Last night I attended a presentation by Susan Mernit (Twitter) about the Knight News Challenge, an initiative by the Knight Foundation to promote democracy and discourse through innovative digital (and social) media projects. My notes on the presentation, which I first heard of through my employer, comprise only the 4 elements that the screeners look for in filtering out the good proposals for grant consideration:
- it must be innovative, groundbreaking or new in some way. Not going to just do community journalism based on blog software. Failure is an option: Knight thinks that if half the projects don't fail, they're not trying hard enough.
- it must be an open source project, not just code, but the lessons and value of project have to be scalable and replicable. You can commercialize the project, but something needs to be documented and exportable.
- it must serve the public interest. Newspapers dying because of the web, but also because of corporitization. Knight intends to promote democratic discourse through the program. The project needs to make people more informed citizens.
- it must serve a specific geographic community. It can be a test-bed for a wider project, but the test-bed must happen in a real place, with the possibility of exporting to other places.
(Drupal came up a lot. Boris and I shared a moment.)
She cited EveryBlock multiple times, especially during my question which was to get her to talk more about the discourse promotion than the journalism aspect. I can't get excited about EveryBlock until either Vancouver, B.C. (the city in which I currently reside) or Portland, Oregon (the city I have a crush on) get included in the data sets. I understand the importance of it—that it scrapes government websites or taps into their knowledge stores and makes it presentable so that citizens can have informed discussions about important issues in their neighbourhoods—but until it comes to my neck of the woods, I can't be expected to fully resonate with it.
That speaks less to the Knight Foundation's goals than it does to EveryBlock as a specific example: I have some very vague ideas of what to propose that involve Urban Vancouver as a starting point (either as a brand or reinvigorating the sadly neglected community site or building upon its function as aggregator of Vancouver bloggers). Boris suggested a wiki page for people to collaborate, and thought to use the barcamp.org wiki as the place to do it. He suggested VancouverKnightNewsChallenge, and before he finishing talking I had created the page. Ideas don't necessarily need to get posted there: they can go on your own site or even stay private until you propose them.
What's missing in the digital sphere of Vancouver that would enhance the discussions citizens are having about the city and the region? Do we need an EveryBlock for Vancouver, or has that been done for other cities? Maybe we can do something a little different?