still do get a lot of questions about what we do.  So here’s my entry-level explanation:

  1. We build tools to help journalists bring the best of the Web to their community.
  2. We build tools to help journalists and their readers collaborate on reporting the news.
  3. We build tools to help journalists collaborate with each other, inside their newsroom, across news organizations, even across media companies.

Double meanwhile…

Those of you who have been keeping score (hi Dad!) know that my Knight News Challenge grant for ReportingOn hits the one-year mark — and its end — at the end of June.  The Lion Burger crew has been building all sorts of tasty goodness into what I still like to call Phase 2, and I’m planning to flip the switch on a few things as the clock strikes July 1.

What you can expect: A brand new focus on questions and answers, a new design, some cool UI features, a lot of transparency about the process of building this iteration of the network, and the full KNC-funded codebase as a ripe Django project, open-sourced for anyone and everyone to try out for themselves.

How to find me

Yes, there’s a lot going on, not to mention the awesome stuff the two-year-old does these days, but I’m still pretty easy to find.

  • I’m @ryansholin on Twitter.
  • I’m always on IM as ryansholin on Google, AIM, and sometimes even Skype if you’re lucky.
  • Questions about Publish2? Hit me at and I’ve got answers.

On IdeaLab: ReportingOn, rephrased in the form of a question

Over at the PBS IdeaLab blog, where I write about the development of ReportingOn, my Knight News Challenge project, I just posted something that starts to get into what Phase 2 of the “back channel for your beat” is going to look like.

Well, not what it’s going to *look* like exactly, but how it’s going to be framed.

Here’s a snippet:

“…the goal was always to give journalists — whether they’re a neighborhood blogger or the Baghdad bureau chief at the Washington Post — a place to ask questions about what they’re reporting on.

The shift that we’re making is a move from asking ‘What are you reporting on?’ to asking ‘What do you need to know about what you’re reporting on?

That’s where influences like Stack Overflow come into play. What’s the best way to organize and surface questions from journalists about a given topic?”

Check it out, and let me know if you think we’re on the right track.  Things are really starting to come together, and some of you should start to hear from me privately soon, as I nose around for newsrooms and neighborhood bloggers to test out Phase 2.

Why train programmers as journalists?

Over at IdeaLab, Rich Gordon shares his exit interview with Brian Boyer and Ryan Mark, the first two programmers to earn a Master’s degree through Medill’s Knight News Challenge-funded scholarship.

Because it’s fucking important.

Thanks to the News Challenge, I’ve had the chance to meet Brian and Ryan and hang out with them a bit. Frankly, they’re excellent at what they do, and they have the ideals to match. So, who will have the vision to hire these guys? A major metro in Chicago? (And should they take a job at a major metro?) Non-profits digging through public data like the Sunlight Foundation? (Gordon reports that Boyer has a temporary gig at ProPublica for starters.)

Gordon asked the two graduates the important question that other programmers/coders/developers should consider:

“Why should someone with solid programming skills consider a master’s degree in journalism?

Mark: Because journalism needs them. There are so many tech-capable people in journalism, but few who have logged the time to understand computer science and software development. A person who does not want to just write code for whoever pays them, and actually come up with and execute interesting software projects, the journalism experience will help you. This program got me out of my element and gave me first hand experience that will help me relate to others in the field when i’m not elbow deep in code.

Boyer: Because it’s fucking important. Cable television and the Web disrupted the business models of the big, important journalism organizations: newspapers. Now, the importance of a daily paper is debatable, but that democracy requires journalism to function is not. And so, for the sake of democracy itself, it is imperative that more nerds join the fight to save the news. We need to invent new business models, reinvent the newspaper, and create new forms of media. Plus, an all-expense-paid trip to graduate school in sunny Chicago, Illinois, is also a very nice way to weather a recession. And the smart, passionate classmates make for some pretty good parties and great conversation.”

I’m psyched to follow where these two land, and what the next group of programmer/journalist grad students builds.

Think you’ve got the chops to help save journalism?  Apply.

