Posts Tagged ‘Knight Foundation’

If you don’t already know, this year brings a fresh new challenge to a journo-coder wannabe who calls herself DataMinerUK. I am a Knight-Mozilla fellow at the Guardian and am looking to learn to code and make news in the open. As such I have moved this blog to a self hosted website: where I can embed iframes.

It is long overdue and although I found managing a blog much easier, my goal to build news using open frameworks means I need a proper platform. It should look and feel pretty much the same. I’m not looking to become a hot shot developer and build an entire content management system (which the Guardian has done) but to work on content. Let’s use digital tool to find the message as well as build the medium.

My focus is on content. I’d describe myself more as a journalist than a coder. But with a lot of help from the Interactives team at the Guardian and my fellow fellows, I can harness the power of open source, open journalism and open news to be you content in weird and wonderful ways. What they’ll be is anyones guess, yours as well as mine.

So stay tuned!

So things have gone quiet on the blog front but screamingly loud behind the scenes. I have met some amazing and inspiring people in both the US and Canada. A lot of them have been taken aback by my journey which I have documented here and which I should update on my timeline.

I have called myself a ‘human experiment’. I am trying to create a so-called ‘Data Journalist’ and left the newsroom to retrain. Whilst working with a startup I have come to realise that I am not an experiment, I am a startup. A living, breathing, learning, iterating, startup.

I have used the web to test my seed idea by finding organisations like HacksHackers and attending conferences like NewsRewired. I have used this blog and my journey to seek validation. I have acted to develop my business acumen, creating point stories, Twitter accounts and bots.

I now have ‘Angel’ funding provided by the Knight Foundation and invested by Mozilla. This means I have to go into testing. Across the Atlantic I was doing a lot of outreach. I believed in ScraperWiki more than myself, in some ways I still do. They are a proper startup, a business, an institution, and I believe in their power as a tool for social good. And that will never die. And so the startup will never fail in my eyes.

As the tech startup joke goes: “A million guys walk in to a Silicon Valley bar. None of them buy anything. The bar is declared a rousing success.” Business is a hard world. Your passion for business is fundamentally what is needed to drive even the best ideas. My passion is not in business development, it’s in news development. And good news will always find a way to survive. I am not looking to succeed as a business but as a startup. So how can a startup not be a business?

In the same vein, how can an experiment not have a tangible result? I was never going to get to a stage when I could say ‘I have succeeded’. My experiment was to see if learning some programming (that journey still continues) and gathering news differently, would be a viable route into a newsroom (when newsrooms are hemorrhaging people and resources) in order to produce news and not just talk about it. I wondered, can I restructure myself faster and in the right direction of the evolving news industry by using the lean startup mode of discovery.

Now that has been verified, it’s back to the hypothesis. It’s back to testing and now I have a lab that is willing to take me on, The Guardian. And I couldn’t ask for a better lab. But it’s up to me to continue the research.

I was blown over by the ‘congratulations’ I received at the announcement of my fellowship (which was uploaded here, here and here) but the fellowship is not an acknowledgement of what I have done, but an opportunity to test out what I can do. It’s the end of one leg of my journey and the beginning of an even more daunting road.

My journey is made less daunting by the fact that I have travel partners in Cole Gillespie, Dan Schultz, Laurian Gridinoc and Mark Boas (although their skills and experience make for quite intimidating company). I have carriage provided by The Guardian and service by Knight.

So what is my success? What is my lesson learnt? I took the road less traveled by and that has made all the difference:

So I’m back from Berlin and in the US. I met some amazing people at the Knight Mozilla Hacktoberfest, a 4 day hackathon with people from all over the world and from all walks of life. It was the most fun I’ve had all year and I’ve made some friends for life. The project ideas were brilliant and the discussion inspiring. To have the news partners (Al Jazeera, BBC, Guardian, BostonGlobe and Zeit) be active participants was a great move on Mozillla’s part. To have big news organisations look outside for ideas and solutions shows they realise news is out there, not solely within structured organisations.

I remember first seeing a blog post about this partnership process and thinking: “Wow, I wish I could apply. Shame I’m not a developer”. I went along to the application process out of curiosity and thankfully my creative juices got the best of me.

Even then, my scepticism told me not to expect any part of my MozNewsLab pitch, the Big Picture, to be built in 4 days and so I made a little side project, MoJoNewsBot. On the third day of the hackathon I presented my data stream connected chat bot via the Big Discussion part of Big Picture. Thanks to an amazing participant, David Bello, we got a conference with website submission, approval and iframe designed and coded in two days. I only found out before presenting that he is in management at a university in Colombia and doesn’t code for a living. I was truly blown away by how an idea; developed, designed and pitched, can be made reality owing solely to the good will of someone who “plays” with code.

You can keep track of both projects, Big Picture and MoJoNewsBot on the Mozilla wiki. I’m looking to make the first and third part of Big Picutre with further help and advice from the participants. Thanks to the magic of GitHub and DotCloud, I have a local version of Big Picture running on my computer. I’m going to learn JavaScript and add to/clean up Big Picture before I present it formally on my blog. As for my chat bot, I need to add error messages and tidy up the code a bit. Then I’ll relocate him from the #botpark to #HacksHackers on IRC. During events in the US I’m going to add more modules with interesting data for journalists to reference.

To all my viewers, whoever you are, I recommend you hop on the MoJo bandwagon next year. It’ll be the ride of your life! Almost as eventful as driving the ScraperWiki digger 😉