Knight, Mozilla launch news innovation challenge

How can you not love a meeting that starts with: “There’s the pizza, beer and colored markers, go for it.”

Mozilla’s News Technology Program Manager Nathaniel James opened the April 26 Bay Area Hacks & Hackers Meetup with the world debut of the Knight-Mozilla News Innovation Challenge.

The short story from the website:

[The] partnership is a three-year initiative of the Knight Foundation and Mozilla to harness open-web innovation for journalism.

Through a series of innovation challenges and community events, we will identity 15 fellows that will be embedded in leading newsrooms around the world. These fellows will create new tools, ideas, and news experiences that benefit both readers and newsmakers—all using open technologies.

According to Nathaniel, Mozilla wanted to make a bigger commitment to open standards on the web through a hybrid innovation process of fun competitions and collaborative projects.

The challenge this year focuses on three specific elements:

Apr. 26 – May 6 :: Unlock video

May 9 – 20 :: Re-imgaine comments (description coming soon)

May 23 – June 3 :: News apps for the future (description coming soon)

Tell me more about the challenge criteria

It’s not necessary to have programming skills to enter any of the challenges. The idea is key. Sketch it out on a napkin, grab some colored markers and have at it.

Register for a MoJo account and click the project button.

Submitted entries can be edited up to the last day of the specific challenge period — so keep an eye on the deadlines.

The competitions will be evaluated in a similar format to the People’s Choice Award with room for review panel discretion.

Here’s the scoop on the fellowship selection process

From the pool of the challenge entries, 60 people will initially be selected to participate in a four-week intensive online Learning Lab on HTML5, jQuery and other open source tools. The purpose is to build a common knowledge of open-source development tools among the community.

From the Learning Lab group, 15 people will be tapped to participate in an all-expenses paid hackathon in Berlin, Germany to implement some of the ideas generated in the challenges.

Then, a final group of five people will be chosen for a year-long, paid fellowship at one of five media hosts Al Jazeera, BBC,, Guardian or Zeit Online.

This year’s stipend is approximately $65,000, with some flexibility depending on the host cities’ cost-of-living index. In 2012, the fellows group and media partners will each double to 10 slots.

Meetup Q&A highlights

Q: Can small and mid-size news organizations apply to be a partner or is the program reserved for large outlets only?

A: The Knight-Mozilla team definitely wants smaller organizations (print, broadcast and online-only) in the mix to fully represent the entire news ecosystems. But it’s important for all newsrooms to note that embedded tech fellows are there to innovate and not serve in a day-to-day technical capacity for the outlet.

Q: What are the other parameters for applying to become a news partner?

A: For organizations of all sizes, a multiplier effect is important. How much reach can the partner provide to the project? Small organizations may want to consider banding together into consortia to broaden the impact of the fellow’s work. New applications for potential 2012 partners will available in the fall. Competition is expected to be intense. Also check out Nathaniel’s blog for more criteria and tips about becoming a news partner.

Q: Any tips for submitting a challenge idea?

A: Enter first and simultaneously look for potential technical partners. Don’t let the lack of team members delay your application. If you’re applying on behalf of or in conjunction with a news organization make sure you have *very* senior buy-in.

Q: How do you define news and apps?

A: We’re keeping those definitions open to creative interpretation but be sure to stick to the challenge brief in your application.

Q: Does the person submitting the challenge idea retain IP rights?

A: All submissions must be open-source and Creative Commons licensed. The same standards also apply to the Learning Lab and media partners. Everything developed must be available to the community in a share and share-alike philosophy.

More questions?

Contact Nathaniel James at Mozilla.