[I posted pieces of this as a shared Google Reader item last night when I saw Rich’s post. You can see all my shared stuff and notes about it over on FriendFeed if that’s what you’re into.]

What your news organization can learn from the Crunchberry project

First, two items for the glossary so I can make sorted references to mixed berries in this post:

Now that we have that out of the way, go check out Angela Nitzke’s Crunchberry post on the team’s “recommendations for journalists, news organizations and media companies.”  There’s a cluster of similar posts the team members have written since presenting the demo to the Cedar Rapids bunch last week, but this one is my favorite.

Here’s a clip:

Enlist young creative minds in developing your digital products. One way to do this, as the Gazette has done for our project, is to partner with universities and their students.  Another approach is to inject people from other fields (e.g.,  software developers).


Teach people new tricks. Recruit programmers/developers and teach them how to integrate what they do with journalism, or collaborate with engineering schools. Teach journalists how to better their stories through the use of new technology. The more you know about these technologies the more you know how to make them work for you (and your story). If it’s not practical to teach the technology in journalism school, publicize opportunities to learn it elsewhere on campus and guide motivated students to resources they can use to teach themselves.”

Read the whole thing…

As for my feedback on the Newsmixer project, I think it has a huge amount of potential as a conversation vertical, along the lines of the Guardian’s Comment is Free.  I don’t see Newsmixer running as a mainstream news site, but as a place to substitute for outdated message boards or underused staff blogs.  Populate it with content from your news and opinion sections, and let it stand as the forum for reader feedback, use it as your primary source for comments, letters, and other reader-authored content to run in print.

Heck, if it gets big enough, print the letters and comments as a four page insert once a week, not just in a box on the opinion page.

Of course, because Newsmixer was borne from a Knight News Challenge project, the code is all open source and available to download and implement on your own.

Sunday morning links: Data, DocumentCloud, and the Obama Bounce for news

A few things I haven’t had time yet to dig deeper on, but maybe you will:

“4. Go off the reservation: No matter how good your IT department is, their priorities are unlikely to be in sync with yours. They’re thinking big-picture product roadmaps with lots of moving pieces. Good luck fitting your database of dog names (oh yes, we did one of those) into their pipeline. Early on, database producer Ben Welsh set up a Django box at, where many of the Times’ interactive projects live. There are other great solutions besides Django, including Ruby on Rails (the framework that powers the Times’ articles and topics pages and many of the great data projects produced by The New York Times) and PHP (an inline scripting language so simple even I managed to learn it). Some people (including the L.A. Times, occasionally) are using Caspio to create and host data apps, sans programming. I am not a fan, for reasons Derek Willis sums up much better than I could, but if you have no other options, it’s better than sitting on your hands.”

“To get a sense of DocumentCloud’s potential, take a look at the database of Guantánamo Bay detainees that the Times made public on Nov. 3, when it was accompanied by a 1,500-word story. Each record is linked to relevant government documents that have been made public since ‘enemy combatants’ were first held there in 2002. Pilhofer said the database isn’t using a full-featured version of DocViewer, but it certainly demonstrates the benefit of browsing documents grouped by subject rather than, say, the order in which the Defense Department happened to release them. What’s remarkable about the Gitmo collection, aside from its massive scope, is that the Times has offered up this information at all. As Pilhofer said, ‘It’s not usually in a newsroom’s DNA to release something like that to the public — and not just the public, the competition, too.'”

Placeblogger: More human than ever

Check out the redesigned Placeblogger a 2007 Knight News Challenge winner.

The aggregation-by-location niche seems to be blowing up lately, especially as startups try to hitch their maps to the iPhone’s wagon, but Placeblogger feels like real live humans are writing blog posts in real live places.  I like that.

via the Knight Foundation Blog.

See also: Build your own local news application using Outside.In’s API

Community-funded news launches at Spot.Us

Fellow Knight News Challenge 2008 winner David Cohn took the wraps off the latest iteration of Spot.Us over the last few days, launching an engine for community-funded reporting from donation to publication.

