Transom, Curious City to develop new technology tools with Knight aid

By Erica Sánchez-Vázquez

Producer Jay Allison leads a workshop for Transom.org, the website supporting storytelling craft, which received a grant to develop online courseware. (Photo: Whitney Jones)

Producer Jay Allison leads a workshop for Transom.org, the website supporting storytelling craft, which received a grant to develop online courseware. (Photo: Whitney Jones)

The Knight Foundation’s Knight Prototype Fund awarded grants to five media projects that will develop new technology tools for journalists.

Four of the five grantees are rooted in public broadcasting and the fifth is a local nonprofit news organization. Each will receive up to $50,000 to support the creation of experimental tools intended to improve storytelling and reporting.

The fund, created last year, “helps innovators take their project from idea to demo,” according to the Knight’s June 20 announcement.

Grantees include Atlantic Public Media’s Transom.org; PBS.org’s MediaShift; Curious City, a participatory journalism project headquartered at Chicago’s WBEZ; Minnesota-based American Public Media; and Raleigh Public Record, an online news organization covering Raleigh, N.C.

Curious City, which launched as a co-production between WBEZ and the CPB-backed Localore, will receive $50,000 to improve its online platform supporting participatory journalism and create an open source code so that other stations can incorporate the system into their own newsrooms. The Curious City website allows users to suggest and vote on local news topics that they want journalists to investigate. Since the site’s launch in May 2012, the team has received hundreds of questions from the Chicago community.

About 15 stations from around the country have expressed interest in implementing this model of content creation, according to Jennifer Brandel, project leader. Curious City will partner with software designers ThoughtWorks to make the platform more intuitive for editors and producers, as well as more adaptable to different uses, Brandel explained.

“We’re really excited about the idea of homegrown projects in stations and sharing them in the public media landscape,” she commented.

Two other grantees will create tools to facilitate research and analysis. American Public Media will receive $50,000 to improve audio search technology. Peter Karman, APM’s director of software engineering, said that the research team will use existing software to produce computer-generated transcripts of up to 200 programs. Those transcripts will then be compared with manual transcripts to look for ways to improve transcription and search quality.

Raleigh Public Record will work on DocHive, a software program that uses optical character recognition to convert PDF image files of electronic forms into structured data that can be used in spreadsheets. The program, released in its beta version in February, was designed to help journalists and other interested parties analyze and sort data from documents such as financial reports, explained co-creator Charles Duncan.

Duncan, founding editor of Raleigh Public Record, conceived of the idea for DocHive in 2010 after encountering campaign finance returns that were filed as paper and put online as images. His brother Edward, who is a programmer, helped create the software.

The current version is available on GitHub, but “requires some programming skill” to be used, Charles Duncan said. Knight’s $50,000 award will support the development costs of making the system more user-friendly.

Fellow grantee Transom, the online community and resource serving independent media makers, will explore new models for producing online courseware for journalists with its $47,700 grant. The website currently offers tools, lessons, discussions and workshops for journalists to further build their reporting and production skills. It will develop these into the Transom Online Workshop by creating packages of self-guided courses and instructor-led classes with a focus on multimedia storytelling, and expects to release them in August 2013.

Finally, PBS MediaShift’s prototype, CollabMatch, will provide an online platform that connects media professionals who share similar interests, with the intention of fostering collaborations. An investigative journalist covering immigration in Texas, for example, might find another journalist covering immigration in Arizona, according to an example cited in the news release, and the pair could begin comparing notes or working together. The matchmaking service will work with the LinkedIn application programming interface (API) so that people can use their existing profile information to make those connections.

“As traditional journalism struggles with cuts in editorial, more journalists need to collaborate to do deeper work,” wrote Mark Glasser, executive editor of MediaShift and Idea Lab. The organization launched the online source Collaboration Central last year with the same purpose, he added.

PBS MediaShift received $49,000 to develop this project. Glasser, also the project director, said that they aim to have a working prototype open to public use within six months, which is the deadline that Knight gave to all projects.

The Knight Prototype Fund is in its second year of grants. Including these new projects, the Foundation has funded 20 media prototypes, which can be viewed on the organization’s website.

This article was first published in Current, June 24, 2013, and updates an earlier online post.

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