MoJo Innovation Challenge 2011: Start Your Engines!

Friday, April 15th, 2011

The stars are beginning to align for the launch of the 2011 Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge.

On Monday, April 18th, we will be making some important announcements and the following week, we will open the gates for public entries.  I want to give you, our faithful MoJo friends and followers, an early notice and ask for your help in spreading the word in the coming weeks.

What’s going to happen

The 2011 Challenge will run from April 25-June 20.  We will be posting 3 distinct challenge statements in 2 week intervals.

For new readers, the ultimate prize for successful entrant is a yearlong, paid fellowship at one of our partners’ newsrooms around the world, including the Al Jazeera, BBC,, The Guardian and Zeit Online.  Along the way, we will also offer online Learning Lab and Hackfest experiences to develop the expertise of our candidate pool.  Every single participant will play a part in shaping the future of news with Knight and Mozilla.

Here is the basic calendar for the challenge and the topics our challenge statements will cover.

Challenge 1 – Open Video

Explore how HTML5 and open video can make news video more engaging.

April 25-May 6: Submission period

May 9-20: Community voting

Challenge 2 – Re-imagine Comments & Debate

How can open web tech improve the quality of online discourse?

May 9-20: Submission period

May 23-June 3: Community voting

Challenge 3 – HTML5 News Applications of Tomorrow

How can news organizations best deliver high-quality journalism across devices and platforms?

May 23-June 3: Submission period

June 6-17: Community voting

Winners announced during the week of June 20th! Approximately 60 challenge entrants will be invited to our online Learning Lab to interact with top thought leaders and makers at the intersection of web and news innovation, taking one more step towards the fellowship.

Spreading the word

We’ll need all the help we can get to make sure that lots of great people submit their ideas to the challenge.  I’ll be reaching out to a long list of people we want to engage next week.  In the meantime, help out by:

  • Joining the MoJo community mailing list for up-to-the minute and follow along with our thinking on the project wiki. A new public-facing web site is coming down the pipeline shortly.
  • Follow @knightmozilla on Twitter and ask your followers to do the same.  Here’s a sample tweet: Please follow @knightmozilla for Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership updates. RT love much appreciated. #knightmozilla #drumbeat
  • We’re planning meetups in Berlin, Boston, London, New York, Philadelphia, San Francisco and Seattle with local partners. We’ll treat participants with beer and great company in exchange for a challenge entry to help feed the pipeline. Stay tuned and be in touch if you’d like to participate in an event or make your own in a different city.

So, if you want a shot at the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Fellowship or know someone who should enter, start your engines – the race is about to begin.

How to become a Knight-Mozilla Fellow: The Script

Tuesday, March 22nd, 2011

Hey, there MoJo fans:

In anticipation of our upcoming Knight-Mozilla Innovation Challenge 2011 launch, we’re producing a promotional video to help potential participants understand how they can enter the challenge and become eligible for a fellowship.

We’d love your feedback on this draft script.  Is it clear?  Does it leave important questions unanswered?  Weigh in here in the comments or go to to ask questions or suggest changes.

Note that we can’t add too much more.  We’ve timed it and want to keep it at about 2 minutes.


MoJo Explainer video script
How to become a fellow

[Intro—mash Mozilla and Knight]

For the next few years, The Knight Foundation and Mozilla are igniting news innovation through the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership. We like to call it “Mojo” for short.

A big part of the program is placing paid fellows inside newsrooms around the world. Want to be a fellow? Keep watching.

Knight-Mozilla  Fellowships are paid, one-year positions inside newsrooms at the BBC,, the Guardian, Zeit Online and other leading news organizations.

Fellows will hone their tech expertise and will become leading news hackers,  helping bring systemic innovation across the news industry.

Whether you’re a writer,  a developer, a designer, a statistician, an artist, or just a net saavy muckracker, we want you. Here’s how it works in 3 easy steps.

[Step 1: Open Innovation Challenge]

In the spring of 2011 and again in early 2012, Mozilla will publish a series of news innovation questions to the world. Questions like:

“How can we improve the interfaces for building data visualizations?”


