Welcome to Idea Lab

    by Mark Glaser
    October 16, 2007

    A few weeks back, I heard gunshots outside my window. It was pretty scary, and reminded me of my urban environment here in Potrero Hill, San Francisco. But where could I turn to get the story on what happened? Was someone killed? Do police know what happened? In the past, I might have heard something about it on the local TV news or radio news, or perhaps read something in the local newspaper.

    But in this case, no one was hurt or killed, so there was nothing to see in any of the bigger media outlets in my local area. Later, I got the details on what happened from a local email list related to the Potrero Hill Parents Association. I found out that people in two passing cars had fired upon each other and hadn’t hurt any bystanders.

    This case illustrates to me the disconnect between the local news happening in my neighborhood down at the real block-by-block level and the way local news outlets fail to cover that news. We have an opportunity, thanks to technology and the Internet, to serve communities better than ever before, give them a voice in news coverage and make local news a much more interactive experience.


    MediaShift Idea Lab will be a place where you can read about what innovators are doing to help reinvent community news. The dozens of authors at this new group blog — hosted by PBS.org and funded by the Knight Foundation — have received grants from Knight in their 21st Century News Challenge, and are going to report first-hand on the status of their projects. Some of them are actually being given grants just to blog about a topic related to reinventing journalism in communities.

    As the editor of this group blog, I’ll mainly be overseeing the content and design of the site, and will stay out of the way of all the people posting their own stories. The authors will be able to post and publish directly to the site, and I’ll be editing after they have posted content — keeping the content timely and fresh. As readers of Idea Lab, you’ll be able to post comments to any blog post, rate the posts that you like best, and directly contact the authors via our Feedback Form.

    The main MediaShift blog received a grant from Knight to produce Idea Lab and also to launch new multimedia features, such as a regular audio podcast, video reports and a citizen media project. I’m looking forward to having those features come to fruition and hope there will be many chances for collaboration with the Idea Lab authors on MediaShift as well. I will continue to laud and criticize Knight’s many intiatives, as I did with the News21 program recently, remaining editorially independent and transparent.


    After many months of hard work from Knight, the PBS.org tech team, and House of Pretty design team and everyone involved in this project, I’m really proud (and relieved) to have it go live online. I look forward to your readership, participation and feedback as we reinvent community news together.

    UPDATE: Mike Koehler, deputy sports editor at the Daily Oklahoman in Oklahoma City, wrote me an interesting email about Idea Lab:

    This is a subject that keeps me awake at night as an assignment editor at a mid-size daily. But then I looked at the bios of all the contributers [at Idea Lab]. Just one is a reporter at a daily newspaper. Sure, many have experience, but I just don’t understand how we are going to solve the problems in our business with a bunch of professors, consultants and others who are divorced from the day-to-day grind of the industry.

    Sure it’s great to have utopian visions, but how will that work in the real world? I don’t mean to sound like a Luddite. I’m far from it. I’m reading my Blackberry in the men’s room and wondering how that simple action is going to impact my job in the near and far future. There just needs to be some dose of reality: How do you convince reporters to embrace transparency and treat crowdsourcers as peers? How do you balance the popularity of the latest Britney Spears viral video with your story about the city council that really effects reader’s lives? How do you ask your staff to write, record, edit and shoot video, and still enable them to be home in time for their kid’s soccer match?

    I’m just worried that the innovators will be busy innovating, but remove the human element. And with no connection to the living, breathing newsroom trenches of today, that’s bound to happen.

    I think Koehler makes a good point about Idea Lab participants being a bit removed from the trenches. However, I wonder whether people who are in the trenches actually have time to start something innovative as a side project. I hope that Koehler and others in the trenches will read and participate on Idea Lab, and keep us all connected to what they’re seeing and how that relates to these new projects. It will provide a much needed reality check on what we think and do here.

    Tagged: community news crime introduction

    16 responses to “Welcome to Idea Lab”

    1. Congratulations to Mark and MediaShift for getting the Idea Lab group blog funded and up and running! I will be a regular reader. As your collection of bloggers well know, local and neighborhood level news and community hold much challenge and opportunity.

      For Mark’s gunshot example, folks in Burlington, VT would turn to Front Porch Forum, where 25% of the city subscribes to their neighborhood’s online forum.

    2. Jeff Oberman says:

      Great site Mark! I too enjoyed your article as it does ring true that we are impacted most by our neighborhood environment and truly local news. In Santa Cruz, CA the ‘old media’ newspaper is not even published in town anymore…it’s over the hill in San Jose and truly ‘over the hill’ in terms of what is really happening in the day-to-day world.

      Congrats again on the launch!

    3. As usual this type blog fail to address the core problems of generating revenues.

    4. @Stephen. Idea Lab will very much be exploring the problem of generating revenues. Many of these projects relate to businesses being launched that will need revenue to survive.

    5. Oh, thanks for the info. Please pass me or post a few links where revenue generation is discussed.

    6. Ed says:

      Create a real world Sims 911 where people drop info packets along their route to the office using their laptop in the car. The virtual world simulation would be a compulation of all the crime events utilizing google maps. A person would type in their address and find the street where a crime was commited and type in what happened or what they heard on the street. When ever someone logs on they would see red pins stuck over the map of the US. By clicking on a pin they would see the latest street crime. RSS feed would automaticlly update the map with yellow pins designating that the info came from a news source. The red pins would be street cred info. If I lived in Maine and saw a lot of red pins in LA and clicked on one I would be taken on a street tour of the surrounding area if I choose or taken straight to the scene of the crime with links to news stories. Most news papers have blogs where some of the citizens post their views of what’s going on in the area. The Sims graphics mixed with real time news feeds along with street reporting would be a interesting change in the way we view the news. IMO

    7. Ed says:

      Advertising dollars in a virtual reality world could come from insurance companies and medical providers advertising on billboards and back of cabs or trucks that a person is driving behind if they click additional credit is given to the user. A poster would have an account where they compile writers credits, ad credits, travel miles for travel across country to comment on news if they fly travel air companies could give miles or rent a car car rental companies could give credits. All this is for a virtual news blogger loging on and taking the tour instead of clicking directly with a plain news source.

