News for Digital Journalists

August 30, 2012

RTNDA/Gannett award for innovative community watchdog journalism

The Radio Television Digital News Association is teaming with the Gannett Foundation to offer a $5000 prize recognizing groundbreaking TV, radio, or online watchdog journalism that creatively uses digital tools. Special consideration is given to journalism that helps a community understand and address important issues…

Criteria for evaluating innovation include interactivity, creation of new tools, innovative adaptation of existing tools, and creative use of any digital medium. An entry can consist of a single story, series or package on a single subject.

Each entry must have appeared between January 1, 2011 and December 31, 2011. Audio or video entries must not exceed 15 minutes. Print-only work is not eligible.

Learn more and enter now
Deadline: September 24

August 30, 2012

Knight News Challenge on Mobile: applications now open

Applications are now open for the third phase of this year’s Knight News Challenge, which focuses on mobile technology…

As with previous phases, the Knight News Challenge on Mobile is a fairly open-ended proposition. Participants must answer eight questions to explain their “idea on using mobile to improve news, information, democracy and communities, and your ability to execute on it.”

This could conceivably span projects that use text messaging, websites or web apps optimized for mobile users, mobile-friendly crowdsourcing, “native” apps tailored for specific mobile operating systems or devices, geolocation, mesh networking, and more.

Learn more and enter now.

DEADLINE: Sept. 10, noon EDT

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

August 23, 2012

What “mobile first” means to BreakingNews.com

Reaching mobile audiences takes thoughtful strategy and execution. Community and niche outlets, or any news startup, might take a page from how one national news curation site delivers mobile news.

BreakingNews.com focuses on curating in real time the top breaking news stories from around the world. The bare-bones website and mobile apps are intended for quick glances—but they have a strong presence in all of the most popular social media (especially @breakingnews on Twitter).

This week, in a blog post, general manager Cory Bergman observed: “While social media gets lots of the attention, the explosion in smartphones and tablets is reinventing the way we consume and interact with content.  We’ve seen it firsthand here at Breaking News: traffic from devices surpassed desktop traffic back in January, doubled it in June and the gap continues to grow.”

He shared these insights and lessons:

  1. “Mobile first” is a mindset. “The key is to start envisioning a product optimized for devices, and work backwards to the desktop web.”
  2. Aim to solve problems. “Leverage the unique form and features of devices to solve problems for people. For us, the stream is the story—which is a mobile-friendly form—with push alerts as a feature.”
  3. Your users can make or break your product. “Imagine a world where users had to click past comments from others about your website before they ever saw your home page. That’s how people discover and download mobile apps.”
  4. Live in the devices world. “How do you start thinking in devices?  Like anything, it helps to immerse yourself.”
  5. Dig into the metrics. “Breaking News’ mobile traffic jumps 15-20% on the weekends. By digging into your mobile metrics, you can learn about consumption patterns and the true momentum of your products.”
  6. Recalibrate goals around mobile. “Most newsrooms measure their digital performance in desktop and social metrics, but for a truly ‘mobile first’ approach, goals should reflect performance on devices.”
  7. Take advantage of mobile tools. “There’s a new crop of mobile companies offering useful tools for user tracking, search engine optimization, A/B testing, advertising optimization and more.”
  8. Experiment and fail (quickly). “Mobile-first companies often iterate on a mobile web version first, grafting the best features into subsequent app releases.”
  9. Recognize that mobile is hard and costly. “Your users have choices.  If your mobile products are slow, clunky and more focused on being ‘scalable’ than ‘delightful,’ you have an uphill battle.”

August 09, 2012

Review: RCFP “first aid” app for journalists

Recently the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press launched a free “first aid” mobile app to give reporters in the field immediate access to legal resources, especially when encountering obstacles to newsgathering or access. Here are some reasons why anyone who commits acts of journalism should have it on their smartphone—and what news publishers can learn from this type of publishing project…

This app is basically an e-book which you download as an app and customize with information specific to your state—and which RCFP periodically updates with fresh information. For resource guides where information changes often, this is probably a better approach than publishing a traditional e-book, and certainly much more mobile-friendly (and user-friendly) than publishing in pdf or print format.

The app covers these six legal topic areas:

  • Newsgathering
  • Court access
  • Public meetings
  • Public records
  • Confidential sources
  • Libel


When you first download this app, select all the states where you do reporting. For instance, if you report even occasionally from one or more neighboring states—and especially if you cover courts, where venue changes can carry local cases into another state’s courts—it’s a good idea to select all the states you may be reporting from. You can add or remove states from your list at any time.

With state customization, when you access relevant sections of this guide to get answers you’ll see a short overview of the topic at hand followed by state subheadings with additional info, including citations for relevant state laws. This can be helpful if you need to, say, press for access to a closed meeting that should be public. Knowing which law to cite can help persuade an official barring the door who may not be as familiar with legal requirements.

You can also search the text of the app’s content.

The RCFP app also has also a “hotline” feature, where you can place a call or send an e-mail to RCFP for immediate legal answers and assistance. And soon this app will connect journalists to RCFP’s new hotlines for both the Republican National Convention (Aug. 27-30, Tampa, FL) and Democratic National Convention (Sept. 4-6, Charlotte, NC). Presumably the app will also add convention-specific content as well.

This guide is a great example of how to deploy a useful mobile resource that communicates a body of knowledge and actionable tips. There are some opportunities for improvement, of course.

First of all, it would be helpful if users could create text, voice, photo, or video annotations to relevant pages in their copy of their apps, and then have the option of saving them offline, sending them to others, or sharing them back to RCFP. This could enrich the body of knowledge RCFP has amassed, and also provide useful feedback and case studies to further improve and promote this app.

Also this app could (and probably should) also be implemented as a mobile web app—a mobile-friendly interactive web site that can be viewed through a browser on a mobile device. This would offer the significant benefits of search visibility and direct linkability.

For instance, imagine that a reporter who never heard of this app is unexpectedly forbidden access to a courtroom. She would probably call her editor, or reach out to colleagues or social media, or quickly search Google for fast answers and options. If all this content was available on the web, the Google search would deliver relevant pages—perhaps even state-specific info from RCFP, since Google mobile search results are inherently weighted by location.

Similarly, if this apps content was simultaneously deployed via a mobile-friendly website (and if both versions were served from the same content management system to keep them synchronized), the reporter’s editor, colleagues, or social media contacts could send her a direct link to the relevant information. She then could view this in the web browser of her phone, tablet, netbook, or laptop without having to download or install anything. These pages also could advertise and facilitate the download of the mobile app.

A joint downloadable/web app deployment would enable another possibly popular and useful feature: the ability to share links to relevant pages of app content via e-mail, text message, social media, and more.

Still, making all this information available first as a freestanding downloadable app is useful, since you might easily end up reporting from a location that lacks good (or any) wifi or cell signal.

Community publishers might consider this app not just as a useful resource for their own reporters and community members, but also as an example of how to deploy a mobile-friendly resource for your community.

For instance, if your news venue often covers topics such as the school system or harassment by local law enforcement, a mobile guide that offers current context, law/regulations, resources (including phone numbers and e-mail addresses), tips and advice, and your recent or important coverage could prove quite popular with community members. This approach might help promote your news brand—and perhaps also provide new direct or indirect revenue options.

The News for Digital Journalists blog is made possible by a grant to USC Annenberg from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.

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