This post was written by Ryan Graff of the Knight News Innovation Lab and originally appeared on the Lab’s blog.
While the Knight Lab spent last week looking back at 2012, what we’re really excited about is 2013 and beyond.
Nieman Journalism Lab has a whole series on what to look for in 2013, from a not-so-shabby group of journalism and technology gurus — Amy Webb, Matt Waite, Erin Kissane and our own Miranda Mulligan among them.
At the Knight Lab, we saw glimpses of the future in many projects that launched this year.
the rise of algorithms
Summly‘s launch got us thinking again about how algorithms are bound to become common newswriting tools. They won’t replace reporters, but some of those low-level, dime-a-dozen stories (ahem, earning reports) might just be better off in the hands of an algorithm. Automated writing sounds apocalyptic, but wouldn’t it be great if technology left the journalists time to create the complex, nuanced stories that we love the most?
Plus, there’s every chance that algorithms will find news rather than write it. Ben Welsh beautifully explained the Los Angeles Times’ work in this area at this year’s International Symposium of Online Journalism.
A few 2012 projects brought us greater transparency, which will almost certainly be a trend that carries us into 2013. One project that hits close to home is NewsDiffs.org, which shows readers how stories evolve and change over time in select publications. It’s a kind of “forced transparency“ for the publications under NewsDiffs’ eye, but it’s undoubtedly interesting for readers.
PolicyMic brings a different kind of transparency to political conversation and debate by forcing readers to use their real name when commenting on their stories. In the dark hole that is sometimes the comments section of news stories, PolicyMic stands out for thoughtful user comments. True, an up-vote system and a positive site culture help regulate comments, but the idea of posting under a real-life identity has to help keep things thoughtful and civil.
crowdsourcing and tech
Super Pac App: What a great example of technology’s positive effect on journalism. This app used a Shazam-style interface to tell voters who and how much money was behind a particular political ad and whether the claims made in ads were factual. It was a great project for the 2012 election and hopefully one that will stick around for future elections.
2012 also saw two great crowdsourced projects — ProPublica’s Message Machine and Free the Files. Crowdsourced journalism has been making the rounds for a few years, but for us, these were milestone projects — deliberate, effective and insightful.
And finally, how about Snow Fall? Is there a word yet for what this is? Multimedia and interactive both seem inadequate. To me, this felt almost cinematic. This is a great mix of imagery (both captured and created), words and interaction that feels like a turning point in how stories are told online. The individual elements of this story have all been around for a long time, but the arrangement was outstanding. Here’s hoping we get some more of this stunning, well-reported work in 2013.
Ryan Graff joined the Knight News Innovation Lab in October 2011. He previously held a variety of newsroom positions — from arts and entertainment editor to business reporter — at newspapers around Colorado before moving to magazines and the web. In 2008 he won a News21 Fellowship from the Carnegie and Knight foundations to come up with innovative ways to report on and communicate the economic impact of energy development in the West. He holds an MSJ from the Medill School of Journalism and a certificate in media management from Northwestern’s Media Management Center. Immediately prior to joining the Lab, Graff led marketing and public relations efforts in the Middle East.
The Knight Lab is a team of technologists, journalists, designers and educators working to advance news media innovation through exploration and experimentation. Straddling the sciences and the humanities the Lab develops projects, prototypes and innovative bits of code that help make information meaningful, and promote quality journalism, storytelling and content on the internet. The Knight Lab is a joint initiative of Northwestern University’s Robert R. McCormick School of Engineering and Applied Science and the Medill School of Journalism. The Lab was launched and is sustained by a grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, with additional support from the Robert R. McCormick Foundation and the National Science Foundation.