This morning, with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, NewsCloud publicly announced Hot Dish, an innovative Facebook publication covering the climate change beat with editorial sponsor Grist.org:
The Hot Dish Action Team gives users the opportunity to earn points for actions, both on- and off-line, that bolster involvement in the application and show how they are making environmental change. Through May 3, 2009, Hot Dish is giving away more than $25,000 worth of eco-friendly prizes to eligible 16-25 year-old users who participate. Top point earners can win earth-friendly prizes ranging from organic cotton T-shirts and gift certificates to an Amazon Kindle 2 and new “green” Apple MacBook computer. The grand prize is a trip for two to the Arctic, courtesy of leading polar exploration provider Quark Expeditions.
University of Minnesota researchers, led by Dr. Christine Greenhow, will use data gathered from Hot Dish participants in the 16-25 age group to investigate how to best engage youth in current events and how the Internet can be used to deliver educational materials in innovative and effective ways.
In Seattle, like in many cities, the journalism community is abuzz amidst the gradual crumbling of our community newspapers. As word got out about Hot Dish, reporters began calling me to include it in their upcoming articles about what’s next in the journalism business model. I thought this might be a good time to place Hot Dish in context – to talk about what I think is important in online media and where Hot Dish fits in (more about me here).
It’s a dark time in the U.S.: high unemployment, ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, implosion of the stock market, corrupt distribution of TARP funds, the specter of inflation and depression and climate change. The importance of journalism in our society is at an epoch. Yet, at the same time, the business model of journalism is undergoing an enormous transition.
Gradually weakened by the free, entrepreneurial spirit of the Web, the newspaper industry has failed to keep pace with the American lifestyle, which has quickened and become more wired. The concept of the morning paper – or the time to read it seems quaint nor affordable - a 7-day subscrption to The New York Times costs $697 annually. The economic collapse of 2008 is quickly pushing the industry towards a reckoning that it's been headed towards in slow motion for some time.
Furthermore, the detachment of the last eight years of the Bush administration from reality, democracy and science created a disconnect with Americans over the value of staying informed with the experience of seeing government act with good sense.
Younger Americans feel this disconnect more strongly. According to a recent study by the Pew Research Center for the People & the Press, the proportion of young people getting no news on a typical day has increased from 25 to 34 percent since 1998.
There are several questions that this poses about the future of journalism and the health of our society:
1) Is the public well informed?
The answer to this will continue to be directly linked to the health and vibrancy of the values and business model of journalism.
2) Is the news industry reaching audiences where they are?
The news industry made a very slow start adjusting to the rise of the Web. Internet technologies, memes and platforms are still changing quickly enough to make it difficult for newspapers to make the right bets and execute well. Building great software is difficult.
Hot Dish makes the bet that Facebook is a platform with enough longevity to warrant further exploration. Facebook reports more than 175 million users spend more than 3 billion minutes per day on the site worldwide. I can’t find the source at the moment but I believe that 90 percent of U.S. college students have a Facebook profile. Social networking usage is skyrocketing with young people; so, this is a good place to try to re-engage them in current events.
3) Is the industry engaging communities in a positive way for society and in a way that creates value those audiences will pay to be a part of?
The Hot Dish application targets a specific demographic with a common interest – 16- to 25-year olds concerned about climate change. Then, it asks these readers to get involved not just online but offline. Some of the challenges that Hot Dish readers can earn points for range from posting comments, to volunteering, to installing a CFL light bulb or composting, to writing a letter to their congressperson or taking part in an earth day activity. The construction of offering rewards is valuable in creating critical mass in a short time period so that we can quickly and economically gather larger amounts of data to study the issue of engaging young people in current events and engaging them in their communities.
There is likely no single solution but a collection of building blocks, which will support the foundation of journalism in the future. It is likely success will be closely related to how connected and engaged readers feel in news-based communities. The Hot Dish research is designed to find better ways to build these kinds of communities.
Hot Dish is primarily an editorial aggregator of news, so it's definitely not an answer to the challenges of funding good reporting. But, it is a technology solution to leverage Facebook’s growing population of users. Hot Dish provides an innovative way to reach the Facebook community and their friends with news of one of the most important issues facing society, climate change. It leverages the viral features of the Facebook Developer platform to making spreading awareness of climate change easy and fun.
Hot Dish is not "the answer" to journalism’s problems - though I may have been quoted as saying so in today's press release. But it is a valuable experiment that we think will yield valuable new ideas and information.
Next up, NewsCloud will release a Facebook publication based on the same technology for University of Minnesota college students to share news that is important to them. In parallel, NewsCloud will work with a University of Washington journalism course that plans to launch its own Seattle-based publication, learning the lessons of entrepreneurial online media firsthand.
Research from these experiments will be published later this year. The source code from the Facebook application platform has been designed to be easily replicable by other organizations and will be shared via open source license at the end of the project.
I hope that you’ll give Hot Dish a try. All ages are welcome to join the action team – but rewards are restricted to U.S. residents aged 16-25 years old.
Feel free to post comments here or send me feedback at jeff at newscloud dot com. I would like to hear your thoughts.