October of all of the things ended with an extraordinary Mozilla Festival. We got to welcome 5 more Knight-Mozilla Fellows and had to create a whole new track to accommodate all of the excellent session ideas. Here's a quick rundown of what happened at MozFest and some plans that have grown out of the event.
OpenNews at MozFest by the numbers:
2014 Fellows: 5 (joining 13 Fellows from 2012 and 2013)
Tracks: 2 (journalism and open data)
Total session participants: 1,000
Range of participants per session: 5-175
Session facilitators hailed from: at least 7 countries, several news orgs, companies, and government agencies
The journalism footprint at MozFest nearly doubled from 2012. In response to a ton of data-related session proposals, we created a second track focused on open data, which covered government and elections data, data access, and more. Over the course of two days, we managed to schedule about 9 sessions in every time slot. Walking around the 8th floor, I saw groups engaged in intense discussions, sketching out plans, and getting hands-on training--and working on projects live, on wifi! (Major thanks to Mozilla staffer Ryan Watson for keeping the internet functional this year.)
Conferencing the MoFo way
One of the things that makes MozFest special is that even big sessions are oriented around small groups. Rather than PowerPoints and lectures, it's about breakout groups and collaboration. It's a new format for a lot of people, facilitators and participants alike. But when it works, it's incredibly effective--and thanks to fantastic planning and highly engaged participants, the 8th floor got to see the range of awesome stuff that's possible when you throw out the script.
- Launch of Kettlecorn: The folks at the Broadcasting Board of Governors picked MozFest as the place to publicly release Kettlecorn, their fork of Popcorn, specifically designed for journalists and international news organizations. They came with a fantastic tool ready for feedback and led a three-hour session with journalists from multiple international news organizations and the Popcorn development team.
- Learning the command line via a murder mystery: Knight-Mozilla Fellow Noah Veltman wanted to teach command line skills in an interactive way, so he developed a detective story that you solve by learning different commands for the terminal.
- Tools to make reporting and data handling easier: Several facilitators ran hands-on sessions to help participants get to know a tool or method for making their work a little easier, whether it be a streamlined CMS like Tarbell or Google spreadsheets data handler like Sheetsee, or tools for making maps, visualizing data, or crowdsourcing transcriptions.
- Learning about the story behind reporting on the NSA: OpenNews director Dan Sinker hosted a group discussion with reporters Jeff Larson and James Ball to learn more about how they approached their recent three-newsroom collaborative story on the NSA.
MozFest can be a whirlwind of a weekend, but sessions were designed to have next steps after the Festival in mind as well. Some work that we expect will continue:
- Making open data useable and understandable: Several of the data sessions grew out of existing projects or conversations--open elections, US ODI, and CivOmega. As the US government shutdown highlighted and was discussed in an OpenNews community call, even open data can have its limitations, and there are several threads the OpenNews community is pursuing coming out of these sessions.
- International data access: In some countries, open government data has not yet been embraced and data access remains a serious challenge. Eva Constantaras from Internews Kenya (a co-host to one of our 2014 Knight-Mozilla Fellows) led the way at MozFest on making connections with colleagues on at least three continents to work together on data access and training internationally.
- Impact and metrics: These remain topics of high interest in journalism, and to many of the 2013 Knight-Mozilla Fellows. Sonya Song is going to share her findings on social media sharing with multiple news organizations. An API for the Open Gender Tracking project grew out of a session on impact and will help more people tap into Open Gender Tracking.
- Building connections between journalists and developers: I was thrilled (and admittedly, surprised) to see Joanna Geary present an idea for creating a buddy program that her group developed during my session, just two days later at a Hacks/Hackers London meetup. It was awesome to see an immediate concrete outcome like that. It was also fantastic to see multiple MozFest facilitators speak to dozens of H/H London members, many of whom had spent the weekend at MozFest. It was great to see the MozFest community connections in action.
As folks continue to recover from the October of all of the things and November of fewer but still too many things, we expect there to be even more MozFest followup. Kio Stark from Source's Learning section found many leads at MozFest and Source will likely soon be brimming with case studies, Q+As, and project writeups that have some MozFest DNA.