A Grant from the Knight Foundation

By dwhly | 4 October, 2013

This is a cross-posting of an article that first appeared at the Knight Foundation Blog.

Journalism is moving from something that a small number of professionals perform to something that citizens and journalists can collaborate on. The Internet has played the central role in enabling this trend, and emerging technologies can accelerate it. Open annotation, the ability to add commentary to Internet resources, is in its infancy as a W3C standard, but it promises to enhance our collective reasoning. We believe it can be a powerful facilitator of the work that journalists and citizens can do together.

At Hypothes.is, we’re dedicated to bringing open annotation to the world’s knowledge through the development of open source software and services. Over the next year, we’ll deepen our thinking on how to bring this new capability to a diverse set of domains, including journalism, science, law, government, humanities and education.

Knight Foundation is supporting this effort with a $200,000 grant. We’ll use it to significantly increase our engagement within the journalism community. We want to more fully understand how journalism might work better, and develop new capabilities to help distribute content. Like Knight, we believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged.

Specifically, we’ll build on our previous efforts to look at the continuum of the journalistic process, where sources and materials are assessed and footnoted, drafting is done, articles are published, and readers and authors interact individually and collectively afterwards. We’ll investigate ways that open tools and open data can aid the work of journalism, flowing naturally from research into publication and on to the long tail of public commentary.

We’ll also look into the ways that open annotation can facilitate the increasingly forensic nature of reporting, where the value of source material and the associated analysis can be exposed to the audience, and where the audience itself, in collaboration with authors, can assist in the process of further evaluation and revision.

We’ve already begun this effort, with the first Journalism “tiger team,” which happened in July in San Francisco; a second law-oriented workshop co-produced with the Harvard University Berkman Center in August; and a third open government + open annotation workshop happening today in Washington, D.C.

Historically, what open annotation promises has been cobbled together through a variety of means: letters to the editor arriving many days later, slow and inefficient peer review processes, and legislative markup sessions with outdated tools, to name just a few. Further, the siloed nature of these processes prohibits more fined-grained collaboration and follow-on engagement.

From the discussions we have held so far, we’ve learned to focus first on the workflow of those involved–that bringing efficiencies to people’s already busy lives is one of the most important benefits we can deliver. Also, that annotation can play a different role in different contexts depending on work requirements, the potential for engagement and the existing technical infrastructure. With annotation, people can design new methods of communicating and sharing, and find commonalities across islands of knowledge.

We have heard many strong voices calling for a reinvention of these processes through a more open approach; more than 10,000 people have signed up so far. Later this year, we’ll launch a prototype of our platform, tracking results through testing with these early users.

We’re eager to be moving towards the next phase of our evolution, and thankful for this crucial support from the Knight Foundation.

By Dan Whaley and Peter Brantley

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