Here’s the explanatory video:
Spot.Us – Community Funded Reporting Intro from Digidave on Vimeo.

I love the idea that Spot.Us could do at least three jobs:

  1. Provide news organizations with investigative/enterprise content they have less funding and staff to produce on their own.
  2. Provide freelancers (increasingly experienced and skilled freelancers recently out of a job at a newspaper, perhaps) with an outlet for reporting and quite possibly, a source of income.
  3. Provide readers with a request line for news in their community.

Plenty more floating around about the launch and the idea today:

Snapshots from the future of online student news

Those of you (er, both of you) who have been following this blog since its outset (onset?) in February 2005 will recall that I first got involved with the actual production of online news at the Spartan Daily, the student newspaper of San Jose State University, where I remain a graduate student, believe it or not.

I walked into Prof. Richard Craig‘s office one day in the summer of 2005 and said “Why isn’t there an RSS feed for the Daily?” and he and the other advisers and Daily-adjacent faculty members basically gave me the keys to the site and told me to go out and do whatever I could to improve it.

It turned out that adding an RSS feed was easy, but my interest — and sudden new role as the contact for the hosting and CMS provider (back then it was a company called Digital Partners) — led me to my first news site redesign, turning the Daily’s site into something slightly more pleasant to look at.

I think I must have taken a few independent study credits and the title of Webmaster the next semester.  I wasn’t the Online Editor, whose job at that point in time was mostly to do a lot of painful copy/paste webmonkey work very late at night, but I helped the staff try to figure out a little bit about what more they could do with the system.

Digital Partners was promptly swallowed up by College Publisher, and I redesigned the site again, with the excuse of porting it over to a new CMS and hosting system.  It was fun, and I was working with the incoming Online Editor, Shaminder Dulai, who started driving multimedia into the story count requirements at the Daily. (And then Daniel Sato and Neal Waters redesigned it.  And then Kyle Hansen redesigned it.  It should be redesigned every semester if there’s a student or two with a passion for online news design, and if you don’t have one or two of those around, something’s wrong. )


This is all just to say that after working with a few versions of the dominant CMS/hosting tool for college newspapers, I came to the following conclusions:

  1. If all you’re interested in teaching or learning is content production, College Publisher is fine.  Stories, comments, blogs (?), video, photos — it can handle all that.  I’m pretty sure embeddable tools work as well.  But those are the limits.
  2. If you’re interested in teaching or learning anything at all about Web design, development, user interaction, interactivity, Flash-based multimedia or graphics, or community management, you need something more flexible than a turnkey solution.


Once you get past that, you’re loose in the touchy and complicated world of how/why/when/where to deploy some sort of open source software and server setup that students can manage — and far more importantly, that the next student staff can manage.  And the next one.  And the next.

I’ve been excited to see a few projects appear in recent months to address that issue, and get past it.  Here’s the best I’ve seen, so far:

  • The Populous Project: This Knight News Challenge winning project intends to build a fully featured three-phase system for student (and small town?) news, from CMS to a front-end newsroom system for print and online, to a social networking tool to add on to news sites.  This project is based at the UCLA Daily Bruin, where they’re coding up a prototype in Django which they plan to open-source.
  • CoPress: This collective project features a bunch of online news students and recent graduates that I know from around the Web, and they’re applying for a Knight News Challenge grant this year. (Sense a theme here?)  Check out their answers to my questions about their proposal.  The gang at CoPress knows exactly what a student paper needs to get their jobs done and be innovative at the same time, and you can see that in their list of Ideal CMS Features, which includes things like the need for a system that plays well with InDesign and IPTC data.

(For a sense of what’s possible when you break out of the College Publisher mold and go your own way, check out the WordPress-powered Miami Hurricane.)

My most important questions for any student media CMS project have to do with scalability and repeatability:

How easy will this CMS be to host, given the variety of university and external systems in play at student media outlets with a wide range of organizational structures?

How easy will this CMS be to maintain for a steady flow of students through a newsroom, year after year?