I don't even recall who it was, but someone tweeted about the Knight Foundation News Challenge, and I favorited it for later inspection.
I finally got around to looking at it a few days before it ended and I was kicking myself - last year they gave grants between $75,000 and $400,000 for people who had ideas. Good ideas, mind you, but just ideas ... and we've actually got Progressive Congress News up and running.
So ... step over the fold and help me drag home a great big score for the Progressive community.
Describe your project:
Progressive Congress News utilizes existing online tools, as well as internally-developed software, to create an aggregated news feed for Congressional staff, activists, and politically-engaged citizens.
Designed as a means of filtering the dizzying array of daily media, we aim to deliver only relevant, reliable and, most importantly, useful policy news. Information overload wastes our time and attention; this is especially true for typically overwhelmed Congressional staffers. Too often, this leads to "echo chambers" which make it difficult to get unbiased news and analysis. Progressive Congress News delivers much needed policy content, without the fluff. The project also allows experienced citizen journalists to affect the information flowing to Congressional staff.
The core of our system is a team of two dozen editors and curators who monitor & parse online sources for reputable, insightful content in ten policy areas: Energy, Environment, Economy, Education, Immigration, LGBT issues, Healthcare, Transportation, Labor, and National Security. Using ProgressivePST's perl based Twitter software, this content is posted via public Twitter accounts, accessible to all. Each policy area has a separate account, so users get only the news relevant to their interests and needs. These feeds are used to generate digital daily "newspapers " through the Paper.li tool.
In addition to the curated policy news feeds, NetVibes custom dashboards have been purposed as "news rooms" with modules for news, opinion, "buzz" and opposition views. Finally, each day's content is reviewed for top stories and email blasts are sent to subscribers every morning via SalsaLabs.
We've recently completed an agreement with VisibleVote, a mobile application which provides an easy means for subscribers to track their representatives' votes and legislative progress. This agreement puts our news feeds for the ten policy domains into the hands of their 200,000 mobile subscribers. The range of methods used for dissemination of Progressive Congress News offers users the ability to get as much or as little information as they prefer, and well as opportunity for engagement.
The daily email blasts are filtered down to only the most important stories of the day, and are specifically tailored for busy Congressional staff. The PCN news rooms display the sources of all news, views, opposition and buzz, as well as listing all of those involved in the news selection process. This transparent newsroom reacts quickly to emerging stories and invites participation of anyone with a Twitter account.
Through contacts with Congressional chiefs of staff and communications directors, as well as online surveys of all subscribers, we continually solicit feedback to improve our content and process.
This system was built between 4/2010 and 11/2010 with no budget. We're seeking funds to solidify and expand the operation.
How will your project improve the delivery of news and information to geographic communities?:
Our reach is U.S. national. We can do some interesting things in conjunction with VisibleVote but we have no specific geographic offering at this time and are not applying for the community aspect of the grant.
What unmet need does your proposal answer?:
Congressional staff and voters are purposefully flooded by corporate lobbyists. We provide a front end filter to Congressional staff, ensuring they see what is needed and no more. This effort is similar to a clip service, but the collection is done in an open, public fashion.
We have output capabilities to Twitter, Facebook, VisibleVote, and the Progressive blogosphere. Information going to voters can be as small as a single tweet, or as large as a multi-part series on a particular topic. Accountability is enforced by the open, collaborative environment; fact and opinion must be clearly separated. Content is coherent; what Congressional staff see is also clearly visible to citizens engaged in the system, we already facilitate the transmission of policy related information out from Congress to citizens, and we anticipate the quality and pace of this will dramatically improve as we master the VisibleVote system.
Unlike monolithic broadcast style media there are many places in this system where an interested citizen can inquire, offer tips, or if their writing meets journalistic standards, have their work seen side by side with traditional media and think tank publications. Communities of practice are already beginning to arise for some of the policy areas. Topics currently dominated by corporate funded think tanks will be explored and understood by 'citizen analysts', the natural successor of the citizen journalist, restoring citizen influence of policy decision making.
How is your idea new?:
The blogosphere exploded in 2004 and citizen journalists changed the world. This openness is good, but there was no entity that covered the full breadth of policy and the system, such as it is, lacks coherent process management capabilities. This project will establish a viable, fact based news aggregator/disseminator and 1) provide citizen journalists parity in access to policy makers and 2) create a central access point for citizens interested in how news and information influence governmental policy. The advent of social media systems, Twitter in particular, positioned our group of systems integrators and policy oriented bloggers to rapidly and cheaply build an operation that would have cost a small fortune to create just a few years ago.
What will you have changed by the end of the project?:
Voters and Congress, informed by a system that respects their time and protects their ability to focus, will develop an increasingly strong connection, reducing corporate influence over our government and enforcing accountability on other media outlets due to the competition provided.
Why are you the right person or team to complete this project?:
The Progressive Congress News editorial team, now 25 strong and in production, should grow 50% by the beginning of 2011 and provide full daily coverage of all select policy areas. We have existing operations in the blogosphere, on Twitter, Facebook, and Visible Vote - our output channels are already operational to a varying degree in each area.
Our systems integration background has allowed us to pull together Twitter, paper.li, NetVibes, and code of our own to build a complex system with very limited resources. These same skills gain us access to the designers of VisibleVote, paper.li, social CRM vendor SmallAct, analytics vendor Twitalyzer, and open source tool builder and fellow Knight grant applicant Ed Borasky.
We have access to both 501c3 and 501c4 status via Progressive Congress. We have no formal advisory structure, but our 'tribal elders' include Darcy Burner from Progressive Congress, Alan Rosenblatt from the Center for American Progress, retired AP editor Larry Thorson, and national media project manager Larry Bruce.
Among the PCN editors we have news and media professionals, engineers and scientists, attorneys and teachers. The sort of people drawn to this environment own small businesses or work in general or project management roles at larger employers. Collectively we have a mature team with a history of taking on completing projects.
What terms best describe your project?:
"Objective News, Progressive Views" We run a diverse policy focused media operation that serves the needs of Congressional staff and engaged voters. We're integrators, recyclers, scroungers, having built the system we have today with literally no budget. We've taken cast off equipment, loans of hosting services and free systems, and brought together a committed group of professionals and vounteers in order to run it. We appear to be the first to build such a system using message passing on a microblogging system as the foundation. We'd like to expand and solidify our offering, doing more with mobile services and transparency.
So ... how can you help? First of all, get over there and comment our application. You create a userid, pick a name, and you're free to wade right in and say how great we are.
The second thing is ... matching funds. We have a lot of "in kind" - people doing work, giving us access to systems and mailing lists and such, but we have no cash. Progressive Congress is our fiscal sponsor for this non-profit project and you can donate <= right there. <br>
The little orange pootie face in the Progressive Congress News logo is from @_ccm on Twitter, and it represents us sticking our curious little noses in places where one would not expect to find them.