A Quick Look at a Knight-Funded Real-Time Mobile Journalism Platform

As consumers of digital technology, we've all come to enjoy the beauty and utility of the aggregator site, the one-stop shop for all your informational needs, whether its Kayak for flight tickets or Wikipedia to find out the date of the Battle of Waterloo (June 18, 1815!). And while foundations like Knight continue to cut checks to help journalists embrace new forms of digital technology, there's no comparable resource for a community of mobile news leaders. Until now.

Mobile news innovator Jim Brady—whose CV includes a stint as editor-in-chief at newspaper chain Digital First Media and his current role as the brains behind Billy Penn, a Philadelphia-centric news site—is partnering with Knight to create an "interactive, real-time mobile journalism guide" that adopts elements of Yelp and Wikipedia. Knight is chipping in $106,000 for the effort.

The project aims to fill two voids in the digital and mobile news space. First, the dearth of real-time resources for mobile news technologists and journalists. For example, journalists and editors meet up at conferences to discuss new digital innovations, yet once the meeting adjourns, participants lack immediate and ongoing access to digital expertise. This isn't to say such conferences lack value. It's just that some conferences, by their very nature, aren't ideally suited for the fast-paced world of modern mobile journalism.

Secondly, the project embraces a "best practices" model of information sharing across an ever-evolving terrain in which most outlets must embrace a steep learning curve. Brady provides a telling juxtaposition. Back in the print-centric days of the news, it was relatively easy for outlets to copy techniques or strategies from their competitors. Take marketing, for example. If Newspaper A prints an ad for a novel subscription package, there's clearly nothing stopping Newspaper B from adopting it as well.

The world of mobile technology, however, can be a black box. A small-market editor may enjoy nifty functionality on her New York Times mobile app, but she likely lacks the technical resources to build a similar platform for her own brand. And so the Brady/Knight project aims to level the playing field while providing users with the ability to share their experiences. As Brady notes, "there's so many things that we're all trying to learn."

To that end, the Brady/Knight partnership is essentially rooted in a optimistic view of human nature, predicated on the notion that users—some of whom may be competitors—will happily share information about aspects of mobile news, whether app design or revenue modeling. If such an approach sounds a bit, well, naive, remember that the Brady/Knight model isn't a novel one. The web has countless online platforms for professionals to share tricks of the trade—think software engineers, for example.

Brady admits that the details of the idea of "mobile-first news" are still being sorted out. The elements of a searchable site with a social component are firm, but the rest has yet to be realized. Ultimately, the project, according to Brady, aims to "formalize the 'huddling for warmth' philosophy that we've all had in digital for 20 years, which means sharing, talking to each other, helping each other—and try to do that in some way that could help people in a more broad basis as opposed to a word of mouth."