Every year, the Knight Foundation drops millions of dollars on projects that will change the way the news is made. With that kind of money on the line, competition is fierce. Only 12 projects got a grant, out of 2,400 applicants. They’ve just announced their 2010 crop of winners, and there are a couple of really interesting projects in there.
It should come as no surprise that social media approaches to news are all over the winners’ list. Many of the projects aim to help people produce their own journalism together, through social media approaches, without the need for a paid press corps. I found three of the winners particularly interesting:
One of the winning projects is actually based around a business model for local journalism. Journalism in general is hard to fund, and local journalism even more so – even though, arguably, local stories are often the ones with most immediate relevance to people’s lives. The idea behind PRX StoryMarket is that people in a town or area can flag up local stories that need to be investigated by a public radio station. Other site members can contribute funds if they agree the story is important enough. Once enough money has been gathered, the radio station hires a freelance reporter to actually investigate the story and create a radio report.
Project One Eight
This is one that I’ll be keen to see published. Teru Wakayama is a very well-travelled news photographer who has spent most of the past decade reporting in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kashmir and Pakistan. In Project One Eight, he’ll embed with a US military unit in Afghanistan to produce a journal of their time on deployment. But he won’t be the only one uploading pictures to the web:
this project will chronicle a battalion by combining reporting from embedded journalists with user-generated content from the Marines themselves. The troops and their families will be key audiences for the online journal steering, challenging and augmenting the coverage with their feedback.
So the soldiers themselves will contribute material, and their families will be able to see, comment and discuss. I can see how this would be great for their families, and I’d certainly find it fascinating to follow.
How will they deal with security, though? Posting personal details on Facebook can lead to a hundred people crashing your house party – but posting pictures of yourself in Afghanistan, about to patrol a particular valley?
This is one that really caught my attention. The people behind it are Ian Bogost and Michael Mateas. These are two guys that I’m thrilled to see working together. Bogost is a founder of Persuasive Games, one of the leading editorial games producers. Mateas is one of the geniuses behind Façade (if you haven’t played Façade, go play it now. It’s a game based on conversation, with a sophistcated AI playing the other characters).
Together, they’ve come up with The Cartoonist:
this project will create a free tool that produces cartoon-like current event games – the game equivalent of editorial cartoons. The simplified tools will be created with busy journalists and editors in mind, people who have the pulse of their community but don’t have a background in game development. By answering a series of questions about the major actors in a news event and making value judgments about their actions, The Cartoonist will automatically propose game rules and images. The games aim to help the sites draw readers and inspire them to explore the news.
“Cartoon-like current event games” means things like Raid Gaza and Faith Fighter. These games use game dynamics and humour to comment on a situation, as opposed to games like MP for a Week and Trafalgar: Origins, whose purpose is more explanatory (even if they’re fun to play).
Games like Raid Gaza and Faith Fighter can be really useful content editorially. By taking a point of view on a current issue, they start debate and discussion among their players, which has to be a good thing. A lot of people had strong words about Raid Gaza when it came out.
Of course, the bottleneck for games like these is that they take skill and time to program. Seems like the idea of The Cartoonist is a system that allows non-programmers to create editorial games in much the same way WordPress allows non-coders to create web sites like this one.
Game design is a subtle and complex challenge, and it will be interesting to see how Bogost and Mateas turn it into repeatable, customizable operations. If anyone can do it, they can. I’m intrigued to see how this will work, and I’ll be sure to get my hands on a copy of The Cartoonist when it becomes available.
Bogost has written up more about the project on his blog.