NewsShift: Watchdog Journalism With a Long Tail

Every year for the past few years, Knight Foundation has conducted a News Challenge that awards about $5 million in funding to a selection of projects that

  1. Use digital open-source media
  2. To distribute news and information
  3. In a geographic community

As Kevin recently noted, this year we finally got our act together and submitted a concept called NewsShift, a collaboration with our friends David and Mushon at ShiftSpace. In an attempt to provoke an escalating war of compliments, I will point out that the ShiftSpace folks, whose work we’ve followed for years, are highly talented designers and engineers, and ShiftSpace is a real beast waiting to be unleashed.

ShiftSpace is “an open source browser plugin for collaboratively annotating, editing and shifting the web.” In other words, it’s a bunch of tools for web travelers anywhere to alter and improve the content of pages and share those alterations with each other. Those alterations persist in their own layer above the page, and can be seen and added to by the community. The best thing is, anyone can build a new tool with new functionality for the ShiftSpace platform. ShiftSpace is a project best communicated with visual queues, so I recommend you watch the intro video on their website.

NewsShift is, conceptually, a suite of ShiftSpace tools designed specifically for local communities of news readers. These tools will let readers discuss, make corrections, insert relevant links — and index names. That’s where LittleSis comes in: NewsShift will not only let readers track names and topics across articles, but start linking them to relevant data, and to each other. Readers are empowered to identify and follow leads on the page itself, facilitating collaborative watchdog journalism:

For example: a story on a pending waterfront development project mentions the mayor’s role in picking the real estate developer. A reader, aided by NewsShift, discovers that the developer is a top campaign donor to the mayor, and inserts a link to this information. The story’s writer notices this link and, with details dug up by local bloggers and readers, writes a follow-up piece airing concerns about the mayor’s ties to the developer.

This is, I think, a perfect application for the ShiftSpace platform, and an ideal way for LittleSis to help readers better understand the news that affects them. We’ve been rethinking and refining this idea for months, and it’ll continue to evolve regardless the outcome of the News Challenge. We’re eager to hear any reactions you might have, either here or on our News Challenge page.