The Case for Open News in Government

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Guest blog post by Rob Bole, Director of Innovation @ ODDI:

The ‘Air Mozilla’ Blimp View from Inside MozFest
[photo credit: MozFest Team]

ODDI recently returned from Mozilla Festival (“MozFest”) held at the beautiful Ravensbourne Design School in eastern London.  MozFest is three-day celebration of web makers, game hackers, teachers and news developers.   The animating goal for the gathering is a sense of public service; literally putting the public in charge of their ability to create their own web and media experience.

A core theme of MozFest is the Open News program, supported by the Mozilla Foundation and the Knight Foundation.  A central tenet is ability for anyone to participate in creating and improving news content.  That promise has drawn some of the leading news organizations – New York Times, theGuardian, Der Speigel, NPR, ProPublica – to find ways to use emerging open news tools to not only innovate faster, collaborate more and build new partnerships with their audience.

The spirit of MozFest has a place in the newsrooms of the Broadcasting Board of Governors, Voice of America and the other entities.  For a government agency that has both the responsibility of public service, as well as the public trust the words of “open” and our newsrooms appear contradictory.  Open news is about dissatisfaction with how things are done, and the promise of how they could be done.  It is about the ability for our audiences not work for us, but to work with us.  And it is about the evolution of news in an increasingly globally networked society.

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The Office of Digital & Design Innovation subscribes to the principles of open news that enhance our ability to collaborate with audiences on describing and building values of democracy, civic participation and transparency.  What distinguishes us from other news organizations is an animating mission of “informing, engaging and connecting” with audiences that lead to strong civil societies.

What this means in application is a sharper focus on sourcing, verifying and collaborating on story-telling from hard news to the everyday stories of its people.  This is especially important for countries that are either under the control of authoritarian regimes or are in danger of being swept under rising tides of extremism.

Over the past several months we have put several down payments on helping newsrooms open themselves to working with the audience.  Some of our tools are:

  • Video tools that enable producers to create interactive and annotated video using user content, with ODDI building upon Mozilla’s open source HTML5 Popcorn Maker.
  • News on Location, a simple way for journalists gather and “pin” text, audio and video content to a physical location that can be discovered using a mobile phone.
  • A social-audio service we are calling “Our Block” that can help our services and affiliates to build a highly-localized online stream that invites the audience to help enhance audio content.
  • Easy and low-cost Interactive Voice Response (IVR) systems to enable audience members with low-end phones make a local call to listen to our audio content, as well as leave their own message or comment.
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As a first principle ODDI believes that the importance of high-quality, original content is of equal or even higher importance than technology capability.  That is why ODDI is inviting news innovators across US international media into our offices through a series of “details” where we can work alongside ground-breaking journalists to help them re-imagine news in international markets.  As an innovation practice, we have the ability to bring experts in mobile, user experience, technology and workflow management to support the creative insurgents and give them the margin of resources to develop and put into practice the next generation of audience engagement tools.

ODDI will be a center of growing and sustaining a conversation around audience engagement.  We will do our part of putting our digital media skills to responding to language service needs in building or adapting technology tools, but also helping journalists experiment with new types of editorial workflows, using data and analytics to test what works and re-imagine how we present relevant content in a networked world.

In the coming days on this blog we will be releasing our strategic plan for the year, as well as an increasing transparency of what we are working on, where we are spending our time and the lessons we learn from both failure and success.  Just as we subscribe to the principles of an open newsroom, we need to practice the openness we are preaching.

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Rob Bole can be contacted at: rbole at bbg dot gov [or] on Twitter @rbole

(The foregoing commentary does not constitute endorsement by the US Government, the Broadcasting Board of Governors, VOA, MBN, OCB, RFA, or RFE/RL of the information products or services discussed.)

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April Deibert

April Deibert

April Deibert is the Multimedia Blogger/Producer for the Office of Digital & Design Innovation. Follow her on Twitter: @BBGinnovate and @AprilDeibert.

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