As #hacktoberfest Approaches, It's a Good Time to Reflect on the Tasks at Hand for News Teams: Learn, Do, Lead and Repeat

UPDATE: This post came in response to a question posed to the Knight-Mozilla group headed to Berlin that asked what drew us into the MoJo project, and what we would expect if offered a fellowship abroad.

Really, I don’t know what to expect, and if I start to think about the details – the “how would I do this”, or “how handle this” – I get somewhat paralyzed. So I’m headed into the process with an open mind toward anything and everything.

Big picture-wise, what would I like to see happen? Safe to say, in both experiences, there would be a lot of learning, opportunities to teach others, and a lot of fumbling around to see what might work. Teams will evolve, each of our ideas about what is possible will be challenged, and when we leave we will know a lot more about ourselves and our motivations. If we all can achieve that, no one will be left behind.


In one week, 20 of us hacks and hackers will convene in Berlin, Germany to spend five days hacking together new ways of gathering and presenting the news thanks to a news/technology partnership between Mozilla and the Knight Foundation.

We’ll be joined by – among many others – leaders from Zeit Online, Al Jazeera, the Boston Globe, the BBC and the Guardian, news organizations offering five fellowships. That’s right, five out of 20 will be chosen to go abroad for a year to implement digital tools for journalists, work with newsroom staff and – above all else – learn.

And as I stare at the calendar, as the start of #hacktoberfest creeps closer, I can’t help but begin to feel nervous about so many things: How did I end up here? Do I know what I am doing? What if my skills aren’t good enough? What if no one is interested in my project? Am I in over my head?

All of these feelings are natural, and probably even healthy.

My background is in print journalism, but three years ago I was dropped into the media of digital news content and platforms. So just as I had when I made the jump from sports to news, or reporter to editor, I started to learn everything I could about where the news industry was at, where trends pointed, and where newsrooms could/should be in terms of digital platforms.

And this May, when given the opportunity to submit a MoJo project, not only did I see it as a chance to dust off old battle plans and ideas, but as a chance to sincerely pitch something that I had come to view as sorely lacking in the world of news: A contextualized news environment that catered to the different levels of news consumers, but also afforded a journalist the opportunity to current an issue from 10,000 feet as opposed to writing story after story.

Somehow, someway my project pitch was noticed and selected, which allowed me to move on to the Knight-Mozilla Learning Lab, where for four weeks of lectures and informal discussions I found some of my theories were spot on and others weren’t fully baked. I found I knew a lot about some things and nothing about others. And as such, my thinking evolved as did my project.

The evolution came after I found that while there are plenty of folks focusing on and addressing the user end of news – how it’s presented, user interaction & engagement, etc – there are tremendous opportunities to build tools and applications for the newsroom and journalists that don’t receive as much public attention, but are starting to more and more and more.

So with the possibility of a fellowship in front of me, it’s this area that motivates me, this chance to learn from other journalists and from other newsroom cultures, be influenced by other systems & workflows and work together to create something that is greater than the sum of its parts, and will allow newsrooms to add value and utility to content in an efficient manner.

Specifically, I am interested in finding answers to the following questions:

  • How does the staff go about gathering news and information?
  • Once gathered, how can value and utility be added to news and information before it’s packaged for digital and print platforms.
  • Once packaged, how can news and information be maintained, updated and re-focused?

I know going in that the answers aren’t simple; there are a lot of moving parts, political obstacles and organizational challenges. It’s something I found last year in helping to lead the pilot, test and implementation of a new content management system that had the ability to merge print and digital production.

But I feel more confident in my knowledge and my ability to lead than I did even just six months ago. If anything, the MoJo process has helped foster this feeling through critical thinking about what is possible, reflection and exposure to ideas from a wide-range of wicked-smart individuals.

And perhaps most importantly, I know that no one person has all the answers. But a “small group of committed people?” Well they might have enough answers to change the world… or at least the news business.

Comments