A confab with Matt Thompson: Noodling the future of context

matt_smubLast week I had the pleasure of participating in a one-day think tank in Washington, DC, called “The Future of Context.” It was organized by Matt Thompson, a 2008-2009 Donald W. Reynolds Fellow at the Reynolds Journalism Institute at the University of Missouri, where his focus was on “Wikipedia-ing the news.” During the academic year, he blogged his project at Newsless, and out of his work came Columbia Tomorrow, a just-launched site that aims to provide contextual environment for news about economic development in and around Columbia, Misouri.

True to the “Future of Context” title, and nurtured by Matt’s excellent skills in moderating a discussion, much of the D.C. discussion was oriented toward discovering the shape of news in context to come. I’ll leave it to Matt to report (in context!) the full proceedings of the confab, but let me highlight a few insights that struck me as particularly valuable (attributed to the participants who offered them where I recorded it in my notes , but unfortunately I failed to do that in each instance):

  • Bounded news sites will be less important than news networks, which can surround topics in a fluid way. Individual news sites can add curated news networks, and add value with features like “what’s changed since you last checked in.”
  • Creating such topical networks is easier for big questions, harder for long-tail topics.
  • The right technology and user interfaces can incorporate sourcing material and make it relevant to the story, and can transform traditional sourcing networks into crowdsourced networks — a way to build living stories. (Phil Bennett, Washington Post)
  • Commenting needs to evolve into conversation. This can be done by having reporters and editors step in, add context, ask questions, and moderate the discussion flow.

Continue reading this post at Nieman Journalism Lab.