    8. Ed says:

      I forgot to mention a lot of local municipalities have police blogs in their local news ad those somehow along with a few wanted posters to spice it up. When a person traveling sees a cross on the side of the road they would get the info on what happened.

    9. Ed says:

      10/20/07 I finally figured out the key to getting news feeds into the virtual world. I thought and said to myself RSS needs to supply a physical address to virtural world developers can fast link. Then it hit me by using GPS on all news feeds when reporting or writing a story the address would always be recognizable. Lets say you enter a virtural street you just wrote. As you travel forward dozens of pop up windows appear letting you know that at that very spot something happened. A grand opening to a crime, every virtural street on Google Earth would have history in a virtual setting. Then the developer can design better and add or leave out what ever info they choose. The trick is convencing RSS news service to include a line for GPS and zip code when a person fills in a request for the story to be reported or all news stories for that matter local and national. All a digital camera companies have to do is make the GPS location part of the news story. Dam im good.

    10. Ed says:

      A better RSS Virtual reference code would be the GPS/date/time, where no two would be alike and would put the news or image right on the x in a virtual setting. If the same spot is popular like a outdoor concert venue then a drop down box would appear so the game designer could choose which news feed or image he wants. One better would be GPS/date/time and a thumbnail image with brief description.

    11. Robert Park says:

      To Ed,

      I hate posting comments on comments it seems to get way off track from the original topic. But the virtual reference code doesn’t work all the time. What if someone is doing story about a person. What is the GPS coordinates of that? or time? Is it when the story is written or when the event that took place? There are also other factors that make time and place an difficult abstaction.

    12. Ed says:

      It could only be where the event took place. It sounds like you are refering to a writer that sits at his desk and dreams up a story of a destination. Well if it is to be used in a exact virtual setting it would need a GPS stamp. Not the other way around. A virtual setting doesn’t need per say ‘any ole writings’ to fill it’s land scape. Again as I said before it’s up to the writer/designer of the virtual document to decide if the infomation available is to be used or not. The information does not decide to fate of the designed virtual document. So if the general information is going to be used it would fall under no specific address data and used as filler. If the designed piece is to be used as technical demografic data it needs to have an exact address. Example you are designing a virtual 2D simulator with realtime updates. You would need GPS/date/time or you could guess. Without a RSS feed locator in news stories, a person would spend days searching for data for his or her project. With my free idea they would be able to access the data while they are designing the project. Cutting search time, or you could say expanding the reach of the search engine to be accesses of the fly simply by location address. As you move allong a street every RSS feed pops up in a drop down box related to that three or more foot spance of land. As you move addresses appear in a box and all you have to do is move your mouse over a drop down box and all the news feeds and other general data appears for that address, get to the street corner and accident info may be the only feed or maybe someone took a cell phone picture of a building standing at that spot. If you really think about it what would be a better way of getting exact data on a specific location on the fly without typing in info, after search info, and more typing, and more typing? Yes it would also save voice to text commands. If the reader does’nt read it it can’t search until the voice command is read. Who would want to talk out every street address looking for info. But hey, im sure someone somewhere is working on the next killer apps. Thanls for taxing my brain this morning I needed it.

    13. Ed says:

      Once California recovers and vegetation starts to spring up and dot the landscapes there may be unforseen dangers lurking. Hikers will trek across vast areas of landscape looking at the new rebirth of the Santa Anna trails and valleys. But what about the dangers of the wild wild west that we were so aquainted with from the TV weekday western movies. Beware of quicksand. Now im not an expert but the burning of the earth use to be an common occurance before man came along. Horses and animals would get stuck and a occassional caveman or cowboy. So what happens when all the silt and ash wash down to the lowest points and it is imo prime ground to get stuck in if all conditions for the murk presents itself. Assuming silt and ash pits are dangerous they will have to be mapped and posted so no other hiker will trek on the unforgiving path. There is going to be tons of silt washed down hill and washed down stream to rivers. Flash floods will occur more frequently. I started out with the intent of connecting the fire storm aftermath with a new GPS system but now think, wait… It would still be needed as I have said it’s all about setting up stationary markers with dates times and GPS positions to make future references much easier weather it is virtual or state rescue of a lost hiker. So do you think the silt will take us back 10,000 years or what?

    14. Ed says:

      Is their money in carbon tree silt? Can Californians find gold in them there hills? Can silt ash be recycled or used as a nutralizer for toxic waste? A natural carbon filter? Here is a company that I think uses it for replanting. Or maybe it is a natural weed deturant for the forest and we should let nature take it’s natural coarse.


    15. Ed says:

      The ups and downs of technology as I see it. Companies like Burst.com deveopand patent their products and years later everyone is developing applications Based on the Burst technology. The same thing could happen to Adobe or Cad or any other old technology that get into the developing the next big thing apps without respecting and paying homage to prior art. It is happening again with today 10/25/07 San-disk suing 25 companies for patent infringement. Those fancy USB drives sprung up fast just like all the video media players. So incorporating bells and whistles into virtural world settings assuming everything goes with no payhe payhe won’t fly.

    16. Ed says:

      So can we make the system better with collective minds, for the betterment of a collective society?


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