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Media Lab to bring more digital tools into newsrooms with $1.2 million Knight Foundation grant

The Future of News initiative aims to bridge the gap between journalism, technology, and civic engagement.
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With a new $1.2 million grant from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, the MIT Media Lab will help develop and identify new technologies for newsrooms, especially digital tools for community engagement. The funding will also support ongoing work at the MIT Center for Civic Media, which brings together innovators, researchers, and journalists.

Under the Future of News initiative, the Media Lab will apply its research to a range of challenges faced by newsrooms today, including engaging audiences more deeply on issues affecting their communities. The Media Lab will develop technology, for instance, that helps reporters track local needs — such as a tool to analyze conversations from public safety scanners, or software that allows TV broadcasters to share links to relevant stories during live political debates. Graduate students focusing on news technologies will contribute to the work.

“The MIT Media Lab can help to craft the future of news by providing journalists with tools they need to better inform the public and spark civic engagement,” said Michael Maness, the Knight Foundation's vice president for journalism and media innovation. “Great strides have been made towards this goal by the Media Lab and Center for Civic Media in recent years; by bringing more of these tools and lessons to newsrooms we can put this work to action.”

“Technology is disrupting both the business model and the editorial process of journalism. Turning this disruption into opportunity requires the fusion of real newsroom experience and experience with the new emerging technology and forms of social media and civic action,” said Joi Ito, director of the Media Lab and a Knight Foundation trustee. “We expect our Future of News initiative to bring these elements together and impact the future of journalism in a positive way.”

As part of the initiative, the Media Lab will establish stronger relationships with newsrooms and hold networking events for news organizations and researchers to find ways to implement new tools. To this end, Bloomberg LP today announced that it will join the Future of News initiative as a founding member. Bloomberg is focused on exploring the intersection of journalism, technology, and data, and discovering ways to provide news for audiences around the world. In December, Bloomberg will host a Media Lab conference on this topic at its headquarters in New York.

“As technology and changing consumption habits continue to disrupt all facets of the news business, there’s no better time for MIT’s Future of News initiative," said Justin B. Smith, CEO of Bloomberg Media Group. “At Bloomberg, we are currently reimagining our entire operation to build the leading, next generation media company for global business, so collaborating with MIT Media Lab was a natural fit and we’re thrilled to be a founding member.”

The funding will also extend the Knight Foundation’s relationship with the Center for Civic Media for one year. The center — which develops and implements tools to help journalists and communities empower citizens toward civic engagement — plans to release a number of promising tools that will inform communities and help spur interest in civic issues.

“What does it mean to be a citizen in the digital age? This new funding will further our work on that answer by allowing us to create tools that help citizens influence and shape their communities not just at election time but every day,” said Ethan Zuckerman, director of the center.

A joint effort between the Media Lab and the Comparative Media Studies Program, the center, in 2012, became the first-ever large grant recipient of the Knight News Challenge, a contest that funds innovative ideas in news and information. Since then, the center has collaborated with the Knight Foundation to accelerate media innovation and expand community engagement, eventually partnering on the annual MIT-Knight Civic Media Conference. 

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