Knight, I know you can do it right, part deux

The Background

Recently I wrote a very short blog post in response to the 3rd Carnival of journalism prompt. The prompt was asking basically what should Knight do differently to drive innovation (if anything at all). In my short post I mentioned that the MoJo (Knight Mozilla Journalism Partnership) was not a good example of how Knight should spend its money.

And it should have been more obvious to me at the time, but this quite rightly piqued the interest of one Philip Smith, one of two people heading up MoJo. He asked for more details. I wrote more details in an email. Then I thought, in the interest of sharing our debate with the world (a.k.a. the 10-20 who read my blog), that I should adjust it and blog-i-fication-ize it. So below is that email in blog form (basically unchanged + more links).

The Point

Technology companies are very innovative. This is because they are in an industry that is fiercely competitive and innovation is considered a necessary element of survival. Media organizations are part of a well-established industry. Mature industries in practice are more interested in stability than innovation, such is the premise of the innovator’s dilemma (continued below).

Large media organizations have long known that they might need to adapt to compete in the future. Several of the larger media organizations including and especially Knight-Ridder built impressive technology which they just as impressively abandoned when they felt it didn’t threaten their current business models. An amazing, albeit academically dry, book that gives an account of this is a book called Digitizing the News. Digitizing the News can almost be looked at as empirical evidence of the innovator’s dilemma in action.


So that is my basic concern, on a theoretical level, with giving money and technological help to long established media organizations. It basically fits under the category of how can we save newspapers, which is a terrible framing of the problem. The problem is really how can we proliferate accurate, engrossing and interactive news/reporting to keep the world better informed.

As for a more practical example of this I’ve seen this happen time and again. A newspaper pays lip service to innovation by including 3rd party applications such as comment systems, or Google Maps mash-ups into their sites. They also only half-heartedly embrace innovations in process, equally important to technological innovations. They send reporters to conferences, seminars and fellowships and when the reporters return they often have learned a great deal but get no support from their respective organizations when it comes to implementing newly learned techniques. With rare exception they very rarely attempt to modify the core practices of their organization and do-so company wide.

If Mozilla-Knight can nudge large media organizations toward the open web as you stated in a blog post earlier this year than that is commendable. The amount of influence these organizations have is, simply put, massive. In my opinion though you will only be pushing the large players forward an inch instead of pushing the industry forward a mile.

An Idea

Right, so enough being a critic, how about a bit of advocacy here; how about a tangible detailed suggestion?

Let’s take the Techcrunch idea from my blog post and run with it. The Knight news Challenge as I recall was funded with up to $5 million dollars a year for 5 years, or something to that effect. So let’s say we have a budget next year of $5 million.

Have TechCrunch run a disrupt event (they’re good at that), but ONLY for news/journalism/reporting startups. Have all the VC that are normally present for disrupt events there. The competition would be in two phases. Give $50k or perhaps $100k to not one but 10-20 participants. Those participants will be voted on by the, “biggest innovators, angels, VCs and influencers in the Tech community.” Then they have a set period to implement and then launch their ideas. Six months post launch the remainder of the money will be given to the most successful organizations as judged by a similar panel. Perhaps 1-3 organizations then split the remaining 2-3 million. Participants can be required to abide by Mozilla designated openness standards and be given some development resources, advice and help from Mozilla. From pitching to receiving the check the process should be relatively short, say two months or less.

That is just one idea that is off the cuff.

The notion is don’t waste resources getting established players to create models that will disrupt their current models.

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