“What does open video & audio hold for online journalism?”

That’s where you come in. Visit us at and help us answer those questions.  You can submit insights, anaylsis, napkin sketches or wireframes—however you choose to best address the question. All you need is a desire is to work on these issues with the news hacker community.

We’ll take votes on the proposals, and they’ll be considered by a reviewer panel that includes news tech gurus, movers and shakers.  Entering the challenge will give you and your ideas a lot of exposure. But that’s not all.

[Step 2:  Learning and Hacking]

We’ll invite 60 challenge participants with winning ideas to take part in the Knight Mozilla Learning Lab, where you’ll hear from some brilliant hackers and journalists and begin to advance some of the ideas that emerged from the challenge.

Then, we’ll gather the strongest people and ideas together for a high-energy hackfest to begin building working prototypes.

[Step 3: Fellowship]

After the hackfest, we’ll select our fellows— starting with 5 fellows in 2011.

We’ll repeat the whole process again, from start to finish, and place 10 new fellows in 2012.

If you’re ready to help Knight and Mozilla shake up the news industry, follow us at @knightmozilla and join the community! For more, visit,

Friday, March 18th, 2011

An excerpt from my post at the PBS MediaShift blog.

I jumped right up at Q&A time and asked for more: What are some best practices you’ve seen for getting over this “people problem?” And the panel really delivered.

I’ve distilled their answers into 5 “To-Do’s” for news innovation. Jenny and Trei Brundrett from SB Nation deserve special recognition for their answers.

1. No surprises. Involve the newsroom from the beginning.

2. Constant communication. Use chat tools like Campfire to keep the conversation going across working groups.

3. Iterate, iterate, iterate. Get software versions into the hands of journalists for testing, and then make the changes they suggest to the best of your ability. When you’re ready to launch, journalists will be using tools that they themselves helped to design.

4. Credibility. Successful implementation will flow from high-level editorial buy-in. Early experiments in social media were often driven by marketing teams and saw mixed results; don’t repeat or mimic this formula from the tech team!

5. Risk-friendliness matters. Traditionally, news organizations follow a “perfect, then release” model, whereas technology is teaching us to fail early and often, as long as you learn and change.

Read the whole piece here.

How to Become a Knight-Mozilla Fellowship Host

Tuesday, March 8th, 2011


One very important indicator I left out, that falls neatly into the “Commitment to the Partnership” category – strong candidates will have some very clear ideas about the technology problems they’d like to solve as part of the partnership and a clear sense of how a solution would be useful to many others in the journalism field.


As we ramp up the MoJo project, we have already been contacted by over 35 organizations expressing their interest in hosting one of our 15 fellows.

With so much interest, it’s important that we begin to clarify how we will select hosting organizations.

As you might have noticed, we have four great news partners already selected to host fellows (BBC,, the Guardian, and Zeit Online) .   As we are very much in a testing phase of the partnership this year, we may only place fellows at those four organizations in 2011.

Later in 2011, most likely in November, we will post a simple application for organizations that want to host one of the 2012 fellows.

Here are the basic criteria we will use to select fellow-hosting organizations and some examples of the kinds of indicators we’ll be looking for:

Innovation Capacity

  • invested in innovation
  • empower technical teams to experiment with new tools and models
  • excited about open web standards and software that can be used and remixed by others
  • a maker/hacker culture is in evidence, even if lots of financial resources are not

Producing Excellent Journalism

  • a history of producing content that makes an impact at the local, national or international level
  • values journalism that represent the fair, accurate, contextual pursuit of truth.

Commitment to the Partnership

  • active participation in sharing ideas and feedback on the community list
  • helping to build buzz during the innovation challenges
  • proposals for how an organization plans to build on their fellow’s work and the technologies we build after the partnership is over

Multiplier effect

  • how one organizations (or a partnership) with a Knight-Mozilla fellow can influence many more to adopt the technologies we develop

Compelling Stories

  • We’re open to surprises. What makes your news organization unique?  Do you reach a special audience?  Have you organized multiple news providers in your community to work together?

