BREAK THE NEWS: Shape, expore, remix

The Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership is seeking ideas on how to reinvent journalism for the open Web, so they’re running a series of challenges. The first Knight-Mozilla challenge focused on “unlocking video,” the second aims to solve the news comments problem by going beyond comment threads, and the third is a blue-sky effort to find the “Open Web’s Killer App,” later narrowed to “People-Powered News.” [which I think is too narrow a focus but was already the foundation of my idea]:

What should a news website look like in 2011 and beyond?

MoJo Knight Mozilla News Technology challenge open Web's killer app logo / people-powered news

This challenge is a broad one: what would you build on the web that actually makes news better for the people who create and read it? How would you involve the public in the news making, editing or sharing process? The only constraint: your idea should be built using open technologies and languages.

We’re asking you to forget old conventions like the story form, column inches & deadlines and propose new ways to connect news producers to news readers.

Here’s my proposal:

BREAK THE NEWS: Shape, explore, remix


Break the News dismantles the traditional news collection and dissemination structures and reassembles them in a unified approach that allows the news community to shape, explore and remix.


The future of news is open and collaborative, but also evolving to incorporate a number of new technologies, modes of access and devices, some of which are not yet widespread.

The best prototype of where news is headed can be seen in Al Jazeera’s The Stream, which bridges the Web and traditional broadcast, aggregates crowdsourced story ideas, videos and other content, and engages its community in an authentic conversation.

The Break the News model is similar to this but recognizes that the principal nature of a thing changes when its scale and medium change. To this end, the new model of news resides on the open Web, assembled into objects for context-aware aggregation, curation and dissemination of visual content, conversational streams, geolocative, gestural, haptic, collaborative and algorithmic layers for the bridge to emergent devices and physical-world intelligent/enabled objects.

As commonplace objects become both displays or output devices as well as seamless input or information-gathering devices that are holistic and pervasive in both of those modes, the Break the News integrated platform will interactively and intelligently employ these channels, either automatically or with the assistance of a human operator or permission-based automated AI/expert system.

Among the Break the News digital objects is a collaboration channel or tool that enables people to securely share and manage information, documents, multimedia or other binary data for potential initiation of, or inclusion in, a “story.” [The word “story” is expressed in quotation marks to denote that the traditional narrative forms that have been widespread and commonly accepted until now is just a subset of what we will soon come to consider a story.] This content can be handled with varying degrees of security and distribution, contingent on the wishes of the source or agreement between source and journalist.

Break the News would also enable its community to remix the streams for different perspectives and relevant understanding of context.

This system would span both a high-fidelity Web experience and a low-fidelity one to account for regional disparities in network access and technology. Break the News would be a medium to convey and collaborate on information, minimizing the barriers between people and access to resources, including those among journalists. Web-based gateways could bridge low-fidelity information technologies outmoded in the North to the cutting-edge technologies that may not be commonplace in South.

Break the News is more than the sum of its parts, some of which I have already described more fully in proposals for video and commenting challenges, and much — if not all — of which is possible today. It is a platform that shatters the procedural, institutional and cultural barriers in the daily practice of journalism to instead allow the free flow of ideas and information for a more open, transparent and democratic model of news media.

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