February 9, 2017 Last Updated 3:03 pm

Knight Foundation invests $1.1M in OpenNews, becomes independent organization

In the last five years under Mozilla’s leadership, OpenNews has brought new technology talent into newsrooms, advanced journalism innovation and worked to encourage cultural change in an increasingly digital world

MIAMI, Florida —February 9, 2017 — The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation today announced a $1.1 million investment in OpenNews, a network that creates opportunities for technologists and journalists to connect, learn from each other and collaborate. As an independent organization, the project will build on the success of the Knight-Mozilla OpenNews project, founded as a partnership between Mozilla Foundation and Knight Foundation in 2011.

“Over the five years of its existence, OpenNews has successfully demonstrated that supporting technologists in newsrooms can advance journalism and help newsrooms address new information demands in the digital age,” said John S. Bracken, Knight Foundation vice president for technology innovation. “As an independent organization, it will work to strengthen the journalism industry, while exploring new ways to transform newsroom culture through technology.”

“When we began OpenNews, the idea of Mozilla building a network of professionals devoted to internet health was still nascent. OpenNews played a critical part in making that idea become very real,” said Mark Surman, Mozilla Foundation’s executive director. “OpenNews was incubated in Mozilla and has grown strong enough to become its own organization. Going forward, keeping that work linked is what networks are good at, and what we’re aiming to do. I look forward to working and collaborating with them in the future.”

In the last five years under Mozilla’s leadership, OpenNews has brought new technology talent into newsrooms, advanced journalism innovation and worked to encourage cultural change in an increasingly digital world. The project’s training programs and events have built a community of more than 1,100 developers and reporters from across the world, given rise to new leaders in journalism and helped increase newsroom diversity. In addition, Source, an OpenNews web publication, has allowed developers to share stories, case studies, code and journalism tools with tens of thousands of people. Its Knight-Mozilla Fellowship program has placed 33 fellows in 19 newsrooms across five countries to solve digital challenges. Fellows have created innovative open source technology projects, including the popular Tabula (a tool for taking data out of PDFs), which is used by more than a dozen news organizations from ProPublica to The New York Times.

The impact of the OpenNews project is further detailed in a report released by Knight Foundation today.

Building on the project’s success, OpenNews will now launch as an independent organization, working as a project of Community Partners, a nonprofit fiscal sponsor and civic intermediary, to expand its work with a growing community of developers and newsrooms. Knight funding will help support OpenNews’ new operational structure and activities including:

The fourth SRCCON (pronounced “Source Con”), OpenNews’ two-day, hands-on conference focused on the challenges faced by news technology and data teams, is being held Aug. 3-4 at the University of Minnesota’s McNamara Alumni Center. SRCCON launched in 2014 and is the fastest-selling conference in the journalism-code community.

The redesign of Source launches today at source.opennews.org. Source has been rebuilt from the ground up with a new emphasis on learning and how-tos from diverse newsroom technologists and a new look optimized for mobile.

A biweekly Source community conference call including discussions of recently launched projects and tools, and announcements of events, grants, jobs and other opportunities.

Code, Culture and Leadership convenings, which will allow smaller groups to build relationships and collaborate on shared projects.

A smaller, topical SRCCON event coming later in the year, designed to offer a deeper focus on a single subject facing the news tech community.

OpenNews Ticket + Travel Scholarships that will allow members of the journalism code community to build their skills at conferences and training sessions around the world.

A yearly community survey to better understand the growth, needs and concerns of the journalism-code community. The results of a prototype survey OpenNews ran in 2016 will be released at the Investigative Reporters and Editors’ 2017 Computer-Assisted Reporting Conference, March 2-5.

The next phase of OpenNews will be informed further by the report released today commissioned by Knight Foundation and produced by research firm Network Impact. Using social network data analysis, surveys and participant interviews the report outlines the project’s achievements and lessons learned.

“In addition to shaping the future of this new phase for OpenNews, lessons from the project highlight the strength of networks in connecting people and advancing innovation, while providing journalists with a view into opportunities and gaps as they work to advance newsroom change,” said Luz Gomez, Knight Foundation director for learning and impact.

The report found that the OpenNews model — driven by in-person gatherings, community building, educational resources, and open source technology projects — has been effective in increasing the tech talent pipeline for newsrooms and building a community of journalism technologists; OpenNews participation since 2012 has increased to a network of more than 1,100 journalism technologists. It has also helped to develop new leaders in journalism and benefited members, through collaboration and training opportunities, while helping newsrooms stay connected to tech developments. Members also appreciated its focus on strong values, including an emphasis on diversity and inclusion; many said they applied these lessons beyond their work with OpenNews.

The report reveals that the fellowship program, in particular, resulted in an added interest in journalism among technologists and encouraged active community engagement. Fellows stayed connected to the network for an average of two years after the fellowship, and developed widely used code, led projects and offered peer support. The study showed, however, that the fellowship had a limited impact on newsroom culture and adoption of new digital practices, which will be an area of focus for OpenNews going forward. Based on findings from the report and other feedback, the Open News team will reassess the fellowship program in 2017.

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