If you’re interested in hosting a Knight-Mozilla Fellow, mark your calendars for the November application window and in the meantime stay in touch and involved on our community list.

Build the MoJo FAQ

Wednesday, February 23rd, 2011

MoJo FAQ Etherpad

We’ve got lots of questions coming into MoJo headquarters, mostly via email. I’d like to open up the process for getting questions answered.

If you have a question and would like to support the project, please join me in building our public FAQ document.

Just navigate over to our FAQ Etherpad and add your questions.  If you know an answer, you can add that in, too.

Mozilla Drumbeat has used this crowd-sourcing method successfully in the past.

Take a look at this video to see how it can work if lots of people chip in:

Please enable Javascript and Flash to view this video.

Video: MoJo in 3 Minutes (and 24 Seconds)

Thursday, February 17th, 2011

Last week, I traveled to Toronto to work with several members of the Knight Mozilla News Technology Partnership and Mozilla Drumbeat team, including Phillip Smith, Ben Moskowitz, Matt Thompson, Mark Surman, and James Walker (who’s building our innovation challenge platform).
We made a lot of progress in laying the foundation for MoJo’s success and also produced this handy little video that presents the basics of the project. We also incorporated the code from Universal Subtitles, another Drumbeat project.
People have been asking how they can support MoJo at this early stage. If you want to help out, please share this post and the video widely on your social networks to help spread the word.

MoJo Announcement in the News

Tuesday, February 15th, 2011

We got quite a bit of buzz when we announced the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership, just over a week ago.

Below are some quick excerpts from some of the stories that have been circulating.

If you’re interested in a fuller listing of our coverage, head over to our wiki, where we’ll be tracking our “clippings.”

GigaOm: “Mozilla Tries to Help News Media Figure Out the Web”

In terms of reach, this story from GigaOm (pictured left) took the cake. We found it tweeted dozens of times and re-posted all over the web.

Silicon Valley Watcher: “Knight And Mozilla Foundations Join To Spur Media Innovation”

For a conversation starter, this piece by Tom Foremski, took the prize.  While broadly positive, Foremski questioned our choice to start out with large news organization partners that have “plenty of their own resources.”

It’s true – we need to figure out how to represent and serve the news ecosystem at large (and small).  Last week, I posted a reply, requesting feedback on how we can go about doing that.  We haven’t seen any public input in the blog comments, but these questions are being discussed, along with a number of other topics (like including public media) at our new, but already vibrant community list serve.

Technology News Report: “News for Digital Journalists”

I liked the opening line from this story:

If technologists and journalists ever needed a matchmaker, they just found a big one. Mozilla, the folks behind the widely used open-source Firefox browser, and the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, have launched a multimillion-dollar program to embed 15 technology fellows in newsrooms worldwide to help figure out how to better engage news consumers.

And, finally, it was good to see some coverage in Spanish…

Bitelia: Mozilla y Knights Foundation se unen para desarrollar un software de código abierto que salve el periodismo

Which came with this eye-catching graphic…

Mixing it Up: Engaging News Partners

Thursday, February 10th, 2011

It’s been an amazing launch week for the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership (aka “MoJo”). We saw hundreds of tweets every day, coverage by 15 news outlets and blogs (plus lots of re-posts), almost 200 sign-ups on our new community list serve, and over 20 news organizations have already asked me how to get involved.

We also received our first bit of critical feedback publicly.

Regarding our first cohort of news partners, Tom Foremski wrote at the Silicon Valley Watcher:

It would be better to concentrate on the smaller media organizations, especially neighborhood newspapers. These have fewer resources and need the most help in transitioning to a new media economy.

The first and most important thing to say is that we welcome feedback like this. The partnership will only thrive if hundreds or maybe thousands of people check in with their ideas and questions.

With so many news organizations responding to the announcement, I too have been thinking seriously about how we recruit and support a great mix of news partners.

To Foremski’s point, our priority is to shape the marketplace of news applications by offering solutions built on open technology. Marketplace intervention requires a certain scale. But there is definitely a place for smaller organizations in the partnership.