A Closer Look At The Guardian US's Knight-Funded News Innovation Lab

Pop quiz time. Why is Facebook awash in cash while Twitter and other rivals continue to struggle? Because they adroitly pivoted to address the proliferation of mobile computing.

Earlier this year, we learned that mobile ads accounted for 69 percent of the social media giant's fourth-quarter revenue, which totalled $3.85 billion — an increase of 49 percent from $2.6 billion during the same quarter a year earlier. And while analysts caution that Facebook's mobile success isn't sustainable in the long term, facts are facts. Facebook's gamble paid off. The future — no, the present! — is mobile.

It's a lesson that isn't lost on the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, which, as loyal IP readers know, continues to push newsrooms to embrace cutting-edge technologies and drag them, kicking and screaming, into the digital world.

As if we needed more evidence, now comes news that the Guardian News & Media's U.S.-based operations will establish an "innovation lab" to develop and create new approaches to deliver news and information using mobile technology. The lab, and subsequent efforts to share "lessons learned" across the journalism space, is made possible by $2.6 million courtesy of Knight.

Guardian U.S. will assemble a multidisciplinary editorial and production team that includes designers, developers and reporters, and embed it within its news operations. Mobile audiences now account for over 50 percent of the Guardian’s daily traffic, so the lab will aim to create new and more engaging ways for people to consume news on their mobile devices. Additionally, the lab will explore the challenges faced by journalists in the mobile age and experiment with new ways of bringing stories to life on smaller screens. It will also look at ways to engage readers in storytelling in real time and to advance  citizen participation in breaking news.

A few things to add here. First, the announcement shouldn't come as a surprise. Pushing emerging technologies in a "legacy" newsroom is textbook Knight. (We admit, Guardian is pretty hip, but they're still a newsroom in a traditional sense.) Secondly, just as there are multiple shades of, say, the color blue, Knight believes that "innovation" can take various forms. This innovation lab setting is actually within a newsroom, which is a distinctly different approach than, say, its Knight-VICE Innovators Fund (which resembles a classic grant offering) or its Innovator-In-Residence program at the university level.

Lastly, the mobile-centric focus of the innovation lab is most certainly not a case of "technology for technology's sake." While the future may be mobile, it may not be mobile for, say, a small community newspaper. The Guardian had the insight that mobile audiences now account for over 50 percent of its daily traffic, and it's responding accordingly.