Day 1: Future Of News And Civic Media Conference @MIT

I’m writing this as Day 2 is getting started. But I wanted to reflect on a few things that came up yesterday.

The big moment of the day came with the afternoon announcement of the 2009 News Challenge Winners. Check out the list of winners. I was particularly excited to see several important mobile-related projects get the nod. But one of the most high-profile projects will be DocumentCloud, a collaboration between The New York Times and Pro Publica. No doubt there will be some criticism for giving a chunk of money to the NY Times. But here’s what’s important to note: Because the Knight Foundation is funding it, Document Cloud will be required to be open source, which means everyone will be able to use it. That’s a big deal.

The morning was largely dedicated to a kind of bootcamp for folks receiving grants. Of course, I wish I’d had such a session when I got a grant in 2007. But it was still very valuable. Let me suggest that if you’re doing any kind of community or new media star-up, you check out David Ardia’s Citizen Media Law Project for a ton of great information and advice on the emerging legal thicket surrounding these emerging areas of digital life.

Let me also recommend Lisa Williams as a resource for understanding best practices for hiring a developer for your project:

A few important points from Williams:

*Remember the best developers have lots of choices as to who they work with. So you have to woo them: “I write a lot of fan mail to developers, and get together with them for coffee.”

*Attend user group meetings to find the best, most passionate developers. One of her tips for tracking “herds of nerds.”

*Knowing how much to pay is tricky. But in setting up an agreement, create clear milestones and timelines that have to be met for the developer to get paid.

*Write a clear spec. It will impress the developer that you have your act together. Be as a specific as possible.

In the late afternoon, we reconvened for a panel called, “News, Nerds and Nabes: How Will Future Americans Learn About the Local?” with Alberto Ibargüen, president and CEO of the Knight Foundation; Eric Klinenberg, professor of sociology at New York University and author of “Fighting for Air: The Battle to Control America’s Media”; and Henry Jenkins, co-principal investigator for the Center for Future Civic Media and author of “Convergence Culture: Where Old and New Media Collide.”

I’ll just there was clearly some disappointment in the crowd that the panel dwelled a bit too much on the demise of newspapers, and not enough not the other two chunks in the titles. I’ve been on several panels myself that were supposed to be about the future, but somehow the conversation gets stuck on what went wrong in the past. That said, I still thought Ibarguen and Klinenberg made some valuable points. (Jenkins was the moderators).

From Klinenberg:

*While people bristle over the focus on the demise of newspapers, it’s important to recognize how important they are for creating the bulk of the news. TV, radio and online are still for the most part derivative or re-purposing the work being done by newspapers.

*There’s clearly going to be a big transition as newspapers continue to fade. That means that for an extended period, we’re not going to have as much information about our communities as we’ve had in the recent past.

*Digital communities are exciting and emerging channels for information, particularly around a crisis. But these tend for favor more affluent communities who have better access and education.

*As mobile networks become more important, the infrastructure supporting them is too fragile. The too easily go down, or get overloaded. It makes it hard to depend on them.

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